March 5, 2009

Cricket's disaster journalism

There is always a buzz around our offices when big stories break. But big stories in recent weeks have only meant bad news, and it has gotten progressively, sickeningly worse

There is always a buzz around our offices when big stories break. In sports terms, it can be likened to an adrenaline rush. But big stories in recent weeks have only meant bad news, and it has gotten progressively, sickeningly worse. The sandpit in Antigua and the collapse of the Stanford dream now feel utterly trivial in the wake of Lahore. Each of these events has brought enormous professional challenges but little joy.

As the world's premier cricket website we take pride in being quick and credible. But what a sad moment it is when we have to call Mahela Jayawardene to ask how many of his players have been wounded, or ask Kumar Sangakkara to give us a first-person account of the time he spent dodging bullets, or to get Younis Khan to open his heart about what this means to his team and his nation. As stories, each of these were remarkable, but we'd rather be writing on cricket.

You may have missed a familiar name in our coverage of the Lahore attack. Osman Samiuddin, our Pakistan editor and a veteran at covering cricket disasters, has taken a break to get married - the only event that has brought us some cheer in recent weeks. He wrote us a long email carrying emergency instructions before he left. It began like this:

"Just to let you know, barring nuclear strikes and the resurfacing of Osama bin Laden in the country (though if Stanford turns up in Pakistan everything is off), I will be off from tomorrow for my wedding."

And it ended this way:

"Cheers all and here's hoping the sh***$$$###t stops hitting the fan in Pakistan. Until I return at least."

But just when you thought nothing could possibly get worse in Pakistan cricket, it invariably does. "Looking at it cynically," Osman says about his job, which he performed with enormous sangfroid and resourcefulness, "it's been a hack's dream, getting to cover such big stories, mostly hugely controversial. But after a while it becomes incredibly sad, to watch what's happening and be torn between being just a journalist - an observer who just documents stuff - and being a fan of cricket and Pakistan cricket, who wants to make it better. Over the last two years, since the Oval Test, it's just become draining and it's strange how much cricket's fortunes here have coincided with those of the country."

I ended my previous piece with the promise that I would write about something more cheerful next. The world has got far more depressing since then. It's hard to escape the gloom.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

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