NEW DELHI, India -- Gary Kirsten, the coach of India's cricket team, has some advice for his players:
Have sex before matches, boys. And if no partner is available, then "go solo." It says so, right in the team's training manual leaked to Indian media.
"From a psychological perspective, having sex increased testosterone levels, which causes an increase in strength, energy, aggression and competitiveness," the manual reads in pseudoscientific jargonese.
Breaking from decades of tradition, the story has sparked a national debate that threatens to erupt into a full-fledged "masturgate." India, of course, is a traditionally conservative society that -- while known throughout the world for the encyclopedic contortions of the Kama Sutra -- has banned sex education in schools. A U.S.-based Hindu religious leader has already called for the South African Kirsten to resign, and Kirsten himself has blamed trainer Paddy Upton for the naughty bits in the manual. Meanwhile, a growing number of Indian commentators seek to explain why the boys needed "the talk."
Once upon a time, Indian cricketers were forbidden from traveling with their wives. But today the ultimate gentleman's game is sexy like never before with flashy uniforms, million-dollar contracts, sponsorship deals, and, yes, even groupies. In the midst of all the chaos, the timid Indian side -- which for years languished on the edge of greatness, best known for its boundless capacity in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory -- has developed a brash new swagger.
But the masturbation prescription has raised eyebrows across India. "If you want sex but do not have someone to share it with," the manual advises, "one option is to go solo whilst imagining you have a partner, or a few partners, who are as beautiful as you wish to imagine. No pillow talk and no hugging required ... just roll over and go to sleep."
Sexual discipline (Brahmacharya) is one of the foundations of Hinduism. Many conservative Hindus view masturbation as impure, and a distraction. So for many Indians, including the players -- who have gone into stoic radio silence since the document was revealed -- the message was a bit too forthright. Still others believe that while "the talk" may be embarrassing, it's also necessary.
"All of a sudden, there is a permissiveness that reflects increasingly an overt sexuality on film and the television, on the streets and in homes and elsewhere," wrote the Hyderabad-based Deccan Chronicle. "Maybe it is for the best that a matter more often than not sniggered at, or looked at with hastily-averted glances, is finally out in the open."
"We have to, perhaps, thank India's cricket coach Gary Kirsten for making public a subject we usually like to keep under wraps -- sex," wrote the Mumbai-based Daily News & Analysis.
"Kirsten's advice ... has invited more than a few giggles. But really, why?" asked the New Delhi-based Mail Today.
The reason may be simple enough. Cricket remains the one religion that unites India. But the sport has changed dramatically as it has grown more commercial, and the young Indian players are now dealing simultaneously with incredible pressure to succeed as well as an almost surreal personal celebrity.
After India's ignominious exit from the 2007 cricket world cup, held in the West Indies, disappointed fans tore down the home of captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni -- a handsome young man whose face appears on TV every 30 seconds in one advertisement or another, and is frequently linked to various Bollywood starlets in the gossip pages of the local tabloids.
Just days before the Hindustan Times' own Deep Throat broke open masturgate, the cover of the paper's Sunday magazine featured a shirtless eye-candy shot of batsman Manish Pandey, with the tagline: "What do cricket and Bollywood have in common? Young men who would get nowhere without perfect bodies." The ongoing dialogue about sex -- both for and against -- reveals a lot about the direction that the young people of India are headed. The cricket pitch has always offered a kind of idealized vision of what India wishes it could be, rather than a microcosm of the country that already exists. Thus, at one time, the players on the field were expected to comport themselves in the manner of English country gentlemen, and when players were caught in a match-fixing scandal in 2000 the country whose tolerance for corruption in every other facet of life appears to know no bounds drummed the offenders out of the sport with a lifetime ban.
In that context, the good cheer that greeted Kirsten's cricket masturgate suggests that young Indians no longer have much patience for the idealized celibacy that granted an air of ascetic integrity to leaders ranging from Mohandas Gandhi to Atal Behari Vajpayee. And where the legacy of India's colonial past is concerned, it's no longer just the upper lip that ought to be stiff.