India November 14, 2009

Partying like it's 1899


Dhoni, in an extraordinary display of impudence, shares a laugh with Ponting at the last presentation ceremony of the series © AFP

Hold the front page! Saddle up your high horses and head for the moral uplands. Our old friend the cricket scandal is back in town, barging into forums and message boards across the cyber world, banging a metaphorical fist on a virtual table and demanding our attention. Yes, to the sound of several hundred million people tut-tutting in unison, it was revealed earlier this week that MS Dhoni and associates had been “partying” just hours after a cricket match that they’d had the appalling bad manners to lose.

When I first heard the news, naturally I was horrified. How dare they, I thought. What kind of heartless, selfish, irresponsible reprobates go out “partying” whilst a nation is still weeping over a defeat at the hands of Australia, a catastrophic event almost unheard of in the history of Indian cricket, certainly since the last one.

At first I resisted the temptation to click on the link inviting me to goggle at the sordid pictures of these debauched playboys getting up to all manner of disgraceful things. To click or not to click, that is so often the question. But after a millisecond or two spent weighing up the ethical issues involved, I decided to click. Invariably, I find it is better to have clicked and regretted it than never to have clicked at all.

However, for the benefit of those who did not click, I will tell you what you missed. Almost immediately, the scandal-seeking viewer was presented with a photograph of Dhoni, resplendent in a Michael Jackson t-shirt and beaming a well-scrubbed smile. Other photos followed, all of them featuring the Indian captain, the aforementioned t-shirt and an ever-present smile. Sometimes there were other people standing next to him. They were also smiling, though they were not wearing Michael Jackson t-shirts. I do not know their names. So far, so dull.

Then things started to get interesting. Just who was that mysterious man in the background? Could it be Praveen Kumar? Possibly. Well, guess what he was doing, this man-who-could-be-Praveen? Brace yourselves. You may want to make sure your children are not reading at this point. He was…(whisper it)…smoking! Yes, I know, I could scarcely believe it. But that wasn’t all.

Still reeling from the shock of Smoking-gate, I was confronted with a photo of Ashish Nehra. And what was that in his hand? It was a glass containing what appeared to be some kind of carbonated fruit-themed soft drink! Who knows how many he’d already had! Should he really have been drinking himself into a caffeine-frenzy in the middle of such an important series? Did his mother know he was out? What would Sachin say? What a scandal, what a disgrace… what a… what a… complete waste of our time.

Whatever Dhoni and chums were doing, it was certainly not “partying”, at least not in any meaningful sense of the word. They looked like a bunch of computer technicians relaxing in a provincial hotel between seminars on open source software and embedded systems programming. In other words, it looked like exactly the kind of tedious affair that you or I might have found ourselves at, not the carnival of celebrity bacchanalian excess I had been led to expect by the lurid headlines.

So just as Gary Kirsten will be analysing his team’s efforts against Australia, perhaps it is time that the Indian media held a performance review of their own. To help them out, I have compiled my own handy reference guide to help struggling journalists to tell the difference between a big fat juicy scandal and something that, er, isn’t. Here is just a brief extract:

Drugs test, failing of: Scandal
Coca Cola, drinking of (with or without ice): Not Scandal
Lap dancing club, visiting whilst on tour: Scandal
Michael Jackson t-shirt, wearing of: Not Scandal
Pedalo, falling from whilst drunk: Scandal
Pool, playing with friends: Not Scandal
Team-mate, hitting with cricket bat: Scandal
Grinning in company of consenting adults: Not Scandal

See how it works? We all love a scandal, but this, I’m afraid, was not it. Now raise your game, chaps, get off your comfortable office chairs, go out there and get us some real dirt. What’s that? Exclusive photographs of Graeme Smith looking at wallpaper samples just days before the coin toss for the crucial first Test? Ooh, that has to be worth a click…

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England