The outrage over Sunil Gavaskar’s comment on Anushka Sharma’s bowling to her husband, Virat Kohli, during the lockdown seems misplaced. Doing commentary in Hindi, Gavaskar said: “Jab lockdown tha toh, sirf Anushka ki bowling ki practice ki unhone… Us se to kuch nahin ban na hai.” (During the lockdown, he practised against only Anushka’s bowling … That is not going to be enough.) He was referring to a video clip of Anushka bowling to Kohli with a soft ball during the lockdown.
Wives of most cricketers may have shrugged off Gavaskar’s seemingly harmless comment; but Anushka, a strong and successful woman, has a voice of her own, and she reacted with anger. Possibly, she was affected by social media, on which Gavaskar’s comment was given a vulgar twist.
Anushka’s other peeve, of “being dragged into cricket”, seems to have greater merit. Cricketers hate it when their wives and girlfriends (WAGs) are blamed for bad cricket or defeats. Opinion is divided on this — officials often speak against WAGs on tour, cricketers and their partners mostly favour it. Anushka and Kohli must be sick of being part of this debate. After India’s bad tour of England in 2014 — during which Kohli had “end of the world thoughts”, as he revealed later — the team manager in his report wrote that “I would have objected to her (Anushka’s) presence but was helpless”, and that “Indian society doesn’t allow girlfriends on tour like this”. A news report highlighted that for the first time, the girlfriend of a cricketer, Anushka, would be part of an Indian tour party; this angered Kohli no end and, during an extraordinary public outburst early next year, he shouted abuses for several minutes at a journalist he thought had written that report. That was unacceptable: The privilege of being a hero to a billion comes with a price — being thrown open to public scrutiny of the most invasive kind.
Twenty20 cricket is a factory of cricketing hyperbole; it’s more a case of money speaking than cricketing sagacity. Over the years, active cricketers have warned us not to take this version very seriously. In 2008, Dale Steyn said that “the IPL was only four overs a game and it was like a paid holiday”. MS Dhoni once told this writer that losing one’s wicket in T20 cricket didn’t hurt much because “in T20 cricket, you’re trying to hit almost every ball, and the chances of getting dismissed are greater”. Sachin Tendulkar often said the top-most format of cricket, Tests, should have the highest remuneration. After India won the 2007 Twenty20 World Cup, Yuvraj Singh said: “It’s more of an entertainment for the crowd and the batsmen.” Sourav Ganguly, Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid skipped the 2007 Twenty20 World Cup because they thought it wasn’t such a big deal.
Then really big money came into T20 cricket with the IPL in 2008. Without the riches, it’s unlikely that T20 cricket would have enjoyed the frenzied support of legends of the sport who, incidentally, also do a doublespeak with tributes to the “primacy” of Test cricket.
Players in the middle know it’s a tamasha, so they dislike past cricketers judging their T20 game in an intense manner that was reserved for Tests or ODIs.
The Covid pandemic, which gave us all a pause for thought — the real heroes are doctors and scientists, not sportspersons or actors — may have been a good occasion to readjust priorities in sport: A rationalised salary structure, better balance between pop and classical, less jingoism, less frenzy. Futile hope, it seems.