Sport on TV: Rohit teaches Ishwar a lesson in the school of hard knocks
Sunday 23 March 2008
After his outburst at referee Mike Riley in midweek, Radio Five Live described Ashley Cole as "divorced from reality" (as opposed to divorced from Cheryl). He is living up to the image of Premier League players as spoilt brats whose salaries somehow put them beyond the law as well as beyond the pale. It's a foul reflection of our culture. You can only hope that the kids watching don't copy him. It's just not cricket.
The penultimate episode of the 10-part documentary 'Indian School' (BBC2, Wednesday) told the story of two boys who hope to emulate their heroes and play cricket for India, "the highest-earning sports team in the world". That was a surprising claim given the fabulous wealth of our footballers.
Then again, in a country of a billion people, there are 100 million boys trying to be the next Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Juxtaposing his celebrity world with life in the servants' quarters offers a shocking contrast between icon and fan.
Rohit, 17, is the son of the odd-job man at Pune Cricket Club, a hotbed of the sport which is followed with quasi-religious fervour in India. He grew up next to the ground dreaming of playing for the senior team, and left school to focus on cricket. He sleeps in one room with his parents and sisters. They take it in turns to use the only bed. "We've always had money problems," his father admitted. "I spent a month's salary on a new bat for him."
The other contender is Ishwar, who attends Pune's elite Rewachand Bhojwani Academy, where the fees are more than the average annual salary. It is his first trial for the club but he has not played for four months. He's not even padded up when it's his turn to bat, and lasts just two balls. When he finally comes on to bowl the scores are level, and it's Rohit who hits the winning run off him.
The paths they take in the hope of achieving the almost impossible dream are as divergent as their backgrounds. Rohit is made captain while Ishwar must wait his turn. But the path is even tougher for 12-year-old Alithia, who nurtures her own dream of playing cricket. Her hopes seem as far-fetched as a Dhoni six, but suddenly the Academy's headmistress announces that they are forming a girls' team.
I wished her more luck than I did Cheryl Cole's colleague Sarah Harding in 'The Passions of Girls Aloud' (ITV2, Friday) as she tried to become a polo player. Sarah might have felt at home in some far-flung outpost of the Indian empire, riding roughshod over society with her mates Cheryl, Ashley and maybe even Wayne Rooney's missus Coleen McLoughlin, who in 'Coleen's Real Women' (ITV2, Thursday) is trying to turn the typical girl-in-the-street into a pampered supermodel.
It was only six years ago that the British public lifted Cheryl, Sarah and Co out of obscurity in 'Popstars'. For Alithia, the phrase "Girls Allowed" means a lot more than having a pony or marrying a footballer.
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