There is a great camaraderie and bonding amongst international cricketers these days, fostered, nurtured and furthered by that much-maligned beast called the Indian Premier League. Or, the Pepsi Indian Premier League, if you like.
That's obvious you see Chris Gayle and Virat Kohli walking around with their arms around each other, Angelo Mathews and Yuvraj Singh slumping into a huge hug after steering Pune Warriors India to their first win in 12 matches, Harbhajan Singh climbing all over Ricky Ponting after the Mumbai Indians skipper pulled off a stunner to get rid of Unmukt Chand. IPL, the divisive force, the entity that was supposed to rip the cricketing firmament asunder, has made for strange bedfellows, playing its part in eradicating mistrust and helping cricketers from various parts of the world understand different cultures.
Of course, it has driven a wedge, however temporary, between team-mates representing the same country but turning out for different franchises. If it was Slapgate that caught the eyeballs in IPL I with Harbhajan and S Sreesanth as the protagonists, then Sweargate has become the latest soap opera featuring Kohli and Gambhir, excitable men who also play for the same state but who aren't chary of having a verbal, unrestrained go at one another in full public glare.
Maybe I am missing something here, but what's this stuff about playing the game hard but fair? Is mouthing off on the field perfectly acceptable so long as you shake hands at the end of the match? Gambhir says cricket is a man's game and not played by the boys. So, is how much of a man you are measured by how many expletives you know? And, doesn't it count for anything that today's boys, who will be tomorrow's men, are watching every move microscopically from the stands, eager to emulate their heroes at the drop of a hat?
Gambhir and Kohli might not have coveted the role model status bestowed upon them, but whether they like it or not, they must accept it, and conduct themselves in a manner behoving that status. Insincere cliches like man's game, heat of the moment and what happens on the field stays on the field are no longer acceptable. All that Gambhir and Kohli received for their despicable behaviour at the Chinnaswamy Stadium on Thursday evening was an official warning and a reprimand. One 'man' has captained India in One-Day International cricket, the other has led the India Under-19 team to the World Cup title. Surely, David Boon, Mr Match Referee, you could have done better?
Sorry about the aside, but such silly, avoidable, indeed condemnable acts on a cricket field disturb me no end. Perhaps I am old fashioned. Maybe I am naive and stupid in continuing to believe that cricket must remain a gentleman's game. Whatever.
But hey, weren't we supposed to discuss more pleasant topics - such as bonhomie, camaraderie, watching each others' backs, and offering constructive suggestions, like the England and Wales Cricket Board has offered the Board of Control for Cricket in India?
Now, the ECB is so concerned about the fact that the IPL is being played in peak summer that it has requested the BCCI, in all sincerity and without any ulterior motives of course, that the tournament be started earlier than it is now so that the final is gone through by the end of April. "In an ideal world, we would like the IPL to be concluded by April 30, which is the cooler season for India," David Collier, the ECB chief executive, has been quoted extensively as saying. "We have put that to them, they are doing their best, but they realise there are some limitations."
ECB's altruism might be hard to understand in isolation, but of course, its motives aren't merely dictated by the fact that players have to ply their wares in unfavourable climatic conditions. It would serve ECB just fine if the IPL were to begin in March and end by April so that it could allow its players to partake of the lucrative IPL pie.
"It would make things a lot easier for us. We still have to get the workload balance right, but it would make it a lot easier for our players to be available for that period and certainly the BCCI are fully aware of that," Collier told The Times of London. "There is a willingness on the part of both boards to see if we can make any progress." Ah, now we are talking.
There is a not-so-quiet revolt brewing in England, with several cricketers led by Matt Prior openly questioning the ECB's policy of not making its centrally contracted players available for the duration of the IPL. By steadfastly denying its players the opportunity to make mega bucks of the sort even relatively unknown Australians and South Africans are raking in, the ECB has pushed itself into a corner and has now woken up to the possibility that unless it changes its hard-nosed stance, the Kevin Pietersen episode of last year might not be an isolated incident.
In order that its schedules are not compromised, and in order that it can stick to its supposedly unwavering attitude, the ECB wants the BCCI to reschedule not just its premier limited-overs domestic tournament - which is what the IPL is - but also its entire domestic season. Let's get this straight - the ECB wants the BCCI to make sweeping, wholesale changes to the Indian domestic calendar so that English players can participate in the IPL, assuming of course that franchise owners want to buy them. Imagine the outrage if the BCCI were to ask the ECB to restructure its own county championship, or the 40-over tournament, or indeed its Twenty20 competition, so that it can be beneficial to Indian cricketers. Imagine, indeed.
That there is growing unrest among English players, and that the Professional Cricketers' Association is all set to put pressure on the ECB on the IPL issue - 'Allow the players to play the IPL in its entirety or compensate them substantially for not allowing them to travel to India' is set to be the PCA stance - when the central contracts come up for re-negotiation in the near future is hardly a secret. Collier's comments, and the ECB's missive to the BCCI, must be viewed against, and only against, this backdrop.
The BCCI's financial clout has often been used as the stick with which to beat it, when it comes to all issues contentious in international cricket, and especially when it comes to the DRS. It is, therefore, little short of ironic that the ECB must appeal to the BCCI to rework its schedules so that some of India's financial resources wend their way into the bank account of English cricketers. The ECB is either incapable of, or unwilling to, part with its own finances, therefore it wants the BCCI to bail it out so that it can appease its increasingly disgruntled employees. How's that for expediency?