Puja on the pitch

The Asian Age.  | Swati Sharma

Sports, Cricket

A desperate final prayer for a win or just a customary ritual, the cricketing community weighs in on the public display of piety.

Before India took on West Indies on Wednesday, the Chairman of the National Senior Selection Committee, M.S.K. Prasad, and some other officials, conducted a puja on the pitch.

Recently, an image surfaced on social media, showing a handful of people including chief selector MSK Prasad conducting a pitch puja at Visakhapatnam’s Dr YSR Reddy ACA-VDCA Stadium ahead of India’s one-day match against the West Indies. Being spiritual and reciting one’s prayers for a good start is a personal choice and should be done in private, but a public display ahead of the match draws flak and ridicule.

Vizag’s pitch puja has not gone down well with other officials and ex-players. Does it show lack of confidence in the team? Saad Bin Jung, a former Indian cricketer who played first-class cricket from 1978 to 1984, says, “This has nothing to do with their confidence. Most of the selectors have not played much cricket.

To handle these boys and understand the pressure, one needs Sourav Ganguly or Rahul Dravid or someone of that calibre; only they will be able to sustain the pressure.

But with the Supreme Court coming in, they should have understood the ground reality. They should have asked for a think tank, which could have helped them to decide the next course of action, instead of just putting in people who don’t understand the game.”

One may ask, ‘What’s wrong in doing puja?’ “Nothing wrong. We do so many things, for example when we played with Krishnamachari Srikkanth, for every ball he would hit, he would thank God in his own style. But I have never seen any official or association performing puja at the ground. It shows a complete lack of professionalism and faith among the people who have done it,” adds Saad.

Some of the curators perform pujas on pitches, ahead of the start of the season, but rarely is such a thing done just before a game. “All public displays of rituals with religious overtones are prone to be easily misinterpreted. Such a puja around a cricket pitch may not necessarily be performed to seek a win in the ensuing match. It could merely be a traditional way to wish/hope for a smoothly organised match. Or to seek some form of additional blessings from the celestial powers that be, with the hope that the pitch behaves predictably and does not let the organisers down. India had already won the first ODI in Guwahati with great ease. Chasing down 322 by the 43rd over. I really don’t think the Vizag puja was an appeal to the Almighty to work his miracles and lead India to a rare win, after 30 years of continuous losses! So, to my mind, it was in no way an indication of any confidence issue. Quite possibly, just a ritual to ensure trouble free conduct. So, perhaps it should have been performed indoors somewhere, correct? In privacy. Finally, I suppose, to each their own! Just like many sportsmen have rituals (religious or otherwise) of their own. And some don’t. It doesn’t mean one lot is necessarily going to perform better than the other group,” says Charu Sharma, an Indian commentator.

On the other hand, VVS Laxman, the former Indian cricketer and currently a cricket commentator, saw nothing wrong with the exercise of celestial propitiation. “It’s so disappointing that people are thinking that MSK Prasad performed the puja for the team. The association performs the puja on the day of the match for it to go smoothly.”