Gautam Gambhir has lashed out against ‘hero worship’ in Indian cricket, reckons the obsession over top stars like Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni – he dates it back to 1983 to Kapil Dev when India won the world cup – should stop and everyone from the broadcasters to media should focus on other performers too.
In the Idea Exchange with The Indian Express, Gambhir said “don’t create monsters in the dressing room. Only monster should be Indian cricket, not an individual”.
Through a layered argument, Gambhir traced out the faults in the cricketing ecosystem and how it plays out in the real world. He called out social media followers as “fakest thing in the country”, and urged people to appreciate vital, even if smaller, contributions. It started with him talking about his politics and how he doesn’t want to create a brand, and when a follow-up question was asked about the brand-creation in Indian cricket, he opened up in a great detail.
The question first to understand the context. “Do you think that this whole hero worship chokes the next star to come up? Nobody has grown in that shadow. It was Mahendra Singh Dhoni earlier, it is Virat Kohli now”.
It’s then that Gambhir opened up. He brought up India’s Asia Cup game against Afghanistan where Kohli hit a hundred and Bhuvneshwar Kumar grabbed a five-for.
“When Kohli got a 100 and there was this young guy from a small town of Meerut [Bhuvneshwar Kumar], who also managed to get five wickets, no one even bothered to speak about him. This was so unfortunate. I was the only one, during that commentary stint, who said that. He bowled four overs and got five wickets and I don’t think anyone knows about that. But Kohli scores a 100 and there are celebrations everywhere in this country. India needs to come out of this hero worship. Whether it’s Indian cricket, whether it’s politics, whether it’s Delhi cricket. We have to stop worshipping heroes. The only thing that we need to worship is Indian cricket, or for that matter Delhi or India.”
“Who created that? It is created by two things. First, by social media followers, which is probably the fakest thing in this country because you are judged by how many followers you have. That is what creates a brand.
“Second, by the media and the broadcasters. If you keep talking about one person day in and day out, it eventually becomes a brand. That is how it was in 1983. Why start from Dhoni? It started in 1983. When India won the first World Cup, it was all about Kapil Dev. When we won in 2007 and 2011, it was Dhoni. Who created that? None of the players did. Nor did the BCCI. Have the news channels and broadcasters ever spoken about Indian cricket? Have we ever spoken that Indian cricket needs to flourish? There are more than two or three people who are stakeholders of Indian cricket. They don’t rule Indian cricket, they should not be ruling Indian cricket. Indian cricket should be ruled by the 15 people sitting in that dressing room. Everyone has a contribution to make … … I’ve never been able to follow anyone in my life. And that has been my biggest problem. The media and the broadcasters create a brand, no one else creates a brand.”
Gambhir recalled an interesting conversation from a couple of senior players ahead of the 2011 world cup semifinal.
“Two or three senior players came to me and said ‘we need to win this tournament because we have to take the conversation away from 1983. We have to finish their thing off,’ Gambhir shared the senior’s remarks. Many former India players who were part of the 1983 world cup squad are either commentators or part of panels in multiple news channels.
“I said I haven’t come here to finish anyone. I haven’t come here to shorten someone’s line. I want to win this to extend our line. If the media is giving them jobs from 1983 to 2011, that’s the media’s problem, not ours. We need to win the World Cup because we want this country to be happy,” Gambhir recalled what he told them. “That is something which needs to change in the future.”
“Everything can’t be about TRPs”
Gambhir took on the broadcasters, Star Sports in the case of Asia Cup, saying that it’s their responsibility to “sell” other players too and numbers and television ratings can’t hijack focus on developing Indian cricket. That a more organic view of the ecosystem is needed.
“Only the big contributions, unfortunately, make headlines. It’s the small contributions, which we never bothered about. How many people have spoken about Bhuvneshwar Kumar? No one. It was the same game, same opposition and everything was the same.
“You called him for a 5-minute interview after the match. How long did you run it? Just because he’s not a brand. He must have also worked equally hard. He must have also come from a humble background. He also deserves the same appreciation and the same credit. But because he’s not sellable or probably doesn’t get the numbers or the TRP. Everything can’t be about numbers Everything can’t be TRP. If the marketing team cannot sell someone, it is their problem,” Gambhir said in the Idea Exchange hosted by The Indian Express.
Gambhir says the broadcasters should “work harder” and appreciate cricketers from “small towns”.
“It takes effort to sell someone who comes from a small town. They [broadcasters] should probably work harder. Let’s not only blame one or two, it has been going on since 1983. That was something I was trying to do when I was at Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) when I was leading them for seven years — to start appreciating small contributions,” Gambhir said.
He also believes that the trend will continue unless the focus shifts from brand-making to appreciating everyone, and also urges people to look ahead at the future instead of being stuck in the past.
“It will continue to continue similarly unless people start raising their voices. You guys can and should make a difference. Start contributing and appreciating small contributions, especially when it comes to sports because that is what Indian cricket needs. We need to move out of that shadow of 1983, 2007 and 2011. It’s done and dusted. That’s history,” Gambhir said. “Start talking about 2022 and 2023.”