Shouldn’t the only criteria to play sport be excellence? Where one comes from, the colour of the skin, the language they speak, their size, weight, and even their age shouldn’t matter.
In August 2020, Yokohama FC’s Kazuyoshi Miura at the age of 53 years, 5 months and 10 days, became the oldest player to take to the pitch in Japan’s league cup competition, the YBC Levain Cup. Miura, known in Japan as “King Kazu,” is in his 35th year as a pro.
He is celebrated not just for being the oldest professional footballer in the world but also because of the skills he brings onto the field and what he represents. It is said that when he plays, an additional 3000-4000 fans turn up at the stadium just to watch him play.
But closer home, the Board of Control for Cricket in India has robbed fans of the opportunity to watch another age-defying marvel: Pravin Tambe.
Now, Tambe is very different from Miura. The Japanese footballer was a bonafide superstar in his home country and has played the sport at the highest level. Tambe, on the other hand, shot from obscurity to fame after he made his IPL debut at the age of 41 for Rajasthan Royals in the 2013 season.
But they are joined together by their passion for sport. And in that way, they are inspirational.
And, beyond that, they should be seen as a great asset for marketing.
If you don’t quite agree, just watch this clip of the 48-year-old Tambe diving to take a catch in the Caribbean Premier League, a tournament where he became the first Indian to feature:
The catch, his reaction of pure joy, and the reactions of thousands of fans on social media (the clip has been viewed nearly 65,000 times at the time of writing) make it clear that his is a story that many an Indian cricket fan will fall in love with.
Selfishness on BCCI’s part
So then why did the BCCI decide to ban Tambe, who was picked by the Kolkata Knight Riders, from playing in the IPL?
The simple answer is selfishness.
The more complex one is that the Indian board doesn’t allow active players to take part in T10 or T20 tournaments organised by another board. How about this for logic? If a cricketer wants to play for another league, he must first retire and say he won’t ever play for India again and give up an IPL contract too.
IPL chairman Brijesh Patel had then said: “He [Tambe] won’t be allowed to play IPL. He won’t be allowed otherwise we have to allow everyone.”
And if you are a player, you might question what the problem is with allowing everyone.
The board only allow players to play in one day, three day, four day and county cricket and each player has to seek BCCI and respective state association’s no-objection certificate.
The case with T10 and T20 is different because the BCCI feels that if Indian stars are allowed to play in leagues around the world, it will degrade the value of the IPL, which remains the only T20 (non-international) tournament where one can watch Indian cricket’s international stars in action.
And that is where the selfishness angle comes in. Just as closing the borders doesn’t make a country great, neither will the BCCI decision make the IPL great.
At the end of the day, what makes a tournament great is the players and to that end, it is an outright shame to not be able to watch someone like Tambe take the field and make his mark once again. Even if for a few games here and there.
You only had to see the reaction in the IPL auction room last year. When Tambe was picked up Kolkata Knight Riders at his base price, he received cheers louder than the many superstars before him. Clearly, even the teams understood the value of his journey.
That dream of playing again in the IPL was brutally cut short by thankfully for Tambe, KKR’s sister franchise Trinbago Knight Riders offered him a chance at CPL through the draft.
After all, no sport is just about the stars. It is also about the ones who play for years without seeking any reward; the ones who play purely for the love of the game. And Tambe’s journey was (well, still is) precisely that.
The story of a guy who played club cricket all his life; got up early every morning and went to practice without ever making the cut. But still he kept at it, not because he wanted to prove anything but simply because he loved the game.
They keep saying that no player is greater than the game. Perhaps, it is time the BCCI realises that no Board is greater than the game either.
Tambe wouldn’t have played every match but it would have been intriguing and interesting to watch him every time he would have played. It would have been fun to see him add another chapter to his story.