On 26 April, Pradeep Magazine, one of the country’s most respected and independent-minded cricket journalists, wrote on Twitter: “The silence of Indian cricketers is too loud. Are they waiting for a cut and paste advisory from the top?” Magazine’s observation was unfailingly accurate. The collective void of silence from Indian cricketers in the midst of a raging pandemic has been the mirror opposite of the alacrity with which they waded into the issue of the farmers’ protests in February—a subject most of them did not even fully grasp—posting farcical, imitative tweets at the behest of the current regime. Meanwhile, India’s millionaire cricketers have continued to accumulate fortunes through their participation in the Indian Premier League, whose success has been built on the untiring devotion of the world’s largest cricket-watching public, even as that public is literally gasping for breath.
For observers of both Indian cricket and the trajectory of Indian society and state under Narendra Modi, the silence of Indian cricketers—even as this second wave of the coronavirus ravages the country—is not surprising. Ace survivors never break the law of omertà in a mafia state. The Indian cricketer, largely reared in the self-serving ethos of the Indian middle class and having risen to the top in the uncertain shadow of vindictive and politically powerful cricket administrators, remains a particularly meek breed.
The silence of these otherwise individualistic superstars in this case has everything to do with the identity of the de facto boss of Indian cricket: Jay Shah, the undistinguished progeny of the second-most powerful man in the land. Despite having no prior notable involvement in the game, Jay Shah was airlifted into one of the most important positions in cricket by sole virtue of being the son of the union home minister. (Sourav Ganguly, officially the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, is little more than an inconsequential figurehead.)
Contrast the muted voices of Indian cricketers with the wave of empathy pouring in from the rest of the cricketing world. In an emotional video shared last month, the former Pakistani cricketer Shoaib Akhtar articulated his anguish at the alarming situation in India. “Its a Pandemic, we are all in it together,” the caption alongside the video said. “Must become each other’s support.” Babar Azam, the current captain of the Pakistan team, also tweeted with a concern thus far not seen in his Indian counterpart, Virat Kohli. “Prayers with the people of India in these catastrophic times,” Azam wrote on Twitter. “It’s time to show solidarity and pray together...Together we can do it.”
Within the Indian Premier League, the lead has come from current and former Australian players currently playing and commentating in the tournament. Shaped in a very different cricketing and social environment, foreign players have been far more alert to the unreality of the crisis in India. Pat Cummins, the Australian vice-captain who plays for the Kolkata Knight Riders, made the first acknowledgement of the catastrophe unfolding outside the league’s bio-bubble. On 26 April, Cummins contributed $50,000 for COVID relief, noting in his statement that it was “specifically to purchase oxygen supplies for India’s hospitals.” The next day, the former Australian cricketer Brett Lee followed suit with a contribution of one bitcoin, roughly equivalent to about Rs 40 lakh.