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The cultural shift in the Indian national team dynamics

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With the Covid-19 disease continuing to take a toll on global proportions, lockdowns and quarantine measures are the order of the day. Increasing number of celebrities are taking to live videos now in order to talk to their followers or are getting joined by other celebrities, often in the same field of expertise as them and hosting a candid session for their followers.

Cricket isn’t an exception and over the last few days several sports stars took to Instagram Live in order to communicate. Virat Kohli hosted a live session with England international Kevin Pietersen and they opened up about a lot of topics that saw considerable public interest.

A few days later, the vice-captain of the Indian team Rohit Sharma and legend of Indian cricket Yuvraj Singh hosted a candid session on Instagram live. Rohit quizzed Yuvraj over the differences between the current side and those of the yesteryears.

It goes without saying that the left handed all-rounder, who was a part of the Indian side for 17 years since the turn of the century and continues to be around the national scene playing domestic cricket, amasses plenty of experience and is well-suited to comment on the matter. Hence, it did not come as a surprise when Yuvraj said: “When I came into the team or when you (Rohit) came into the team, I felt that our seniors were very disciplined. Obviously, at the time there was no social media, so there were very few distractions. There was a certain behaviour that we boys had to carry watching our seniors – how they play, how they work hard, and how they actually talk to people, how they talk to the media. Because they were great ambassadors of India.

“So that is what I had told you guys. After playing for India, you have to be more careful about your image. But I feel in this generation, I feel the seniors that are there are only you and Virat Kohli are there, who are playing three formats.

“I just feel there are very less guys to look up to. And I feel that the sense of respect towards seniors to say something or that respect of how these players have become great, like it has become a thin line now, ki hum kisi ko kuch bhi bol dete hain ab (the youngsters say anything to anyone now).”

Yuvraj’s views on the matter couldn’t be more accurate and it shines a light on the dynamic surrounding the side that hasn’t received a lot of attention in recent years. When Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh, Anil Kumble, Virender Sehwag were still youngsters in the national team scene, they were mild-mannered, humble individuals who carefully chose words especially in the media and in public and knew the gravity of representing the national shirt and the Indian badge.

It’s not to say that they weren’t their own selves, no that couldn’t be further from the case. Yuvraj Singh and Sourav Ganguly were anything but mild-tempered individuals who maintained low profiles, but they had earned the right to do so after years of experience with the side, finally getting to the point where they could express their own individuality. And even then, they did not lose the sight of discipline and respect when it came to seniors or drawing a line of maintaining their celebrity status outside of the field.

Social media, shorter attention spans in this generation, easy money with the promise of IPL contracts at a relatively younger age, more media scrutiny has blurred those lines to the point where the candidness surrounding youngsters and newcomers in the Indian national scene can be terribly frightening. And to make matters, they don’t really have a core of senior players to look up to who can be a shining example for these players on the way they should conduct themselves until they have earned the right to completely express themselves.

Of course, the infamous incident surrounding Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul also came up which drew widespread media scrutiny and the individuals faced immense backlash from the public and were also affected by bans from the BCCI for their lewd comments on Koffee with Karan.

A parallelism can be drawn to when Rahul Dravid faced a tricky incident, which he later turned out was a prank by TV anchor Cyrus Broacha on MTV Bakra. A young girl from Singapore, under the disguise of a reporter started pampering and flirting with Dravid and things got out of hand soon when she ended up confessing her love to him. Annoyed, Dravid handled the situation with the composure that defined him on the field of play and rejected her advances.

Of course, handling situations varies from individual to individual and you would normally expect someone as mature and graceful as Dravid to deal with it better. But the limelight that hung over the Indian cricket team was no different from what it is today when players like Sachin, Sourav, Sehwag shared the same celebrity status as Bollywood stars and were regarded as the most eligible bachelors.

“Because of social media and party scenes and the incident that happened with KL and Hardik, these kinds of things…during our time we could not even imagine such things happening during our time because we respected the seniors a lot. We knew that if we made some mistake our seniors would tell us ‘yaar, don’t do these things, this is not nice’. I feel the atmosphere is not the same. The boys (juniors) do what they want to now,” said Yuvraj.

When many of us first started watching cricket, the level of awe that mythical figures like Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly drew was too great to be dismissed as human. Their aura and legacies extended so far beyond the horizon that there was a sense of reverence for these individuals among the countrymen who represented the national team.

In today’s era, everyone is approachable. Open your favourite social network, and you would get a detailed update into the lives of individuals like Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah. Not to say that that in any way takes anything away from all that they have achieved throughout their careers or diminishes respect for them, but what it does mean is that you no longer find the need for a qualification to approach these individuals and be candid with them, and that takes away some of the rigour and discipline away from youngsters who feel like they could be on par non-sportingly with some of the senior members of the team. The youngsters are notioned and conditioned to think of them as friends first and seniors later, which is a clear sign of the changing of times.

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Of course when talking about the change in dynamic, we cannot leave out the single greatest revolution the sport of cricket has seen in years – the IPL.

About the younger generation, Yuvraj said he got the vibe that they were only interested in playing limited-overs cricket. “I was at NCA once and I interacted with the younger lot. I was observing (some) boys there who didn’t want to play Test cricket. They don’t want to play four-day cricket for their own state. They are happy playing one-day cricket because of IPL.”

The IPL has brought about a dramatic transition where once spotlight was reserved for the youngsters who were the most consistent and performed brilliantly in the domestic scene for months and years has now shifted to month of fast, brazen and wild T20 action where the only goal is to hit as hard as you can and uproot as many bails as you can with every ball. Franchise cricket is a different ball game with the attention of public, media and the money involved and it is easy to distract a sense of discipline in any up and coming cricketer who wants to make it big.

It’s hard to remain rooted to the ground when you’re treated like you’re a superstar at 18 or 20 years of age.