This post is meant to accompany my previous one, pleading with the BCCI to give the Indian cricket team a break. That sounds a bit soft, so I wanted to explain a bit more. Over the weekend, I read Robin Uthappa’s interview with Cricinfo about his plans for the future, as well as his recent shoulder surgery. We hear about injuries to cricketers all the time, but rarely in such terrible, explicit and disturbing detail:
He said the first ten days post-surgery were most painful. “Surgery in itself was a difficult one for me. I never had a fracture, I never wore a cast, I never had stitches, never been on general anaesthesia, never had a nerve block, and now I had all of it in one day,” Uthappa told Bangalore Mirror. “I had a cast right up to my forearm, a sling. I never ever experienced such excruciating pain in my life. I was on narcotics for 20 days, sitting and slouching on bed, passing out almost all the time, and then you lose shape.”
Read that one more time, and think about the terrible bargain we make with modern athletes. We crave entertainment and suspense and drama from their actions and in return, we offer them money, endorsements, celebrity and fame (and, more than likely, our scorn). For the span of their career, we let them in our homes and, because cricket is such a time-consuming affair, we grow to know them almost intimately — the perpetual close-ups, their expressions, every bit of their actions and technique.
But is this a fair bargain? Cricket isn’t nearly as bad as some other sports; here in America, it’s not unusual for athletes in baseball and American football and basketball to earn simply gross salaries, which easily dwarf even the amounts offered in the IPL. Then again, cricket is demanding in other ways — players can play for a decade (or more) if they try hard enough; they have to tour other countries for months and bowlers have to contort their bodies in an ungodly fashion for their deliveries.
Of course, you say (as everyone else does), that you’d give your left arm to play for the Indian national cricket team, and to earn the money they do. Fair enough, but think about the ethical relationship you have then built around the game. You command the players to dance for you, while you throw them your scraps, and when they tire and suffer and bleed, you move on to the next. This is just another price of cricket becoming normal, that is, like any other modern sport, where spectators — people who may go to a Test match simply to doze, or experience life — become consumers. This is the ultimate price brought forth by Lalit Modi and the T20 regime — more applause, more money, more games, more television, more gimmicks. And more pain.