Since the news broke that the current India skipper Virat Kohli will miss three Tests during the Australia series to be with his wife Anushka Sharma for the birth of their first child, some former cricketing greats have made it their personal agenda to remind him how he is wrong in putting his family above his country. But isn’t it a personal choice and shouldn’t we respect his decision? And why are we trivialising the need for paternity leaves when more and more new fathers are readily shouldering child care responsibilities on equal footing?
In the latest, cricketing genius Sunil Gavaskar has pointed out in a column in Sportstar, about the difference in the treatment given to T. Natarajan and skipper Virat Kohli in the context of getting paternity leaves. But before Kohli decided to go on a paternity leave, had anyone in Indian sports or any celebrity in India ever spoken about the need for paternity leave? Forget a conversation to normalise it.
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For the uninitiated, Natarajan is a left-arm fast bowler who has embraced fatherhood recently. It came at a point when he was busy playing for the Sunrisers Hyderabad during the IPL in the UAE. He is yet to see his newborn daughter as subsequently he travelled to Australia for his international debut with the T-20 series and continued as a reserve bowler for the test team. Yes, there should not be a different set of rules for people in a given team, but can we not see Kohli’s demand for paternity leave as a conversation starter rather than a privilege? We are a cricket crazy nation and Kohli is an icon, so shouldn’t we be cheering if he is setting a trend in a country marred by gender biases?
New Zealand’s captain Kane Williamson, who is also going to be a father, is taking a paternity break as well, and their Coach Gary Stead said that the team supported his decision.
Recently, pacer Mohammed Siraj’s father died and he could not come to India for the funeral due to COVID-19 restrictions in Australia. Tendulkar rushed back home after facing such personal losses and then went back to play for the country. The current pandemic is a natural calamity but Siraj’s loss cannot be overlooked either.
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Kohli played a Ranji match on the day his father passed away and scored 90 runs. With his dedication and hard work he has created a position for himself in the game that he can pick up from where he left when he returns to the team. That is the only privilege I see he has. A newcomer like Natarajan may not get an opportunity to play again if he were to opt for a paternity break, but that is how competitive the game is today.
Former India batsman VVS Laxman missed the birth of his first child and so did Mahendra Singh Dhoni, but they probably did what they felt was best. Even though they are public figures, we have no idea what their battles were at that given moment. Earlier Kapil Dev had reacted to Kohli’s decision of paternity leave saying “Don’t think we could afford to go and come back. That’s for sure. Sunil Gavaskar didn’t see his son for many months. It was a different thing. Look, things change. If I talk about Kohli, when his father died, he came back playing cricket the next day. Today he is taking a leave for his baby. It’s fine, you can afford it.” So, can I dare ask Mr Gavaskar if he can go back in time and change it, will he not gladly do it?
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Anil Kumble, Rohit Sharma and Gautam Gambhir all took short breaks when they embraced fatherhood and then resumed playing. What we are forgetting is that it is a pandemic situation, so once a player comes back, even if he wants to go back, he will have to spend 14 days in quarantine.
Sachin Tendulkar in his retirement speech said, “My daughter is 16, my son is 14. Time has flown by. I wanted to spend so much time with them on special occasions like their birthdays, their annual days, their sports day, going on holidays, whatever. I have missed out on all those things. Thanks for your understanding. Both of you have been so, so special to me you cannot imagine. I promise you [that] for 14 and 16 years I have not spent enough time with both of you, but the next 16 years or even beyond that, everything is for you.” Do you not sense guilt here? Or a father’s sense of loss since he couldn’t watch his children grow as he had to live up to an entire country’s cricketing expectations?
So, can we treat these cricketers as normal people with human emotions and let it not be about cricket but about embracing equal responsibility in parenting? Here a is clip in which Virat Kohli explains why he wants to take paternity leave… Imagine being in his shoes explaining why you want to be with your wife while she is giving birth to your kid?
I wanted to be back home in time to be with my wife for the birth of our first child: @imVkohli #TeamIndia pic.twitter.com/oyYHMA6Vtt
— BCCI (@BCCI) November 26, 2020
The views expressed are the author’s own.