May 22, 2010

What players owe their fans

Cricketers must realise that being likeable is important, and their followers should learn the limits of how much their fandom entitled them to

At the checkout counter in our hotel in St Lucia, a lady came to say hello and ask politely if she could have a photograph. And then, in passing, she asked why "our cricketers" were so arrogant. "All I wanted was an autograph and a photograph for my kid, but they were so arrogant…" It wasn't the first time I had heard the line and I mumbled something about there being a lot of fans, but neither she nor I was convinced of my reply.

Meanwhile, in the bar of our hotel in Barbados, a loud, overbearing group of Indian fans was making it difficult for others to have conversations; not just because they were loud but because they kept interrupting everybody. As they got inebriated, and increasingly insufferable, they began to accost some of the West Indian cricketers. It was a good time to leave.

So here are two different images of the Indian fan. I have little doubt that the group the Indian cricketers encountered in St Lucia after their defeat belonged to the second category. But while people will do what they must, it raises interesting questions about the relationship between cricketers and fans. The cricketers believe fans are overbearing, the fans find them arrogant.

Many spectators and viewers believe - and this is a point often made in this column - that they are the genuine stakeholders of Indian cricket; that if they didn't watch, there would be no money, and maybe no game. The counter to that would be: what does buying a ticket or watching a game entitle you to? The action as a match unfolds? The excitement and drama that only live sport can provide? Or more? A slice of a player's life?

Conversely, are players expected to acknowledge that their livelihood comes, either directly or otherwise, from the people who watch them play? And that, therefore, they should be polite, dignified and likeable in their company? And very patient? But then, shouldn't fans be reasonable? Can't they wait, for example, before dinner is complete before barging in and insisting on a photograph?

I suspect, like with most things, both camps have a point. I do believe, though, that buying a ticket entitles you to no more than the action you have paid for. And like with the movies, sometimes you get to see a hit and sometimes a flop. I cannot, I'm afraid, subscribe to a view I have often heard: "We've come so far and look what they did." As if to say that because they have travelled the distance, the player is beholden to do well. I heard a lot of that in the West Indies. Sadly, it was often followed by derogatory remarks, inevitably unproven, about players and their habits.

In course of time, the love-hate relationship may extend to that between a player and the media. Aggressive, sometimes untruthful, reporting actually spurs the fans on, and I seriously fear large sections of the media are abdicating their responsibility towards being balanced and truthful

The players, too, need to realise that this is part of the deal they buy into when they enter the world of international sport. And that being polite doesn't cost too much. I have seen Tendulkar and Dravid and Kumble do it very well. Over time you know which fan to avoid, which one to smile at, which autograph to sign and when to pause for a photograph. Scribbling an autograph without even looking at a person, for example, is rude. It is far easier to say, "Sorry, but I'm in a hurry".

Unfortunately not many cricketers believe that being likeable is important. Sure, they are there to play cricket, to win matches and not popularity contests, but they also represent a team and a country. And I think they will discover that being likeable is not too difficult, nor bad for their brand value. All successful brands, and that includes people brands, eventually need to be likeable, and I hope someone tells our young cricketers that. Aamir and Shahrukh will always be bigger brands than Salman Khan because of the way they carry themselves. Ditto with Tendulkar and Dravid.

I suspect that, in course of time, this love-hate relationship will extend to that between a player and the media; especially if the media is as fickle and sensationalist as it has now become. Aggressive, sometimes untruthful, reporting actually spurs the fans on, and I fear large sections of the media are abdicating their responsibility towards being balanced and truthful, which is really a journalist's Hippocratic Oath.

To be honest I don't see a solution in sight. It could lie in educating the players of their responsibilities, in the media realising that ratings are fine for movies but dangerous for news, and in spectators not going overboard either way.

But I wouldn't bet on that happening.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Harsh on May 25, 2010, 17:03 GMT

    and you know bigger problem with this, those middle-age fans watch/discuss cricket with their young once and they talk like Father: " Son/Daughter I like ABCD EFGH" Son/Daughter will reply but father I thought A B C D E F G H was great. Father: NO no NO you haven't seen ABCD EFGH, tell me who has seen more cricket me or you? Son/Daughter will reply 'Ok father what ever you say A B C D E F G H" lol and this phenomena continue till that Son/Daughter will become next parent. Its an issue. I don't know how to fix this. Peace

  • Dummy4 on May 25, 2010, 15:25 GMT

    A good subject to bring up Harsha. I think it's important for both players and fans to be reasonable. I got to see/meet some recently in Barbados. I kept running into Michael Clarke and I found him to be always very polite with a smile (despite loosing the finals few hours ago). He was having lunch with Shaun Tait and others and many took pictures and asked for autographs. I thought it was bit rude to interrupt on fans' part but neither he nor Shaun showed any anger or disrespect. My pleasure moment was when I suddenly saw Gavaskar joining us in check-in line at the airport. I am of the generation who watched him play live (on TV), so it was great to see him in person for the first time. But I didn't disturb him either for an autograph or a picture. To me it was just not the place and time for that even though I may never get a second opportunity. Some players of course might be unapproachable but I feel we fans also need to keep in mind that players are humans as well.

  • Harsh on May 25, 2010, 14:31 GMT

    You know another thing I have come to notice is that, most of us don't want to look beyond the previous great titans Sachin, Dravid, Kapil, Gavaskar, Ganguli VVS, Kumble, and many others. I mean its big issue with commentators, journalists and ex-cricketers etc. and also Large amount of middle age fans, who have watched them play cricket. The issue is these trees have become so big that no-one wants to look down to newly in process tiny plants. When ever you see young players do something, trust me, 80 % will think "oohhh come on how arrogant they are .. look at them" Its very difficult to come out of that "Sugar High" taste that those titans have provided. I mean don't expect them to become Sachins and Dravids, why are we always trying to fit one car engine to other model ? I thought its Crime to plagiarize one machine's mechanism for another company ? Shouldn't we apply this in Human abilities too? Even simple mitosis doesn't give 100% same cells? Why are we over analyzing players ?

  • Sasi Kumar on May 24, 2010, 21:06 GMT

    all's fair in love and war. it's good to expect fans to be disciplined and civilised. but with each passing day when it becomes too obvious that players are playing only for money such sort of behaviour from the fans is to be expected..not just the players,even the commentators too need to expect that...for shoving MRF blimps down our throats every 2 mins... the fans are being taken for granted and that's their way of responding to it...if we expect fans to maintain decorum then the players and commentators need to do so a commentator, jus cos u're on someone's payroll u need to do as u've been asked to do...even if it is unethical and downright demeaning to the people who r watching the that scenario,such behavior should be expected from fans who r shelling out quite a bit of their earnings on these matches... why should we be taken for a ride...i need to make the most of my investment into the match

  • rahul on May 24, 2010, 20:14 GMT

    This issue is not limited to cricket and Indian fans. It has been debated over for a long time specially with the round the clock media coverage and video broadcasts of games. The best response I have found to the question: What is the expected behavior of a star player? Is the Charles Barkley Role model add from Nike.

    Players are paid to play the game, nothing more and nothing less. Think back to your high school and college, exactly how many well mannered and polite guys did you see excelling in athletics and sports?

  • Amol on May 24, 2010, 16:42 GMT

    Hi Harsha, I was today wondering about the similarities between these heavily built players who are big power hitters like pollard, symonds, hayden smith etc.. what i have noticed is that its their smartness more than their body which makes them dangerous.. I totally adore your articles and it would be great if we can get your views and comments on these players.. thanks so much..

  • Dummy4 on May 24, 2010, 14:09 GMT

    I think apart from the lack of sincerity of the players to the spectators as stakeholders,we also need to understand that they are private individuals and just as inclined to say no as the rest of us. Some of them have learnt the art of saying it the right way, while others are oblivious to it. Also, we as spectators cannot look beyond the fact that we can be overbearing on them. Therefore, as the article states, there is a give and take relationship that no side has really mastered. It is ignorant of us as a public to think the fault lies only with the players and wrong of the players to completely ignore their responsibilities as ambassadors of the game from our country. Thus, being strictly critical of the players as most comments seem to be here is not the answer but the exact cause of this unfulfilled relationship between the parties.

  • Dakshinamurty on May 24, 2010, 9:09 GMT

    Lol. That's the reason I support Cricket Australia. I for one would not lower my dignity by approaching these school and college dropouts who would have been selling nuts on a local train if not for the millions they make for pretending to be cricketers. Professionalism is hardly found in any field here and it is all the more absent in cricket and other sports. And what's wrong with the junta? GO ask the autograph of Ratan Tata and the honorable Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. Those are the men of substance and not these "nincompoops who can't play a bouncer from Monty Panesar" as a wise person has commented below.

  • Ambarish on May 24, 2010, 6:51 GMT

    Hi Harsha, as a cricket fan apart from the game I have always enjoyed unbiased and hard hitting analysis of the game from people who claim to observe it from close quarters. While I rue the loss of the Indian cricketers to the sweatshop like packed schedule I also rue the fact that in you we lost one of the most articulate and candid observers to the BCCI clan. I was hoping you would rake up something relevant regarding the way the Indian cricketers and Indian cricket is being managed but I guess from one of us you became one of them. The trade off for commercialisation of cricket has been a sizeable one.

  • Dummy4 on May 24, 2010, 0:21 GMT

    Yup, I was the lady who spoke to you. My point in "we've come so far" was not meant that it was an obligation for them to meet us but meant as "we've come so far to support you, we are not native St. Lucians" I had taken my boys out of school and really wanted them to have Indian heroes. We're a Can/USA family (two generations) and I wanted to connect to our culture.

    Although we had seen these players at restaurants and around (Rodney Bay is a small place) we never had the guts to approach them. Then a young lady convinced me to go and talk to them as they sat under a tent at their hotel. She came with me. I wanted to make it convenient for them so I asked if I could go get my kids and bring them there to say hello.

    It was the way he spoke. "No Ma'am" to me then engaged in chatter and flirtation with the sweet & lovely young woman who took me to ask them. I cried later to myself - angry with myself. My eldest wants nothing to do with cricket :(

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