The after-party hangover

So this is how it goes: Throughout the 40-odd days of the IPL the BCCI encourages, even compels, players to party. Less than a month later, the BCCI serves notice on a bunch of players who went to party, got abused, and stood up for themselves.

[The dichotomy is understandable, if you think of it from a BCCI perspective: it is okay to party as long as the BCCI is making some money off it. Otherwise, not.]

Not to replay an old, tired tune — but here, as in so much else that is wrong with Indian cricket, the problem begins and ends with the BCCI. Anil Kumble nailed it in his recent Hindustan Times column:

Like the art of player management and making sure whatever available talent India has is harnessed properly and maximised. Far too many times for comfort, I’ve been where the current lot of Indian players today are — vilified by all and sundry, having every single thing they do torn apart and then some.

Someone’s got to look at handling both them and the things that come with playing for India, responsibly. There’s the pressure of performance, the pressure of expectations, pressure from a very intrusive media including former players.

These pressures can be overwhelming for a young man, more so perhaps, for a suddenly rich and famous young man coming to terms with his newfound status.

So I think it’s equally important to prepare him to manage life during and beyond cricket.

At the same time, without getting into which cricketer partied too much or drank too much or got into a brawl, or whether anyone did at all, there’s a need to educate young cricketers about their responsibilities. Not that they don’t know what these are but they need help on how to handle themselves with regard to these.

It’s important for the BCCI to ensure that contracted players at least are given not just cricketing infrastructure but life infrastructure. Today’s players need management skills, communication skills, professional media skills — they are, after all, brand ambassadors for the country. Yet, it’s also critical to emphasise the team’s performance and stop either making individuals too important or making or breaking them at the drop of a hat.

Kumble is on the money here — but it is not by any means an original thought. Consider this column from 2008 [the IPL’s inaugural year, in case you need reminding], by Jamie Alter on Cricinfo, where he talks of the pressures on India’s young:

With the win comes an overdose of adulation and big bucks, and there are more distractions today than ever before, Roger Binny, who coached the 2000 winners, points out. Binny says market forces now virtually dictate the game and believes India needs to follow the Australian prototype. “In Australia the development of junior cricketers is based completely within the state programme. Playing in tournaments is then just a part of the process. Their young players are groomed, there are counselling sessions where specialists tell them how to conduct themselves and what to expect.

“These players are too young to take big decisions. The management here should have similar training sessions for our stars. For example, have a marketing or media expert come in and conduct a seminar on how to handle money and all the excess attention.”

Or check out this column I once wrote in context of Sreesanth:

This is exactly why the team needs a good, tough media manager, who can guide the players through the tricky shoals of commenting in public. Most of the players are unused to public speaking, and their lack of expertise leads them to open their mouth wide and gaffe it with their foot. Each time that happens, we renew calls for the appointment of a media manager; as regularly, the BCCI says such an appointment is a “matter of top priority”. This current administration said those exact words, two years ago when Pawar first took over – but in the 24 months since, no more than lip service has been paid to that “priority”, quite likely because the BCCI can’t see in such an appointment anything more than a waste of money. Someone meanwhile needs to take Sreesanth aside and point out to him that since he has enough empirical evidence to quantify what makes for really bad bowling, maybe it is time he shut up and bent his energies to determining what really good bowling is all about; plumping the depths of bad behavior out of a spirit of scientific curiosity is not what he is being paid to do.

The point is that the need for player management has been underscored, repeatedly, any number of times these past few years. Hell, even Ravi Shastri — contracted commentator with the BCCI, member of the IPL governing council, chairman of the National Cricket Academy [my apologies if I have left out a dozen or so of the hats he wears courtesy the BCCI] — spoke of the need for counseling for the young [a very good thing that would be, Ian Chappell said during a curtain-raising discussion on the IPL’s first season, way back when].

And therein lies the rub: they all talk about it. Dalmiya did, in his time. Pawar made that one of the cornerstones of his administration, when he took over. And a decade down the line, we are still talking about something that is not particularly hard to do. Instead, what the BCCI does do, with remarkable consistency, is to send out these mixed signals, exhorting players to party one day, hauling them up for it the next. [And while on all of this, Kadambari Murali makes a very pertinent point in the Hindustan Times].

On a personal note, been occupied with a whole heap of stuff, both professional and personal. Consider this an open thread, folks — for thoughts, comments, links, whatever. Will swing by later in the day. Oh, and I am hosting the live chat on Yahoo today — at 3.30-4.30 pm, here. Make time in your calendar and come on over, let’s chat.