When big boys play with soft toys, you wonder

RAMYA KRISHNAMURTHY writes from Bangalore: I first saw images like the ones above during the first Test match against Pakistan in Delhi. On the fourth or fifth day. Shoaib Akhtar, battling yet another injury, was taking a breather on the sidelines. Yuvraj Singh, who was not playing the Test, and Murali Karthik were alongside.

As the television cameras kept panning on to the playful trio, the tiger sat harmlessly on Karthik’s knee relishing the attention being showered on it. Then Yuvraj, being the good Punjabi, thrust the toy into the lens of the camera. Shoaib was unusually demure. The way it seemed, the tiger belonged to Karthik.

Oh, well, an orthodox leftarm spinner is just the kind of guy to be carrying a soft toy in his kit, I thought to myself. Till…

Till I saw this picture in the papers this morning. Either Shoaib has borrowed the soft toy from Karthik (unlikely) or the soft toy belongs to Shoaib (more likely).

Either way, I’m wondering, what makes the fastest “bowler” in the world—the mascot of male aggression, who chucks beamers, slaps coaches, beats up colleagues, swears at rivals, takes drugs, gets into fights—want to be seen in public and on television with a soft toy?

# Is it just to show off? A photo-op for cameramen especially when he has not really set the stadiums on fire?

# Or is it to show that he has a soft side to himself? That beneath the tough exterior, he is as human as all of us “at the end of the day”, and that he is not afraid to show it?

# Is he the metrosexual speed demon, a cricketing version of David Beckham, appealing to Barbie doll loving women? “Darling, tough men don’t play with paddington bears.”

# In school, we used to hear that Rahul Dravid, while growing up, slept with the cricket bat next to him. Is the most charismatic star in the Pakistan team so friendless that he has to take a soft toy to bed each night?

# Is Shoaib surreptitiously promoting a product? Has the sale of tigers shot up in Rawalpindi? Has BCCI, which got so antsy about Shah Rukh Khan promoting OSO, taken note?

# Or has Shoaib Akhtar, like most cricketers and cricket fans, just not grown up?

# Or is it a freudian slip? Tiger, feline, cat….

Of course, Shoaib Akhtar must be saluted for being so un-selfconscious. And our men must doff their Mysore topis to him for having the courage to be doing something so unmanly and having some “fun” in the process? But would Imran Khan, the man whom Shoaib Akhtar has compared himself, have been seen with a teddy bear or a tiger?

Would Joel Garner or Jeff Thompson? Viv Richards or Andrew Symonds?

Would Kapil Dev?

Photographs: K. Bhagyaprakash/ courtesy The Hindu (top) and PTI (below)