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Pico Iyer
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The Tao of Cricket

By V. Venkatesan

AS ONE who follows the fortunes of the Indian cricket team with more than a fleeting interest and is therefore sensitive to anything that has a bearing on the performance of my flannelled fellowmen, I am greatly heartened by a recent bit of sporting news.

Apparently, in addition to being put through an exacting physical regimen, the team-members, who are attending a conditioning camp, are being exposed in some small measure to a stream of Oriental philosophy in the belief that an introduction to matters mystic will sharpen their cricketing skills.

In particular, players aspiring to elevate their bowling/batting/fielding capabilities to a higher plane are being advised to "practise Shanthi" -- in other words, bring to the game a pacific frame of mind. Which just goes to show that there may be more in common between cover drives and karma, and between dropped catches and dharma, than is readily acknowledged.

This is, of course, not the first time that the virtues of a stoic outlook are being advertised. An ancient Tamil poet, for instance, has written some compelling lines on the merits of smiling in the face of adversity. Although there is nothing to indicate that the adverse circumstances he had provided for covered the contingency of, say, a leg-spinner being walloped for a string of sixes, his point is well taken, like a low catch at first slip.

That officials at Wimbledon, however, see at least one Kipling-esque conditional statement as a sporting metaphor is abundantly evident. Engraved on the corridor leading from the players' dressing rooms onto the Centre Court are his immortal words:

"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same..."

Personally, though, I think the players would have benefited more from a last-minute reminder of some tennis technicalities like:

"If you can keep your first serves in and hit your volleys on the run
Yours is the Wimbledon crown, and (which is more) some half-a-million dollars, my son!"

However, the very nature of some sporting events renders them inappropriate for practitioners of Shanthi. Take boxing, for instance. Boxer A gets into the square ring with the sole and stated intention of pounding Boxer B to pulp; no thought is given to the matter of elevating one's soul by doing some deep breathing in the lotus position. (Some of them, of course, find the business of giving their opponent a cauliflower ear an intensely spiritual experience, but that's another story.) There is simply no room for pacifism in pugilism.

Which probably explains why, from all available historical evidence, Aristotle was never the heavyweight champion of the world, and why Muhammad Ali will be remembered more for his exploits in the square ring than for any sage philosophical pronouncements. n

(Published in Business Line.)

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