By Nishant Arora:
Sachin Tendulkar, the God of cricket, the mild mannered middle class Marathi has become the ‘Paji’ (elder brother) of Indian cricket. That’s how one generation, which is younger to him and the one after, fondly calls him. Around the early 2000s, when the likes of Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh walked into the Indian dressing room, they addressed him as “Paji”, and then it took over from there. So, it doesn’t matter if you are Zaheer Khan from Ahmednagar in Maharashtra, or Gautam Gambhir from Delhi, KL Rahul from Bengaluru or Mandeep Singh from Jalandhar, Sachin is Paji to all of them. That’s the power of language.
The Indian cricket team’s dressing room is one place where languages meet and cultures melt. This is a place where the sophisticated Dada of Bengal is most comfortable with Virender Sehwag’s dry sense of humor.
In the late 70s and early 80s, the difference of culture and region was huge and used to play a massive role in dressing room politics. That was also because in those times, Indian cricket was heavily divided into zones. The rivalries in domestic cricket were legendary and fierce. Therefore, the North Zone of Bishan Bedi was always a little skeptical about the West Zone of Sunil Gavaskar.
However, with the passage of time, these things faded, and under Sourav Ganguly, there was an evident effort to unify the fabric of Indian cricket. That’s the time when players made the most of diversity among the group. Javagal Srinath was an automatic mentor to the likes of Zaheer Khan and Ashish Nehra. Anil Kumble ensured that Harbhajan matures well as a spinner. The likes of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman were good sounding boards for Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni.
And since then, the mentor-mentee culture has thrived and prospered in Indian cricket. With the advent of the IPL, it has gone to new levels. It is the level where language or region or culture isn’t any hindrance. In fact, they are used to learn new things about cricket and life at large.
In the current set up, most of the players are keen and eager to learn from Virat Kohli. Kohli is the epitome of fitness and symbol of discipline. He is the ideal brand ambassador of how a modern cricketer should be and everyone is willing to observe and absorb from his work ethics. He is more than willing to share his experience and learnings from cricket and life.
On the field, every North Indian batsmen wanted to pick the typical ‘khadoos’ mindset of Mumbai batsmen. And on the contrary, South Indian players have been inspired by the flair and attacking mindset of North Indian players.
On the humorous side, there are banters about music and curse words in different languages. Obviously, in both, Punjabi music and Punjabi curse words win the race. Till today, Ganguly’s biggest challenge to Tendulkar is to speak fluent Bengali. Everyone knows two or three special Punjabi swears as you can’t survive without them. Srinath has always been in awe of North Indian player and their swag.
In the Punjab dressing room the hilarious stories come from their ‘English day’, started by their seniors like Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh, where every Sunday you have to speak in English only and if recorded, it will probably give a very good competition to “Comedy Nights with Kapil.”
This reflects in food as well. At the Eden Gardens dressing room, everyone expects good Mishti Dohi, and despite very strict diets, no one minds to cheat with one or two spoons of the local specialty. Down south in Vizag or Chennai, Dosas and Rasams are favorites for everyone in the dressing room. Every player swears by the Poha of Indore and Tandoori Chicken of Mohali.
Then there are friendships that are formed at an early age when most of them were playing junior cricket. At that time when no one knew them, when they lived away from the glamour and lived in dormitories to dream together, they forge bonds for life. Sourav’s room would always have Sachin come in, Virat knew everything about Ravindra Jadeja since his Under -16 cricketing days, and Mandeep Singh and KL Rahul are brothers in arms.
No other team in the world has such diversity of cultures, languages and faiths. And despite coming from such different backgrounds, their unity is a lesson. Communication is never a challenge. It doesn’t matter if you understand each other’s language or not. Eventually, they all speak the language of their religion. And that religion is cricket and they know the linguistics of cricket very well.
(Nishant Arora is an award-winning cricket journalist, and most recently, the media manager of the Indian Cricket Team. He also co-authored the best-selling book on Yuvraj Singh’s battle with cancer.
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