In the next 14 months the Indian cricket team is due to play 22 Test matches and 41 one day internationals. In a period of 420 days, India will play 161 days of international cricket. In other words, the team will be in action once every 72 hours. One should also take into account the amount of travel the players will have to undertake.
Even in a home series fixture, the travel from one part of the country to another, (the recent series with Australia is proof enough) is an extremely tiresome proposition. With away test matches against Sri Lanka and South Africa, and a one day series against Australia, the flying time will take up a fair share of the schedule. Take this together with numerous commitments to the state, province, club, office and finally the sponsors, and the players no longer seem objects of envy for the peace loving spectator.
This state of things indicates that all talk of limiting the number of one day internationals to be played in a calendar year to allow the players substantial rest is biting the dust. The BCCI while finalising these encounters do not for a minute take into account the well being of the players. They do so, knowing fully well that the players are in no position to protest.
Unlike in Australia, where the players association headed by Tim May wields considerable power, in India, the talk of forming a players association is still far from gaining fruition. With players like Tendulkar, despite being in a position to dictate terms to the board, preferring to take a non confrontational stand, the BCCI is only expected to continue functioning in a similar insensitive manner in the near future.
With a strong captain in Saurav Ganguly at the helm of affairs the situation was expected to improve. But with his own form being a matter of concern, Saurav is temporarily better off being a 'yes man' of the board. Finally, with John Wright as coach the BCCI has a field day. A low profile personality, Wright is only concerned with his coaching, rather than trying to interfere with the framing of schedules.
In this situation, resort to unsportsmanlike conduct is no longer a distant possibility. Without resorting to that it is often impossible for a player to continue performing at his best on most occasions. Players, aware of the fact that their careers are considerably shorter than in the past, are forced to resort to energy increasing substances to maximise their prospective earnings.
On account of cut throat competition for a place on the national team even a temporary loss of form is certain to cost a player his place. Haunted by this realisation, the temptation to refuse assured success becomes almost impossible. Every professional knows that he only has a decade or so in which to reap his professional rewards.
With this notion always haunting the players, the after effects of irresponsible behaviour seem excusable on most occasions. The question that automatically comes to the fore in this situation pertains to the role of the BCCI and the government in tackling excessive cricket. Why is it that the already rich BCCI formulates such unrealistic fixtures and why is that that an otherwise extremely moralist sports ministry does not interfere to preserve the well being of the players?
If the ministry thinks itself capable of deciding who to play with and under what circumstances, it is incumbent upon them to check any misuse of power on the part of the BCCI. Yet, there has till date been no stir from either organisation on this count. This is because cricket, both realise, is one of the most profitable sectors of the Indian economy.
While the board earns huge amounts from guarantee money and the sale of television rights, the government earns huge amounts in foreign exchange from any domestic series.
The cricketers, pawns in this money making game, often fail to perceive this process of exploitation. While they endorse consumer items on behalf of multinational corporate giants helping these firms to appeal to the masses, they unknowingly become metacommodities and are marketed by the BCCI, the government and these firms to suit their ends. This commodification of the cricketer is the biggest evil excessive commercialisation of the game has given birth to.
The average Indian cricketer, while being a national icon has also become a victim of the processes of our capitalist modernisation. His existence is guided by the dictates of the sponsors and his actions are bound by the norms of the corporate market.
It is common knowledge that Indian stars endorsing Pepsi stay away from any on field Coca-Cola drinks trolley on the ground. Even in moments of utmost concentration a slip up is unpardonable. The cricketer is the safest marketable commodity in India, one that is certain to yield rich harvests, a fact that helps explain the inhuman schedules prepared to by the BCCI.
This schedule if looked at closely spells doom for the other Indian sports as well. With the sponsors almost certain to bid for a cricket match against any other sporting activity in the country, round the year cricket is fast eating into the market of all other sports. The creation/fruition of a sporting hierarchy resulting from this process is certain to make cricketers unpopular among their peers.
The latter, feeling deprived and with due reason, are bound to look at cricket with an attitude of envy, eventually leading to jealousy and hatred. The mass appeal of cricket it seems is fast becoming its own enemy. The BCCI and the government are unconsciously aiding this process: the alienation of rival sporting fraternities who justifiably demand the popularity and adulation that leading cricketers enjoy.
This process of hierarchisation is furthered by cricket's unparalleled supremacy over others as a television sport. The relationship between cricket and the camera, a fact discussed at length by Mukul Kesavan has largely contributed to the evolution of this hierarchy. In a totally different context this factor also helps to explain the greater commercial success of Aamir Khan's latest venture, Lagaan over his other 'sporting films', 'Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander' and 'Ghulam'.
Cricket's ability (as of no other) of being captured on the small screen gives it a head start over other sports in the country. Unlike soccer or hockey its two potential rivals, cricket is much better suited to television coverage. The cricket pitch is ideal for represention on the television frame unlike the football or hockey field.
A random still photograph of an ongoing hockey or football match fails to give the viewer any perceptible idea of the positioning of the ball. In cricket however the pitch and the direction of the batsman's shot, if evident in the still, is enough to convey the basic impression as to what the type of shot had been. Further, the brief gap between overs, one that suits the showing of commercials also contributes to making cricket a better bet for television coverage.
This cricketing hegemony explains the petition filed by Sunita Godara in the Delhi courts. She justifiably demands equal treatment for all sports persons. It is born as much of a threat perception as from a feeling of helplessness. In this situation it is incumbent upon us, people associated with the media to be championing her cause for dual reasons.
On the one hand this will save our cricketers from burn-outs, an inevitable consequence of excessive playing. On the other, it will also help in the evolution of an egalitarian (or at least near egalitarian) sporting fraternity' in the country. It is time to pull up our socks and force the BCCI and the sports ministry to sit up and take notice.