Sport is a trivial pursuit, nothing more

There is something deeply troubling about a 19-year-old's college attendance record being the subject of a national debate - as decided by our television channels.

Updated: September 03, 2012 11:18 IST
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Bangalore: There is something deeply troubling about a 19-year-old's college attendance record being the subject of a national debate - as decided by our television channels. No matter that the 19-year old is Unmukt Chand, captain of India's junior team which won the World Cup in Australia. And that it was Chand's classy century in the final that turned the game.

Such academic matters are best resolved with a smile and a nod; that the Education Minister of the country and its Sports Minister should become involved is a commentary on how our politicians love to jump on to the cricketing bandwagon in their constant search for the next populist move. The principal of St Stephen's College did not do his cause any good by his remarks on sport, but if he believes that matches are fixed and scams such as the one that beset the Commonwealth Games are common, he is not too far off the mark.

Chand is not the first university student to get into trouble over his attendance. Universities around the country insist on physical presence over mental agility and that is a deeper problem that needs to be addressed. What India has - even in our best institutions - is not so much an education system as an examination system, buttressed by the attendance system.

What was intriguing about the debate, however, was the self-image of former India cricketers who saw themselves as great patriots rendering "yeoman service" - in the words of one of them - to the country. This is laughable. To put it in perspective, one needs only to recall the great Australian allrounder Keith Miller's response when asked how he dealt with pressure on the cricket field. Miller, a war hero, said simply, "Pressure? Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your a**e." There is something about being tailed by an enemy plane that beats dropping a catch at slip or taking guard after having failed in the two previous innings.

Patriotism is - to extend the analogy - taking a bullet for the country, not taking five wickets or simply turning up on a cricket field. There are thousands in the country who are yet to receive their due after serving the country in military uniform. Sport can aspire to be the most important thing in life, but it is not. It is a trivial pursuit even if metaphorically it might be a matter of life and death. We need a sense of balance here.

If the media have their way, Chand might make his Test debut in the home series against either England or Australia. If television anchors were national selectors, he might even have played the series against New Zealand currently on. What it can do to the mind of a boy can only be imagined. It is cricket's version of killing the golden goose.

Will Chand's World Cup century have a greater impact on our university education system than on our national cricket? The principal of his college quotes the rules, and has asked the relevant question (sounding like Marlon Brando in The Godfather): "Why didn't he come to me before?"

The media will move on to the next irrelevant story quickly enough. And our 'evening patriots' (to borrow a phrase from the novelist Manu Joseph) on television will continue to paint sport in the colours of patriotism and national service. Cricket is a useful subject - it involves everybody.

By all accounts, Unmukt Chand is a sensible fellow and he has kept himself above the gushing rhetoric and passionate chest-thumping of his senior colleagues, and in that lies the hope for the future of Indian cricket.

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