Cool (adverb): In a casual and nonchalant manner.
Thus goes the definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary of the word that is tossed around so casually in conversation these days. ‘Cool’ is in.
Cool can also be an affected attribute. The urge to act cool, and be accepted, thus, is so overpowering that people will go to any length to impress upon others that they are the epitome of coolness, of casual nonchalance, of ‘I don’t care’ and ‘This is who I am.’
Cool, most certainly, is not crass. It is not appearing on a talk show and going on and on about one’s sexual exploits, while revealing a cringe-worthy disrespect for women. It is not being insensitive and disrespectful, irreverential and ill-behaved.
Hardik Pandya might consider himself to be the king of cool, but it takes a certain panache and understanding to carry that off. Clearly, the self-styled king of cool doesn’t have that.
Also read: Chutzpah, wacky hairdos and distinct cool: How Hardik Pandya is going about building a unique brand
The storm that his unalloyed muck on talk show Koffee With Karan has whipped up is neither unwarranted nor exaggerated. There are certain norms of acceptable behaviour expected of celebrities and role models, no matter whether one covets those epithets or not.
Pandya might continue to believe he is a celebrity, but not even he, pumped up as he is on bling and bluster, will expect role-model status anytime in the near future.
Handling sudden fame
India’s cricketers are a pampered, molly-coddled lot – their every whim addressed, their every fancy realised in a jiffy. The step up from the sheer anonymity of the domestic game to the adulatory, fawning world of international cricket is at once headily exhilarating and indescribably hard.
It’s a climb generations have handled with aplomb for the large part; some have fallen victim to their own sense of importance, a few others have been unable to handle the sudden fame and the money, but an overwhelming majority have kept their focus.
Most of them realise that it isn’t their looks or ‘coolness’ that has brought them this far, that they are nothing without their skills. A few have found the transition a step too high, a climb too steep.
Pandya didn’t seem to be in that category. Yes, he has always been a little too confident, a little too self-absorbed, but that isn’t necessarily the worst thing if channeled properly.
He is no stranger to the fast life, having been on the international circuit for three years and the whirlpool Indian Premier League circus for much longer.
In various teams, he has shared dressing rooms in different capacities with virtuosos like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Virat Kohli, all extraordinarily successful and driven individuals who, despite the clamour for their time, attention and saleability, have remained firmly grounded.
You would think he would have picked up better life-lessons than shooting his mouth off, the consequences be damned, and then appearing artificially contrite while hiding behind the “I got carried away” catchphrase.
His partner on that talk show, KL Rahul, was complicit in the unsavoury mess to the extent that he didn’t rein in his colleague and best mate.
He didn’t discuss the notches on his headstand in any great detail, but the fact that he grinned his way – not uncomfortably – through Pandya’s stupid utterances suggested that it wasn’t the first time he was a part of a discussion of this nature.
Would we be naïve, therefore, to think that beyond cricket, this is all the guys talk about among themselves? Yes, we would be.
Cocoon of safety
While it is true that the rampant superstar culture within Indian cricket has driven the players – and the current gung-ho support staff – into a bubble of their own making, Pandya’s nonsense doesn’t symbolise the rest of the group. To tar everyone with the same brush would be illogical.
The bubble is their cocoon of safety and protection, but its occupants are alive to the world outside. As a defence mechanism, several of them choose to disregard what’s happening in the outer world.
They do feel they are more privileged and entitled than the average Joe, but then again, the sense of entitlement and empowerment is thrust upon them not just by adoring fans but also sponsors and advertisers who see a brand in how you dress up or how many tattoos you sport, and how much of a ‘bad boy’ you might come across as, rather than just in how many runs you score or wickets you take.
That’s why Cheteshwar Pujara will hardly smile down on you from giant billboards. That’s why VVS Laxman wasn’t an advertiser’s delight. They only attracted attention for their cricket; clearly, that alone is not enough.
The furore Pandya’s conduct has triggered is a timely, if unfortunate, reminder of the need to sensitise and educate cricketers-in-the-making on acceptable public behaviour. Again, whether they like it or not, cricketers – like all other international sportspeople – are ambassadors of the country, and need to carry themselves in a manner befitting that exalted status. To expect someone coming from the outreaches of the country to seamlessly slip into that position is grossly unfair.
There must be do’s and don’ts that extend beyond lectures on anti-corruption. The player-fan connect is the bedrock of any sport’s sustenance. It is incumbent upon the system to give the player every chance to connect with fans, and remain connected with them.
Dealing with criticism
This Indian team has also shown itself to be particularly petulant about criticism. It’s as if the players have come to expect cheerleading to be their birthright, and believe that they can do no wrong. Every shard of criticism is taken as a personal affront; one gets the feeling that for all their protestations about being impervious to or ignorant of what is said or written, they go searching for criticism to gee themselves up.
“Regardless of the whole world being against you, if you are striving in the right direction with good intent, god’s going to reward you,” Kohli said in Sydney, not long after India had sealed their maiden series win in Australia earlier in the week.
“I mentioned people taking pot shots and firing blanks,” Ravi Shastri, the head coach, thundered at the same press conference. “I wasn’t joking there, because I knew how hard this team had worked. When you fire from there, by the time it crosses the southern hemisphere, it’s blown away by the wind like a tracer bullet.”
If these are the sentiments emanating from the core management group, it is no surprise that even old friends within the team change direction upon espying a journalist in the vicinity.
During a chance conversation with Mark Taylor on a two-and-a-half-hour flight during the 1996 World Cup, the then Australian captain revealed that one of the first things budding cricketers were told at their academy was, “Don’t treat the media like an enemy. You will need them just as much as you think they need you.” Hmmm.
To generalise Pandya’s behaviour as symptomatic of a larger malaise will be as unbecoming as the young man’s remarks themselves. But it certainly is a wake-up call. Never before has the need to mentor and monitor young kids in their formative years been more glaringly obvious. It’s not enough for the system to throw up good sportspersons alone. How about sensitive, sensible, responsible, respectful human beings?