December 4, 2013

Press conferences? Spare us

Enough of young men in baseball caps boringly answering questions that shouldn't have been asked

When they didn't get it the first time, MS Dhoni explained Heisenberg's uncertainty principle again © Getty Images

I'm not interested in the personal lives of cricketers. The percentage of the Hughes GDP allocated to cricket autobiographies has remained at a steady 0% this financial year, as it has done ever since I incautiously picked up a copy of Botham: My Autobiography in a bookshop and read half a paragraph. I was young, I was foolish, I didn't know any better.

My interest in a cricketer is restricted to the particular way in which they use their extremities to manipulate a small leather ball. Learning how someone can bowl an indipping, toe-crunching, wood-splintering yorker at 90mph is fascinating to those of us who couldn't do such a thing even with an infinite number of cricket balls and an infinite number of arms.

But the offal preferences of his pet chihuahua, the precise location of his hairy birthmark, his lifelong fear of jelly, and his thoughts on the single currency are none of my business.

Still, a lack of interest should not be mistaken for a lack of sympathy. Cricketers are, for the most part, human beings, and though there are perks to being an international willow swisher-cum-endorsement magnet, there is a downside. At any one moment, millions of people may be wishing you ill. Worse still, millions may be wishing you well.

Remember those people you saw at the bus stop this morning? Imagine all of them asking you for your autograph, telling you what an inspiration you are, and how sexy you look in white. Try going about your normal business after that. You wouldn't be able to pick your nose without worrying whether you were letting your people down.

Then there are the critics. Every time you have a bad trot, people who barely know which end of the bat is the holdy bit and which end is the hitty bit will take to the pages of newspapers to lecture you on the ugliness of your trigger movement or the wobbliness of your head, or to give the world the benefit of their unqualified psychiatric opinion.

But if there is one thing above all that should stir your sympathy for the modern cricket professional, it is their contractual obligation to attend press conferences.

Call me naïve, but I think a press conference should be a forum for newsworthy announcements, and I would define news as "some piece of important or interesting information of which we were previously unaware".

In sport, the most important news is the score, which is freely and widely available on the internet. As far as I can tell, the remainder of sports news consists of groin-strain updates, tittle-tattle, wild speculation and acre upon acre of dull quotations.

These quotations are harvested at press conferences in which a young man in a baseball cap sits at a table giving boring answers that nobody is interested in to tedious questions that didn't need to be asked. A sports press conference is a pile of dry kindling, waiting to be ignited by the spark of something vaguely interesting. One wrong inflection can launch a raging inferno of silly that can spread to Twitter, Facebook, and Parliament in seconds.

But that doesn't happen at an MS Dhoni press conference. He is the Bruce Lee of cricket diplomacy, the Kung-Fu Master of Tact. Toss him a hand-grenade question, and he doesn't flinch; he catches it in his teeth and disarms it with his tongue.

His talents have once more been on display in South Africa this week. How is the squad coping without Sachin? Are you glad the old git is gone? What about this two-Test tour then, eh? Aren't the BCCI the most evil bunch on the planet? What's your favourite colour? Deep-pan or thin crust? He brushed off every inane question with consummate discretion.

It is sometimes said that players can't win. They are criticised for being dull at press conferences and they are criticised for being controversial at press conferences. What can we do? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you a third option: no more press conferences.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England. He tweets here