Gautam Gambhir recently caused a stir by calling out India’s “hero worship” culture. Opinions have been divided since, and there might not be a right or a wrong answer in this debate, writes Shashwat Kumar.
Let us get straight to the point. Gambhir has never been one to mince his words. When he recently talked about the “hero worship” culture existing in India, he was quite blunt about it. His statement on Virat Kohli’s century against Afghanistan also riled up fans.
“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,” he said.
Was Gambhir right in criticising the culture? Or was it was an accusation the world could have done without? There can be multi-layered explanations, arguing both cases, but the answer is not as simple. Gambhir was right, to an extent, when he said that India had been guilty of following a “hero worship” culture, ever since Kapil Dev had been part of the side.
Kohli’s hundred against Afghanistan was a prime example. It was a moment to rejoice, considering Kohli had scored an international ton after over a thousand days; at the same time, it came in an inconsequential game after India had been eliminated. Gambhir might not have a problem with Kohli scoring runs per se: he might have had a problem with India’s Asia Cup debacle being overshadowed by the end of Kohli’s drought.
Indian teams have been referred to as Tiger Pataudi’s or Ajit Wadekar’s, Sunil Gavaskar’s or Kapil Dev’s, Sourav Ganguly’s or MS Dhoni’s. Some moments have been glorified more, and some cricketers have been talked up more than their peers, despite there not being significant differences in performances. That, however, is also where the catch lies.
Some events, athletes and achievements live longer in the memory. Cast your mind back to the 1990s and the all-conquering Chicago Bulls outfit. Almost everyone thinks that was down to Michael Jordan’s genius, but Dennis Rodman and Scottie Pippen, were just as influential. Similarly, when one talk about the Arsenal Invincibles, the first names that come to mind are Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry. Does that mean Freddie Ljungberg, Jens Lehmann, Robert Pires and Sol Campbell did not play a part?
As unfortunate as it seems, that is how sporting memory works, and that is how it will in years to come. Some athletes, because of their outreach, are more marketable than others. Hence, they will be the centre of attention whenever they play, and their achievements will be lauded a lot more. It is not an appealing position to be in – but that is just how the commercials, finances and the sporting cookie crumbles, especially at the highest level.
Gambhir had not been wrong in calling out this culture, which has seemed to plague Indian cricket more than most ecosystems. There could be a counterargument, hinting that this has been prevailing for decades, and that there was nothing new in what he said. Just because Gambhir has asked this question a little late, though, does not mean that the question is wrong altogether.
This culture is unlikely to change, possibly due to several non-cricketing factors. Owing to Gambhir’s statements, there is a chance people will at least acknowledge that there exists an issue here. And that, more than anything else, should be the takeaway from this entire episode.