Dissent is one of the most valuable tools of a democracy, or any rational society. If you muzzle, or shout down, voices of dissent you take society backwards.
Before you get the wrong idea, yes this is still a piece on cricket, and no you haven’t wandered onto the political section instead of the sports one. The debate on dissent is at the heart of some incidents in IPL 2017.
Rohit Sharma got into trouble for dissent, being reprimanded for showing disappointment where – to any reasonable observer – he was perfectly entitled to be upset. He had got an inside edge and been given lbw, and in a steep chase that could have been a crucial blow. So Rohit got an unfair decision, and he got punished for not liking that unfair decision. Maybe they should have a double jeopardy clause in cricket’s laws, that if you are on the receiving end of an obviously wrong decision, then you are granted leeway in the post-match hearing.
Before that, MS Dhoni had earned a rap on his knuckles because he made the DRS signal when an appeal was turned down. It was obvious to everyone, except the match officials apparently, that Dhoni was not seriously questioning the authority of the umpires. He has done this in the past as well, it’s the Dhoni version of a deadpan stand-up comic line.
The other bit, one that possibly garnered a lot more attention, was Kieron Pollard having a go at Sanjay Manjrekar because he took exception to some comments the former cricketer and current commentator had made during that same Mumbai Indians chase.
What with one thing and another – with one thing being one IPL match and another being a second IPL match and then a third, fourth, fifth one – I didn’t watch that entire Mumbai innings, and so didn’t hear live what Manjrekar had said. The consensus seems to be he made what could be construed as disparaging remarks about Pollard’s cricketing nous.
This gave rise to an interesting question in my mind. Was Pollard right to take umbrage? Was Manjrekar right in making the kind of remarks he did? Were both, or neither, fully right? If you believe in the principle of free speech, you would say Manjrekar had the right to express his opinion, and Pollard had the right to vehemently disagree with it. We could leave it at that.
We could equally attempt to peel off more layers. Without for a moment taking away his right to say it, was Manjrekar justified in speaking non-flatteringly about a player’s intelligence? This is as opposed to questioning the intelligence of a player’s act, calling a shot ‘daft’, or saying a fielder’s brains were ‘addled’ if he missed a catch or run-out. Or calling a look to the dressing room a ‘brain fade’. It was, perhaps, avoidable. But words said when you are live might come out sounding very different than what you intended to convey, so Manjrekar must be given that benefit of doubt.
Pollard – again he has the perfect right to respond as he sees fit – could have sent a text that stays between two people, rather than tweeting it out for the world to see, make opinions on, psychoanalyse and write reams about. Maybe he felt this was not the first instance and was therefore more provoked, maybe Pollard is just provoked easily – a flying bat and Mitchell Starc come to mind – but the world at large will not know the history, if there is any, behind the public slanging.
At any rate, with Manjrekar having wisely not responded, at least on any public platform, this could just be a storm in a teacup. It might not have been such if the person in question was different. Harsha Bhogle has just made his way back on TV after a year, and while it’s conceivable that someone could take offence at what Manjrekar says, the only way to find offence with what Bhogle says is to be upset about something he has not said – in the sense that he doesn’t criticise players in any case. And he was still cast out.
So what if a player gets upset about something a humble journalist wrote? In this age of social media, even if you are a halfway famous player, you can raise enough of a stink that it will cause some upheaval. Not that our tribe is entirely blameless naturally. As a player was once telling me, particularly at the lower levels, journalists can break careers still. So being fair goes both ways.
But in dealing with the question of raising a dissenting voice, or speaking an unpopular opinion, it is incumbent on players, administrators, journalists and fans to not make it all about delivering a backlash. It is easier said than done, and even easier typed from afar than said to face, but ideas for the betterment of sport will only grow from healthy debate, and a debate requires differences of thinking to be aired.
Punish dissent on the field – though perhaps revisiting cases where the player has already been hard done by – but don’t make some arbitrary umpire the ultimate authority off the field too.