Heroes of Indian cricket
Over the years, India cricketers have amassed immense public attention for both their performance and charisma
Sporting heroes have been glamourised from the ancient Roman times. The feats of famous gladiator Spartacus or charioteer Benhur are stories that still rekindle the glory and success that comes through when an individual is seen winning against difficult odds. Arjun, because of his profound skill and accuracy in archery, is still the most glamorous of all in the Mahabharat. Sports bring forth an adulation of a real hero and we marvel at so many that have achieved success in their respective fields.
In India, cricket has always had the maximum following, even when India was the crowned king of field hockey. There is a charm in the way cricket has always been perceived that brings recognition to individuals who achieve consistency, especially in a game that is riddled with uncertainty, giving one only one chance to perform. Cricket, for a batsman, has always been a "one ball game" and this is what makes it so interesting and exciting. One, therefore, marvels at the three awards bestowed by the International Cricket Council (ICC), on our most adored sportsman and present Indian cricket captain, Virat Kohli. To receive the best cricketer and the best Test and One-day batsman award is a remarkable recognition for the skill, consistency and the pleasure that he has given the cricket world this past year.
Indian cricket supporters are proud of his achievement – a true hero of millions who follow the game. Indian cricket has always had its share of playboy status stars. It is not only the cricket records that put one into that category but the looks, character, feats and a combination of all these glamorous quotients together give one an imposing halo. The first to achieve this was Lala Amarnath – in the first ever Test match in India at the Bombay Gymkhana ground against England, he scored India's first Test century. Indians, at that time, were not allowed into the clubhouse and, instead, remained on the periphery of the ground.
On the completion of his century and, especially, as it was made against the British, Amarnath was a hero who had coins, jewellery and one gathers even a mangalsutra handed over to him on the ground, while play was stopped to recognise and applaud his feat. The next Indian cricket superstar was one of India's greatest all-rounders, Vinoo Mankad. He was instrumental in all initial Indian Test victories and his famous historical feat during a Test match at Lords in England in 1952, "Mankad versus England", established him as a household cricket star.
The famous victory in Kanpur in 1959, when India beat Australia for the first time, brought about stardom for an immaculately dressed and well-groomed Indian captain, G S Ramchand. The victorious leader hailing from Mumbai became an ideal model for brand advertisements and cricket made its foray into the Sindhi community of India. Good looks do play a part and, therefore, handsome cricketers seem to have that extra bit of stardom attached to them. Abbas Ali Baig was the first cricketer to have ever been kissed on a cricket field and Brijesh Patel, thereafter, brought flair, style and fashion too. The fair and handsome looks of Baig dressed elegantly, and the drooping moustache and long hair of Brijesh became fashion symbols for the young during their era.
Cricket was looked at as a slow and steady sport. The emergence of two flamboyant handsome stroke players into the Indian cricket scene, however, brought that element of excitement and liveliness into the sport. Salim Durani, the tall, handsome man with the good looks of a film star, having the grace and ability to hit the ball for a six at will, was one of them. Never before in the history of cricket was a Test match put into a precarious position, when the public in Mumbai went to the extent of stopping it, with the famous slogan, "No Durani, No match". The other cricketer was the debonair Parsee, Farokh Engineer. The swashbuckling stroke player, who nearly got a century before lunch as an opener against the mighty West Indian fast bowlers of yore, became the famous Brylcreem poster boy. His swagger and personality made him the heartthrob not only among Parsees but among enthusiasts across the country.
M L Jaisimha, the tall, dark, handsome and stylish Hyderabad batsman, may not have had the hitting capabilities of Engineer, but his grace and elegant batting along with his striking personality made him the glamour boy of the South. The one cricketer who became the biggest superstar of them all and stood head and shoulders above them was the late Nawab of Pataudi Jr. He led the Indian team for over a decade. His royal lineage, blessed with a lithe and athletic physique and with an abundance of cricket skills, made him the poster boy of the Asian cricketing world. One of his ardent fans was the present Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan. The nawab brought more glamour to his divine status by marrying the popular Bollywood movie star, Sharmila Tagore.
One can see an uncanny resemblance between Pataudi and Kohli. Both are captains who have led from the front, are brilliant batsmen, super athletes, good looking and are accompanied by famous actresses who stand tall in their own right. Indian cricket has had many other stars as well, Kapil Dev for one, especially after the World Cup win in 1983, Gavaskar and his record performances, Ravi Shastri after he won the Audi and Tendulkar as the God of Indian cricket, but somehow none of them had the style and aura that the glamour boys of the past portrayed.
Virat Kohli, has fortunately taken the cricket baton from the hands of Tendulkar and is carrying it forward successfully on the cricket field and is now as much of a cult figure off it. India, finally, has a glamorous cricket icon to look up to. One wishes him many more accolades!
(The writer is a former Test cricketer. The views expressed are strictly personal)