Honoring Cricket Legends: Recognizing the Unsung Heroes of Indian Cricket
Explore the forgotten heroes of Indian cricket and the urgent call to honor their contributions. A must-read for all cricket enthusiasts.
The renowned quote, “What do they know of cricket that only cricket know,” from CLR James’ book, “Beyond the Boundary,” holds significance in the context of Indian cricket. While James may have originally referred to the days of colonialism, class distinctions, and national culture during the colonial rule in the West Indies, it is evident that this sentiment resonates in Indian cricket today.
Cricket in India, often described as a religion, is followed by over a billion people like a sacred ritual. It was heartening to witness the Mumbai Cricket Association paying tribute to the “God of cricket,” Sachin Tendulkar, by unveiling a life-size statue at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. Surprisingly, there were only a few cricketers present during the ceremony. Such an occasion should have been graced by cricketers of all generations, especially those who had shared the field with Tendulkar.
Ironically, the very administrators who deserve praise for immortalizing Sachin through this statue seem to have overlooked the fact that Bombay/Mumbai cricket has produced numerous legends who have made substantial contributions not only to Indian cricket but also to their respective associations.
Players like Vijay Merchant, the iconic Sunil Gavaskar, legendary figures such as Ajit Wadekar, Vinoo Mankad, Polly Umrigar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Ravi Shastri, and exceptional all-rounder Eknath Solkar, among others, should have been equally celebrated at the stadium.
Nevertheless, the Mumbai Cricket Association has initiated a positive step by honoring a legendary cricketer. It is now imperative to see if other cricketing regions, like Haryana with Kapil Dev and Tiger Pataudi, Maharashtra with Chandu Borde, Hyderabad with ML Jaisimha, Bangalore with GR Vishwanath, and many more, will follow suit. New-age cricket enthusiasts in India must familiarize themselves with the cricketing greats of the past and the rich history of Indian cricket.
This is where CLR James’ words resonate. It appears that recognition of Indian cricket is often limited to events after the year 2000. The colonial and post-1947 eras of Indian cricket seem relegated to mere historical records. Even the remarkable 1983 World Cup victory is sometimes viewed as a one-off stroke of luck. Thankfully, the movie made about it provided Indian cricket followers with a glimpse of its glorious past.
The late Bishan Singh Bedi was one of the few cricketers who consistently raised the issue of cricket stadiums acknowledging their former heroes. Regrettably, his appeals went unheard. It would be a profound gesture if the Delhi Cricket Association were to erect a statue honoring the greatest left-arm spin bowler, whose bowling action was poetry in motion.
It is disheartening to learn that former cricketers from across the country are often denied passes to watch international and World Cup matches in their own cities or are relegated to obscure stands. It is a lamentable situation for individuals who have dedicated their blood and sweat to sustain the flame of Indian cricket and now find themselves unrecognized in their own backyard.
Indian cricket is witnessing tremendous growth, with the BCCI emerging as the wealthiest cricket body globally. The time is ripe to acknowledge the contributions of former cricketers, the majority of whom have honed their skills in domestic cricket. Providing them with prime seating at matches is a small but meaningful gesture.
Becoming a first-class cricketer in India requires hours of tireless effort and dedication, with players contending with the challenges of the Indian weather and demanding cricket conditions, from the junior to the senior level.
Regrettably, recognizing these cricketers is an area that has been grossly neglected by those in charge of the game in India. The influx of wealth into Indian cricket has attracted politicians and affluent individuals to the sport. Cricket has become a platform to keep them in the spotlight, granting them the recognition they seek.
Notable figures like SK Wankhede, NKP Salve, Sharad Pawar, J Dalmiya, N Srinivasan, IS Bindra have been exceptions who understood the needs of both current and former cricketers. However, many present administrators need to delve into the history of their cricket associations to follow the legacy set by these predecessors.
In earlier times, Indian cricket did not boast the wealth it enjoys today. The administrators and individuals involved in cricket operations did so on an honorary basis, driven by their passion for the game. Money was never their motive, and they, like countless cricketers, played their part in keeping cricket alive.
Indian cricket needs a substantial transformation beyond the boundary, acknowledging the pioneers who were instrumental in its evolution and providing them with the recognition they rightfully deserve.
(Yajurvindra Singh, a former Indian cricketer, shares personal views in this article.)