During the World Cup, we witnessed a spate of injuries. Imran Tahir, South Africa’s (justly) heralded spinner, did something to his finger; the English team fell in a heap of bruises and bones (K.P., S.B., others); Sri Lanka lost Angelo Mathews just when they needed him. The trend raises a broader question: what do we owe injured cricketers? Is there an ethical obligation on our part?
The quickest answer involves compensation. Lots of it. The basic deal society has made with athletes (in high-octane broadcast markets, that is) looks like this: you took a major risk when you became a professional sportsman. You put insane demands on your body (especially you, fast bowlers), and you lost time with family and friends. In return, we give you fame, fortune and, if you so desire, a role in our political debates.
Is this enough? For many, an injury is a traumatizing experience: you are separated from friends/colleagues/family; you stop working; you often face surgery (which, you know, involves cutting into body parts) and then extended recuperation. It can’t be easy. I once heard that Ian Healy, the Austalian wicketkeeper, discovered at the end of his career that all his fingers pointed in different directions. Only surgery — again, surgery! — fixed this. How brutal!
And then, consider the prominent discourse in cricket that praises injured cricketers for sucking it up and playing through the pain: what, Anil Kumble bowled with a broken jaw? What, Graeme Smith went out to bat with a broken finger? Recall the flack Kevin Pietersen took when he withdrew from the World Cup, citing a hernia. Normal people would say, Dude, you’ve broken a part of your body. Take it easy. When these incidents occur, it reminds me that, at the end of the day, cricket — for all its veneer of fair play and civilization– is an activity that involves grown men hurling leather balls at other men. There’s a fine line between savagery and Victorian manners. Always has been.
UPDATE: This is from an earlier post with similar themes. A quote from R. Utthapa:
“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.”
The real worry for sportsmen – and it is a major reason for the forthcoming lockouts in the NFL – is the chance they’ll suffer a career ending injury at 22 and miss the chance of decent earning because of dumb luck. The players therefore, prefer really long contracts, because it pushes the risk onto the franchise. Sometimes that suits the owners (less free agency) but the players have been less willing to take the pay-cut that losing the risk-premium entails. Cricket doesn’t have long contracts at all yet, mostly because international teams are monopoly employers. But it will.
Yes, in an earlier draft for this post, I did mention some players whose careers failed due to injury. I don’t know what cricket boards do for these players; it seems once they are not selected for the national team, they are relegated to the domestic leagues and obscurity. Hope that isn’t the case.
It seems the best cricketers are also the smartest — and insist on earning advanced degrees while their careers take off. Sangakarra has law; Anil Kumble engineering — same with Rahul Dravid (I think).
Call it saddistic, I rather like to watch injured players playing through pain. I think it sort of takes their mind off the pain and alleviates it to an extent. Besides, next day headlines are often flattering 🙂
Yes, it’s sadistic. But I understand the impulse — there is something stirring watching, say, VVS Laxman bat with a bad back, or Smith coming out 9-down to try and save his team against Australia.
I think the admiration and pleasure comes less from watching someone in pain, and more from seeing him put his team’s goals ahead of the personal. This is also why, for example, we liked seeing that H. Amla innings against India, when he batted through with tailenders and under the hot sun.
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