Even while remaining a simple game of bat and ball, cricket has evolved greatly over the years. Along with changing cricketing trends, various other facets of the game too have undergone a massive transformation.
There was a time when victory celebrations were muted, almost apologetic. There was no clambering over the bowler when a wicket was taken, or mobbing the fielder when a catch was completed. There was no mad scramble for stumps as souvenirs when victory was achieved, no snarling and sledging when the mood so seized the players. And most certainly, there was no mouthing of profanities by the batsman when a milestone was reached.
It's astonishing to hear cricketers talk about enjoying the game, and then see them go out and do the exact opposite. Isn't a century a cause for celebration? Shouldn't one smile and wave the bat at mates in the dressing room and an appreciative audience? Isn't that how enjoyment and fulfilment is expected to manifest itself? Or is that being naive and simplistic?
Today's young guns, especially in India, seem to be under the impression that it's essential to make a point, not soak in the moment. That's why celebrations have turned from the colourful and the funny in the past to the aggressive and the unacceptable that is the norm today.
To be competitive is not to mouth off; aggression lies not so much in the choice of words as in the manner in which the game is approached. Agreed, pent-up emotions do need a release, and from time to time, even the most composed individuals give in to the moment. Few can forget Rahul Dravid's uncharacteristic gesticulations after reaching his century at the Eden Gardens against Australia in 2001. His form coming into the game had been middling, he had been demoted to No. 6 midway through the Test, a few pundits had questioned his place.
Dravid's unusual reaction as he repeatedly pointed the bat in the same direction in which the press and the commentators' boxes were located is fresh in memory because it was a strict one-off. Yet, consumed as he must have been by a melange of emotions, he didn't utter one word. The steam had been released, it was time to knuckle down and carry on.
Unlike many of his peers, Dravid unfailingly acknowledges applause from all parts of the ground because he appreciates their sentiments. Most other players are content just waving towards the dressing room and ignoring the cheers of the audience. But how often today do young Indian batsmen in particular give the impression that touching three-figures is reason enough for celebration?
An individual milestone, even in a team game, is a moment to cherish, to bask in the respect of the team-mates and the adulation of the fans. The cheers resonating around the ground should count for something, because it means the spectators have enjoyed watching you at work and believe they have got value for money. In return for their appreciation, do they deserve an invective-laden rant? If that's the acknowledgement they get for cheering you on, it won't be long before they stop cheering altogether.
Perhaps, someone has told the Gambhirs, the Kohlis, the Harbhajans and the Munaf Patels that to smile on the field of play is a sign of weakness. Gautam Gambhir was almost livid when, after leading Kolkata Knight Riders to victory in IPL V, he was asked about Sunil Narine's contribution during the campaign. "I hate talking about individuals," he hissed, comprehensively putting an end to that topic as he pushed the media on to the mental back foot.
Cricket has become intensely competitive, the stakes have risen tremendously over the years, but that's not to say that success and grace should be mutually exclusive. There is a lesson to be learnt from the Dravids and the Laxmans. And those don't pertain only to batting.
R Kaushik is Deputy Editor at Wisden India