India is the undisputed leader in the cricket world. Cricket without India would lose its charm and flavour. However, it wasn’t always like this. Till the early 2000s, cricket was ruled mainly by the English and the Australians. They had the financial clout and a major portion of revenues would come from them. However, with the emergence of India as a financial powerhouse, all that changed. The introduction and success of the IPL has cemented India’s position at the head of the table, and cricketers have also taken notice of the same.
There seems to be a stark difference in behaviour of foreign cricketers — both playing and retired towards India post the success of the IPL. Back in the 1980s, it was common for players especially from England and Australia to refuse to come to play in India. For example, Greg Chappell has not played in India and neither had Sir Don Bradman. The players from these two nations especially would bicker about the heat and food in India.
I will be stating a few examples of the comments which foreign cricketers have made about India both during and after their playing days.
Matthew Hayden, the exAustralian opening batsman had called India a “Third World Country” in 2008 in the aftermath of their defeat in a Test Series in India. The same Matthew Hayden now says that he “loves spending time in India”. Shahid Afridi is known for having a love-hate relationship with India. During his playing days he made comments like “nothing like India ka pyaar”, etc, but now he seems to be singing a different tune altogether. Darren Sammy, the seemingly affable ex-West Indian allrounder, is making comments on racism in India these days.
So, the question is… what changed? The answer to the question is simple. Matthew Hayden may have realised that life as an excricketer in his native country is not that easy. Cricket is not the No. 1 sport in Australia with Australian Rules Football and Rugby taking the top spot. Conversely in India, even exforeign cricketers still get asked for autographs and selfies from knowledgeable fans. Hence, it made sense for him to do a makeover from his tough no-nonsense image to a smiling amiable guy with a penchant for Indian food. In the case of Shahid Afridi, it seems that he may have had one eye on potential commentary or coaching contracts in India after his retirement. It is noteworthy that Darren Sammy has strong connections with Pakistan after being offered Honorary Citizenship of the nation.
We must be wary of foreign cricketers, both current and retired. It seems that their statements of “love for India” are circumstantial and driven by commercial motives. It always helps for foreign cricketers to be in the good books of Indian cricketers because it helps them in getting plum IPL and commentary and coaching contracts in India. One must never forget that Australian cricketers were bought at throw away prices in the first IPL in 2008 because the memory of their bad behaviour in the 2007-08 Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Australia was fresh in the minds of the Indian public.
To know what foreign players really think about India, one should ask players who don’t play in the IPL and have no pecuniary benefit arising from India. A few names that crop up are James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Dean Elgar, Joe Root and Tim Paine, among others.
We as Indians should appreciate the skill of the foreign cricketers when they come to our country to ply their trade, but we shouldn’t go overboard and “support” them, because their loyalty lies first and foremost with their country. They remember that, let’s hope that we do too.