March 5, 2009

Cricket's disaster journalism

Sambit Bal
Mahela Jayawardene talks to the press after Sri Lanka's return, Colombo, March 3, 2009
 © AFP
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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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Posted by Dunga on (March 6, 2009, 10:56 GMT)

Thank you for posting this article, Mr Bal, and it is quite bizzare that the economy and terrorism are taking the front seat.

I've always wondered what it would be like to be a journalism in a time like this, on the outside looking in. I made a decision to become a journalist last year, but reading this I feel for the people who have to be on the outside, looking in...

But once again, thank you for writing this article...giving us a insight into a journalistic mind.

Posted by T on (March 6, 2009, 10:16 GMT)

CricInfo's coverage was excellent. Your cricketing lens put the incident into the context that we as cricket fans really cared about. I had the BBC and Al Jazeera on as well, but it was CricInfo that I found most informative, and most reliably informative.

Posted by teegee on (March 6, 2009, 7:26 GMT)

Best wishes to Osman. The Lahore attack is utterly reprehensible, and I really feel for the SriLankan team, the officials, and for Pakistani cricket, but we need to focus now on getting back to business as usual.

Posted by Allan Pinchen on (March 6, 2009, 5:48 GMT)

As an Aussie` cricket supporter,this is indeed a very sad occasion,police dead,cricketers injured and Pakistan cricket in disarray .I feel for the relatives of the dead and injured and I feel great sorrow.Maybe to never see the likes of Wasim, Waqar,Imran,Shoab,Younis the list is endless of the great Pakistan players,I have always admired your team,SUCH TALENT,Waqar is my favorite bowler of all time and to think we may not see more like him.....maybe ,but in England??.so sad.

Posted by Rutvik on (March 6, 2009, 4:28 GMT)

It's very strange when on cricketing websites,you get to read articles about economy and terrorism.I hope this days are soon over and we can get back to cricket as we know it

Posted by Prashant on (March 6, 2009, 3:15 GMT)

Great fan of ur site. The events of the last few days are tragic ,sports should be above petty politics,but then to expect such humane feelings from terrorists is a folly. I think the Indian team and board should,putting aside their money making and stupid India-pak politics,organize a goodwill tour to Pakistan.we need to show the terrorists that we will not surrender to them.I am an Indian living in NY and Mumbai 26/11 hurt me as much as 9/11, but we need to realize this is about cricket.everything else is secondary. I don't know though how many people agree with me,all j can do is hope and pray that the land that gave us people like imran,wasim and waqar shoud not become barren.

Posted by Lahoria on (March 5, 2009, 20:41 GMT)

My best wishes to Osman for his marriage!! Well PCB has now to look further and decide where to hold its home-series (England / UAE). The best way to answer that coward-act is to play intl matches and bring smiles back to Pakistani fans, by winning them

Posted by Sri on (March 5, 2009, 19:36 GMT)

First let me congratulate you and rest of CI team for being unbiased in your coverage of the Lahore tragedy. It is CI that I open the first thing every morning and will continue to do so. I even read about Mumbai attacks first on CI. Keep up the good journalism. Hope big media houses (especially TV) in India look at you to learn how to keep perspective and not add 'masala' to news. Lahore incident is deplorable, I was soo happy that cricket is returning to Pakistan. Now, I am scared that IPL will go ahead and some attack will occur during that time. It is the time of elections as well. It is a mesure of how much terrorism is affecting common life in sub-continent. Best would be for IPL and elections to go through without any incident. Its a twin edged sword - postponing IPL now is bad for cricket; any incident during IPL is even worse. But post-Lahore and post-Mumbai, looks like all we can do is pray. We have to be careful, next time cricketers might not be lucky as the Lankan's were.

Posted by Tony Deyal on (March 5, 2009, 19:21 GMT)

Sambit

Essentially this is cricket's 9/11 and changes all our future assumptions, expectations, behaviour and beliefs.

Posted by nasir on (March 5, 2009, 17:05 GMT)

First of, let me state that i'm a big fan of this site and have, in the most, been quite impressed with the coverage of this tragic incident. Having said that I can't help but comment on some of the vitriol aimed at Pakistan as a nation by people in many of the comments sections and the 'expert' views expressed on pakistani politics by writers such as Mukul Kesavan. I will put my hand up here and say that the security was lacklustre, our nation is over run with violence and our politicians are thieves (at best). But I am sick to death of people hurling abuse at Pakistan sitting on their lofty perch of self righteousness. Yes, everyone has a right to their opinion but the kind of hypocrisy i've seen from people on these forums is criminal. Believe me, we are well aware of our shortcomings, there have been enough embarrassments and tragedies that keep reminding us of them. We are hurt, angry and totally bereft of hope. Don't kick us while we're down..

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sambit Bal
Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal took to journalism at the age of 19 after realising that he wasn't fit for anything else, and to cricket journalism 14 years later when it dawned on him that it provided the perfect excuse to watch cricket in the office. Among other things he has bowled legspin, occasionally landing the ball in front of the batsman; laid out the comics page of a newspaper; covered crime, urban development and politics; and edited Gentleman, a monthly features magazine. He joined Wisden in 2001 and edited Wisden Asia Cricket and Cricinfo Magazine. He still spends his spare time watching cricket.

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