Is Cricket the Only Meritocracy Left in India?

11 01 2011

Several authors and columnists have commented time and again that there are three obsessions that connect middle class India,   politics, Bollywood and cricket. If you suddenly are surrounded by strangers (relevant for males only) at an airport or a train journey and have to strike a small conversation, you will rarely go wrong with any of these subjects. Indians are passionate about them and almost everyone has a view.

These are nice pastimes and interests for the common folk to gossip. But when it comes to a career in any of these areas it is a totally different story altogether. One is confronted with barriers, real and imaginary.

In a democratic country, which got its freedom through a mass struggle, one would imagine that everyone had a equal chance of making a career in politics and rising up the ladder. It is far from true. It is increasingly become a closed club of sons and daughters of politicians, cutting across party lines. In a recent book, India : a portrait, Patrick French, excerpts of which has been carried by Outlook, French has analysed the backgrounds of all the members of the current Lok Sabha and has found out the following :

Every MP in the Lok Sabha under the age of 30 had in effect inherited a seat, and more than two-thirds of the 66 MPs aged 40 or under were Hereditary MPs.

French goes on to say that :

 What was the effect of a closed structure on bright, qualified people who might otherwise have entered public service? They knew they were more likely to get a break in business, or in a stable profession, than in this hereditary system. A stream of potential talent was diverted at source, away from politics.

If one looks at Bollywood, once again it is pretty evident that the top reaches of the star system belongs to the families. But for an odd Shah Rukh Khan or an Akshay Kumar, almost every other top ranking male hero is related closely to the member of the film industry. In which industry or profession, would an Abhishek Bachchan have survived for over 10 years, despite so many flops?

In the case of female top slots, where more than talent , it is beauty ( or whatever is perceived to be) that is an essential requirement. Here the beauty pageants like Miss India contests have thrown up a few top stars, who did not belong to any of the existing families for e.g., Aishwarya Rai, Priyanka Chopra. It appears the meritocracy and recognition of talent is more in creative departments like direction and scriptwriting.

There is some hope for a middle class Indian to make it big in cricket, on the basis of merit alone. During the recent IPL auctions in Bengaluru, where different IPL franchisees bought players for their teams, it became clear that player prices were largely based on merit (or perception of merit by the franchisee owners). The player to fetch the highest contract fees was Gautam Gambhir, a sum of US $ 2.1 mn. Gambhir is young. He is talented, captained India successfully as a stand-in for Dhoni. Gambhir is a first generation cricketer from an upper middle-class Delhi family.   

Umesh Yadav, a fast bowler from Vidarbha, whose base price was only US $ 50,000 was signed up by Delhi daredevils for a whopping US $ 750,000. His profile from Cricinfo is given below:

Less than two seasons after fast bowler Umesh Yadav first played with a leather ball, he was bowling against the likes of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman in the Duleep Trophy. What makes his ascent even more remarkable is that he represents unglamorous Vidarbha in the Plate League of the Ranji Trophy. He is the son of a coal-mine worker and was aiming to become a policeman. He only started considering a career in cricket as a 19-year-old, an age by which the best young Indian cricketers are in the running for a national cap. He bowls from wide of the crease, and his usual delivery is the one that angles into a right-hand batsman. He is capable of touching the 140kmh mark, and also possesses an effective bouncer, qualities which helped him take 20 wickets at 14.60 in four games for Vidarbha in his debut season in 2008-09. While he made waves in the domestic scene, Umesh really caught the eye during IPL 2010, where he impressed a much wider audience with his pace for Delhi Daredevils. He finally broke into the big league, when he was flown to the West Indies as a replacement for the injured Praveen Kumar during the World Twenty20 tournament in May 2010, and earned his first call-up to the India Test team for the tour of South Africa in November the same year.

Alongside the success of Gautam Gambhir, Umesh Yadav, Saurabh Tiwary, Yusuf Pathan, Rohit Sharma etc, IPL-4 auctions also snubbed the likes of Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman, Ishant Sharma etc who are perceived as spent forces/ short on performance.

 If cricket was run like politics or Bollywood, Rohan Gavaskar and not M S Dhoni would have been leading the Indian team.

– G. Mohan


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