In watching the Indian Cricket players on the fourth day of the Boxing Day Test Match there was a difference between the Indian players and the Australian players, specifically two of them. Opening the second innings for the Indian team was the mercurial batsman Virender Sehwag whose head was facing the sky in what looked like prayer before the innings began. At the other end was the new Australian fast bowler James Pattinson waiting primed and eager to begin. The thought I had was “Does Pattinson acknowledge any deity to aid him in his pursuit for success?”
Long ago back in the 1970's and even in the 1980's the image of the Australian fast bowler with chains gold around their necks proudly displayed over their hirsute chests would usually have one chain with a crucifix on it. Who can forget the proud display when Brazil last won the world cup with players falling to their knees thanking God after winning the final game. One had a shirt under his strip declaring his faith. In the South African team Hashim Amla proudly bats on hottest of days with his long beard a statement of his islamic faith. Even in the Pacific nations with their traditional tattoos proudly display a heritage and tradition that is copied by many Australian males in the current test team. Cricketers are often an incredibly superstitious lot to the point where many have rituals that have to be carried out in a religious exactitude that if disturbed will ruin the entire day for them. Yet seeing the religious fervour of the Indian fans it often makes us uncomfortable and I wonder why?
Listening to the ABC coverage of the fourth day of the Boxing Day test I overheard Harsha Bhogle the indian commentator say “In India people say that Sachin is God and I don't like that”. Harsha's reason for this is that he knows and speaks regularly with Tendulkar. Earlier in the coverage Harsha conveyed Tendulkar's reticence in being away from his family. For Harsha, Tendulakr is a man like himself (though unlike Tendulkar Harsha is not on 99 centuries in test match cricket) and I would like to ask Harsha why he considers the deification of Tendulkar unfavourable. The effect of such worship was not a favourable gain for the Australian Rules player Garry Ablett who was nicknamed “God” for his talents. Though Ablett did try to lower the title by insisting for a lower case “g” the effect of his descent was clearly evident. Even though his son's and nephews play at the elite level he is involved in the sport as a supporter and fan, rarely giving interviews.
Worshiping a person just for their talents and abilities is dangerous for the person being worshipped and the people worshiping them. But, bringing God into the sporting arena is not a problem for other countries, why not ours? The old line trundled out by the victors throughout the ages has been that the won because God was on their side. The opposite, that God was not for them, has of course been used for the losers as well. Bringing God into the sporting equation for Americans is of no problem it has been the stereotype of many a sporting film (sans Disney of course) for the team to pray for the big win. Still, Australians are these days reluctant to rely on a higher power to aid their arms in battle. Or do they?
Over the last few cricket seasons in Australia the momentum has swung in the favour of the tourists. Momentum and that elusive gift of good luck is often mentioned. Sayings like “The luck swung our way.” or “It was just bad luck.”. Often I wonder if it devalues the players skill who won the game while minimising the mistakes of those who played poorly. Of course its the common way of expressing that despite their best efforts a team or individual has not performed to expectations. Surely this is not dissimilar to the old line “God was with/against us.”. Luck is an enigmatic and often cruel mistress. At once friend and foe, the reason for failure and the extra help in success. This was the ancient pagan understanding of God or gods they helped when it suited them, they were capricious and often deceitful. But to cross them was worse,to do so would put you in their bad books forever. So why have a God or gods at all when they just get in the way and merely take the praise due to the hard work and effort or are the excuse when failure was up to poor execution or foolish preparation. Why not accept the failure for what it was and praise the victors for a well played game. I wonder if it is because we see people do the right thing and work hard and still fail, while others seem to do very little and succeed. Is the need for a reason for success and failure in the sporting arena a mirror to the existential angst that we find in our own lives? Though unlike the sporting arena not everyone is watching us on television in an arena where we cannot hide what is happening behind closed doors. When success eludes us or others and we ask why, can we simply say it was poor preparation or poor execution, or that despite our efforts we just fell into some bad luck. Or was it the work of a capricious deity who puts obstacles in our way and we need to placate him/her/it so that they will fight on our side next time? Which do you think? I wonder now that the indians have lost the test match what do Virender Sehwag and the indian supporters think.