Sunday, May 13, 2007

A Service or a Profession?

I used to like Dinesh Mongia in his early days with the Indian ODI team. He had that tough, Aussie-like demeanour about him, his batting was crude but aggressive, and his bowling had a look of uselessness about it that made batsmen take one chance too many against him.

But that was long ago. Really long ago. When I saw him get out yesterday against Bangladesh, holing out to mid off, and in the first game, spooning a catch to midwicket, I wondered. Mongia just does not seem to put a price on his wicket. Sure, we don’t want him to become a grafter and just occupy the crease (and thus save his place, as a few others are alleged to have done). But surely, he has it in him to play a long innings? Unlike in the case of a Sehwag, who “just plays that way,” Mongia does not have a big enough image to be trapped in. So what accounts for his repeated failures?

As I replay the dismissals in my mind, what sticks is what happens after the dismissal. Mongia doesn’t seem to regret getting out. I wonder, is he not too keen to turn out in the national colours? No, I don’t mean to suggest that he is not patriotic. May be Mongia is happier just turning out for Leicestershire, where he has performed consistently well, where the pressures are much less, where the pulls and pushes of politics perhaps not as pronounced, and where he has a more stable place in the squad. He seems to be a regular, happy, journeyman, whose interests in the game are truly professional, in a personal sense. (As an aside, I watched a replay of a one-day game between Worcestershire and Nottinghamshire yesterday, and I can understand why Mongia may prefer the English county scene to turning out for India.) It’s a job for him, and he prefers an employer like Leicestershire rather than one like India.

For followers of English county cricket, this may not sound unusual – there are players legion who prefer the sanguine atmosphere of a game in the countryside to the hustle and bustle of international cricket. Why did a certain Steve Harmison retire from the international one day game at such a young age? May be the sub-text in Mal Loye’s interview recently also suggests something.

So is playing for the country important? Is cricket a profession or a service? (The days when it was just a game is way behind us, so let’s not even go in that direction.) Are you conscripted to play for your country if you take up the game? Can you choose to play only for a county and not for your country? As with any profession, don’t cricketers not have freedom of choice?

Are these actually considerations for the national selectors when they sit down to select the team to represent the country? Do they actually conduct interviews to find out whether players are really interested in playing for the country? Is it that difficult to figure out? In the corporate world, there are many ways in which the behavioral aspects of potential recruits are assessed. Is it worth thinking on the same lines for cricketers?

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