Rahul and Hardik go to White Castle: Flip Side by Kunal Pradhan
If the two cricketers behaved like monsters that must be brought to book, then what about us, the Frankenstein who created them?
Indian cricket and, by extension, Indian society have been embroiled in a strange episode over the past two weeks, surrounding remarks made by two brash new starlets of sport on a brashly candid show that is known to celebrate usually brash icons from the entertainment industry.
The reason I used the b-word three times in the previous sentence is not only down to my limited vocabulary. It’s also because “brash” has been considered a good word over the past two decades -- a synonym of other popular terms such as “aggressive”, “expressive”, “heart on sleeve”, and of course, “new India”.
Why I described what I like to call the “Rahul and Hardik go to White Castle” incident as strange is: one, we’ve scrutinised every syllable and inflection of what was said and have opinions on why it was wrong on so many levels (which I agree it was); two, we’ve examined the social media and the official response and have views on why there has been an overreaction from several quarters (which I agree there has been); but three, we haven’t bothered (which is typical of us) to examine why this may have occurred in the first place.
Through the first seven decades after India was granted Test status and embarked on a long trek to success and glory, its batsmen were largely described as “elegant”, and its bowlers “mystical”. The team was seen as an “honest trier”, and its players were loosely categorised as “soft”.
In the 1960s, India started winning series abroad; in the ’70s, it began to cement its status as a team with formidable talent; in the ’80s, it became a world champion; and in the ’90s and 2000s, it emerged as the moneybags of international cricket and a genuine powerhouse in its own right. It was a creditable journey. But somehow India was not satisfied with it. We wanted more — a fundamental shift in how we played our cricket to match cultural changes in an era of liberalisation, Ram Mandir, bullet trains and social media.
Flexing muscles in cricketing boardrooms was no longer enough; a bit of the flexing had to be done on the pitch. We wanted hard players, mavericks, movie star-like icons who could take on 11 baddies together, big boys who played at night.
Further fuelled by the trappings of the sideshow that accompanies the annual Indian Premier League (IPL) circus, we were hurtled in a direction where a new kind of team was taking shape in a new India. There was a manifestation of some of the ugly side-effects of this transformation from time to time – one player slapped another on the field, a racist slur or a filthy abuse was shouted at an opponent – but we overlooked that in the quest for a “new”, “expressive”, “aggressive”, and dare I say it, “brash” Indian team.
What we have today – the Kohlibeards, as writer Mukul Kesavan likes to call them – is a culmination of everything we wanted the Indian cricket team to be. It is led by Virat Kohli, the best batsman in the world by a country mile, but someone who has often – from when he showed his middle finger to the crowd on his first tour of Australia in 2011-12 to when he used his fingers to indicate his bat does the talking on the ongoing tour in 2018-19 – seemed in need of adult supervision on the field.
Kohli is not to blame for this pursuit of cool, and nor is anyone else on the team. In fact, Pandya, 25, and Rahul, 26, may be confused about why their offensive bragging on the TV show has created such a fuss — isn’t this what they were told stars are supposed to do? We encourage our players to behave the way they do by creating a culture that has given them a distorted image of stardom. But when they cross the line, instead of understanding what went wrong and how it must be corrected, we swing to the other extreme by suggesting long-term bans.
The situation is not dissimilar to what Australia faced last year, when the decades-long emphasis on a culture where you play hard, sledge if you must, win at all costs and never back down, blew up in its face through a ball-tampering controversy whose after-effects still linger today.
It’s easy to blame individuals; hard to fix a broken system. But if Rahul and Hardik behaved like monsters that must be brought to book, then what about us, the Frankenstein who created them?
First Published: Jan 19, 2019 17:01:03