If you’ve been following our cricket team this season, you must have noticed the beards—a little less than hipster length but definitely more than the five PM stubble. Wriddhiman Saha is the odd man out. The rest of the team is sporting lush facial hair; look at Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Ajinkya Rahane, Mohammad Shami, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Ishant Sharma, Rohit Sharma and K.L. Rahul. The trend was sparked by captain Virat Kohli, who already has a couple of white specks in the nest. Remember how quickly MSD greyed after he was appointed skipper?
The previous generation was clean-shaven to perfection. Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman, Yuvi, Ganguly, Prasad, Srinath and Kumble duly put razor to face before stepping on to the cricket pitch. Among all sports, test match cricket is the one that comes closest to resembling regular office life – a five day week. Working hours: nine to five, with short breaks for lunch and tea. And just like in a regular corporate job, you shower and shave before heading out to office.
Long beards in cricket can raise eyebrows, though. Funny, because WG Grace bore a flowing specimen. The England team is mostly clean-shaven, with the exception of Moeen Ali. While Ali is a committed English cricketer, he did speak of wearing his beard as ‘a uniform of his Muslim faith’, prompting a Tory-leaningTelegraph columnist to write: ‘Oh dear. We are drifting into dangerous waters. It is better for all concerned to push the vessel back gently towards shore.’
But for Moeen’s father, Munir—he runs a cricket academy in Birmingham— the beard sent out a positive signal to the local Pakistani and Bangladeshi community: ‘Now Muslims know that someone with a beard can play for England. People have this idea that if you’re a practising Muslim, you might not get a chance with England, but Moeen has proved everybody wrong. The opportunities are equal for everybody.’ It’s nice to see that unlike football, cricket has for the most part been free of racism and bigotry. Prince Ranjitsinhji played for England at the height of colonial rule. South Africa’s former captain Hashim Amla sports a beard, but he’s never been the target of religious taunts on or off the field. So much for beards, though. The baldness of cricketers and their efforts to battle it is a more complicated affair. As someone who grew prematurely bald myself, I’ve been keeping a close watch on our cricketers’ experiments with hair transplants. The results, I’m afraid, do not inspire confidence. Let’s examine this on a case by case basis.
Sehwag had a transplant while he was still playing for India. Initially, it looked like it was working. Frizzy hair grew long and strong where earlier there was barren pate. As the months went by, a bald patch appeared at the crown of the head. Verdict: partially successful.
Sourav Ganguly’s transplant met with a similar fate. It wasn’t long before multiple bald spots started appearing amongst the newly regenerated hair, like strobe lights on a dance floor. Dada, we know, is the gritty, never-saydie sort who injected the killer instinct into the Indian team. Not the sort to give up easily, he once flew straight to Mumbai from Kolkata to meet Sharad Pawar after being dropped by Greg Chappell. He was reinstated in the next series.
After the transplant’s failure, Dada went in for a hair-weave. He appeared on TV, his head neatly partitioned into squares, resembling a field of freshly sown rice. This time round, it seems to be holding up.
Harsha Bhogle’s transplant followed a similar trajectory. The regenerated frizzy crop thinned out. The dreaded bald patch returned. What happened next is a mystery, because by then he had gotten on the wrong side of the BCCI and was not commentating any more. We shall know only when he returns to the commentary box.
Personally, I don’t think hair transplants work. Otherwise Prince William would have got one. Royalty knows best. Who can forget his first public statement after Prince George was born: he has more hair than I do!