Rao, individually a brilliant politician, could never lead his party to victory. Even Sonia Gandhi could not. Victory finally came to the Congress in the form of BJP’s overconfidence. So unless Ponting and his boys have already booked a disco in Jamaica to throw a victory bash as part of an ‘Australia Shining’ campaign, chances are slim that the boys in blue will return with the cup. Sorry to say that, but you know it, don’t you?
But then, cricket is a game of chance, and who knows... I could be eating my words a month from now! That, however, does not take away from Indian cricket’s uncanny resemblance to Indian politics, or elections. The selection of the team, for example, is no different from the selection of candidates. The process, in both cases, is always suspect and mostly flawed, and at the end of it, there are faces that are beaming as well as long. (There is a minor difference though: in cricket, the long faces don’t — or can’t — defect to Bangladesh or form an international team of their own).
Then comes the election, which is the tournament. They all join hands, and even though personal ambitions take over at times, they put up a united front — to get votes, which, in cricket parlance, translates to victory. No questions asked if they win, but in the case of defeat, heads roll and blame-games begin. The media blames the coach, the coach blames the players, the players blame the coach, the nation blames the players, and so on. Just like the media blames the chief minister, the CM blames the party president, the party president blames the rising prices, while the nation blames the party.
It is also easy to see equivalents of cricketers in politics. I began to understand cricket at the age of eight or nine, when Gavaskar had just become the captain. So for me, Gavaskar was the equivalent of Nehru. Both had a style of functioning, and they never deviated from it: even if that meant, for Gavaskar, scoring 36 off some 60 overs. Both captained the country for long, and both went on to become statesmen.
Kapil Dev is Indira Gandhi: the kind who says, “What the hell,” and goes on to achieve the impossible. The masses loved both and still do. Azharuddin, on the other hand, is V P Singh. Respected captain, brilliant batsman, but he met his Mandal Commission in match-fixing allegations, and he sank without a trace.
Sourav Ganguly reminds one of Vajpayee: a highly successful and charismatic captain who wove the team together like a coalition, but had to pay for his personal non-performance and was forced to retire even though he had a few more years of captaincy left. People like Sehwag, on the other hand, resemble the regional parties: keep them happy and chances are they will perform. Poke them, and they could topple the cart.
And back in the 1980s, you didn’t have so much of television and sound bytes, so it is difficult to decide who should have been Lalu Yadav — Krish Srikkanth or Najvot Sidhu. But it is not difficult to find the equivalent of Sachin Tendulkar: a man who is part of the political system but still dirtied by it, a man with an impeccable track record who people love, who people look up to. APJ Abdul Kalam. Strange coincidence that both are at a stage today when people are looking at them and wondering: Will they be able to play a second innings?