The pitfalls between beauty and duty | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, November 25, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, November 25, 2020

The pitfalls between beauty and duty

The tragic demise of a young cricketer because he could not quite crack it at the highest level brought to mind the forays of an all-time great -- former Australia skipper Steve Waugh's journey earlier this year through India with a camera to rediscover the joys of cricket, the love that keeps an entire population agog.

Waugh said with all the ill-feeling surrounding the infamous Sandpapergate scandal in Cape Town in 2018, when Australia and the wider cricketing world were shocked by the team's leadership decided to indulge in ball-tampering, he just wanted to do a "feel-good" project that he was "passionate about".

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Among many others, Waugh came across a three-year-old Instagram batting sensation, a 100-year-old playing the game and was inspired by blind and differently abled players.

The joys that were captured by the lens of one of the greatest captains in the game's history were mostly of people playing the game at the informal, non-professional level.

But if we train the camera on the other end of the spectrum, will the images be the same?

The death of Sajibul Islam Sajib, a member of the 2018 Bangladesh Under-19 World Cup squad who died by suicide on November 15, reminds us of the dark side of the cutthroat demands of modern-day professional cricket.

Sajib was reportedly suffering mentally after not being considered for a competition. His tragic story may have grabbed headlines, but we do not know the number of young men who are battling depression and hopelessness after failing to make the highest level in a sport that they have loved from childhood.

The feel-good factor seen in Waugh's photos, where the simple love and enjoyment of the game is all that mattered, seems to start diminishing the higher up the professional ladder the player climbs. Appetite for success takes over from the thirst for joy when hopefuls enter a structure, where the line between failure and success is all too well-defined.

Every aspiring cricketer wants to be the best and soon wind up carrying more weight than they can withstand. Much like other children are overburdened with schoolbags loaded with books, budding cricketers are bent double under the strain of bulging kit bags and long-nurtured dreams.

For many, it's also a way out and a way up.

The joy and love of the sport that started the likes of Mashrafe Bin Mortaza, Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur Rahim on the path to greatness soon vanish amid cricket's unavoidable lure. It is not just name and fame budding cricketers chase, but cricket -- especially over the last two decades in Bangladesh -- offers a way out of hardship as the sport has become synonymous with wealth.

Famous writer Eduardo Galeano once wrote: "The history of football is a sad voyage from beauty to duty. When the sport became an industry, the beauty that blossoms from the joy of play got torn out by its very roots."

In Bangladesh's context, with the crores to be made by top-level cricketers, Galeano's words apply if "football" is substituted by "cricket".

This dichotomy between beauty and duty is encapsulated by the country's best cricketer – Shakib. His recent off-field incidents point to greater priority given to gaining more wealth, which made the headlines for all the wrong reasons.  

Sajib's demise, Marcus Trescothick and Jonathan Trott's battles with depression, point to this divide between the joy that young boys and girls start out with and the pressures and hopelessness they feel at professional levels.

Waugh himself was a paragon of professionalism over an international career stretching nearly two decades, but even he was left seeking the soul of the game.

Is there anything wrong with a professional approach? Perhaps not, but the question is whether professionalism is the solution to everything and whether there is space inside this professionalism to take care of budding cricketers from a mental perspective, especially in Bangladesh.

We operate within a cricketing culture that has left little space for cricketers outside the glittering glow of national focus to feel secure.

If the powers that be can begin changing this state of affairs, developing a new more inclusive culture, then perhaps Sajib's tragedy would have resulted in something positive.

But what is more likely is that, as cricket returned yesterday with the Bangabandhu T20 Cup, off-field events ranging from the tragedy of Sajib to Shakib's indiscretions will be lost amid the glow of Mirpur's floodlights.

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