August 24, 2010

India slip where they shouldn't

The Indian team has failed to fulfill its duties, especially those concerning the media, on several occasions under MS Dhoni's leadership
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What if Ricky Ponting had kept the Indian media waiting for an hour and a half at the end of an ODI which Australia had lost by over a hundred runs? Cue carpet-bombing on television and screaming headlines in newspapers the following morning about shoddy Australian behaviour. Stern editorials would have discussed how visiting captains had lost their grip on cricket's post-colonial realities.

All India's captain MS Dhoni and his manager Ranjib Biswal got on Sunday was a boycott of their delayed media briefing by a handful of written press. Television reporters patiently waited it out, possibly given the intense competition.

Why should this matter at all to the general public or India's fans? Reporters and their deadlines do not fall into their area of interest. They support the team and on Sunday would have cursed the fates, the umpire and the light-headed Indian batting and moved on to their lives and their jobs.

The cricket media's job, though, is to report, analyse, appreciate and assess the good, the bad and the ugly of the team they are assigned to follow. When it comes to its mandatory media duties, this Indian team management is fast approaching ugly.

This has nothing to do with normal slip-ups or the team struggling to turn up in the gloom of defeat. Those can be understood, laughed over, sympathised with. The day before the 2008 Asia Cup final, coach Gary Kirsten was halfway to the team's Karachi hotel before realising that the team's media commitments had been forgotten. Accompanied by baggage man Russel Radhakrishnan, he returned to the ground, apologised to the waiting pack and got the session going.

Colombo, though, was not a one-off; incidents of this kind have happened several times on Dhoni's watch.

On one of the days of the Kolkata Test against South Africa earlier this year, India didn't send in a player for the post-play conference, despite two centurions to pick from. Nor did they offer an explanation as to why India had no one to speak for them after what had been a very good day. During a boring Test versus Sri Lanka in Ahmadabad last year, the Indians had also given one daily briefing a miss. At the end of that game, journalists waited for two hours before the football match ended and the captain turned up to speak.

All this was preceded by the memorable show of 'team unity' at the 2009 World Twenty20 in Nottingham. In response to wild stories about an injury to Virender Sehwag, the entire squad and support staff massed behind Dhoni as he read a statement, slapped his hands on the table, stood up and dramatically left the room. Some teammates had reportedly advised him to avoid this charade but he chose to go his way.

It was not so much a show of solidarity but one of petulance against the existence of a rapidly multiplying and complicated news media that follows the Indians. Dhoni's tactic of refusing one-on-one interviews works for him because he shows no preference to either the serious or the sensation-seeking journalist. But to play around with what is part of the essential conduct of international cricket is to show all journalists neither basic courtesy nor respect.

It is here that the senior management of the Indian team - or manager Ranjib Biswal - needs to step in and enforce the basic rules the boards sign up to during international matches.

 "At a time like this, management has to intervene, and have someone stand in for the captain," says Delhi Daredevils' chief operating officer, Amrit Mathur, who travelled extensively as manager with the Indians. "You have the coach or a senior player step in and not keep the media waiting. The rest can play football. It's just part of a team's responsibility."

Rather than manage the situation, though, Biswal played goalkeeper in Colombo. His excuse was that the match was supposed to end at 10:15 pm anyway, so the least the journalists could do was kill time. In such a situation, the message sent out to the younger players in the group could hardly have included the need to respect media commitments.

The media's needs may not concern everyone but a disregard for professionalism by India's No. 1 sports team should. Even India's goodwill among its peers is beginning to fray. When Kumar Sangakkara said, "We don't try and hide behind the press or hide behind our board," he wasn't talking about the Sri Lankans.

The BCCI will not hire a professional media manager but Biswal was expected to play the part and also supply the annual vote. He happens to be president of the Orissa Cricket Association, a former national selector and a former first-class cricketer. Understanding all sides of Indian cricket should have him do better than allow cricketers in his charge to try to get bigger than their sport.

The size of the media contingent, one of the reasons often cited for the Indian team's deteriorating relationship with the media, is immaterial. At sport's biggest event, the football World Cup - where managers of both teams turn up for the media conference within half an hour of the final whistle - nearly 100 English reporters were devoted entirely to covering England's matches in South Africa.

At the Olympics, all athletes must walk from their competition space through a mixed zone, where journalists stand calling out to them, and then to a possible news conference in a 600-seater auditorium. Michael Phelps must answer questions from red-top tabloid and venerable broadsheet; Roger Federer lost the 2009 Australian Open final to Rafael Nadal, broke down on court and still turned up to answer questions. Tiger Woods knows he's going to be asked about his divorce at his next event.

They may want to sulk or keep reporters waiting for 90 minutes as punishment for negative, slanted or over-the-top stories, but it will not be one of their options. It shouldn't be one for the Indian cricket team either.

Tennis has actually instituted fines for ducking media briefings. Serena and Venus Williams were fined $4000 each for missing a 2010 Wimbledon press conference after losing a doubles match. On the ATP tour, the higher the ranking, the higher the fine if a player fails to show up at a post-match conference. Last June, LeBron James was fined $25,000 for missing a post-game news conference after his Cleveland Cavaliers team lost the NBA Eastern Conference finals to the Orlando Magic. Fines come in when basic conduct begins to slip.

India's is slipping - and not merely on the field.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • gandabhai on August 30, 2010, 18:59 GMT

    How did Dhoni the highest paid cricketer in the world ? Maybe because he is a great captain ,batsmen & keeper in all 3 forms of the game and most importantly a lovely human being ," very marketable ", Long live Dhoni.Sorry mate ,by putting down MSD you are fighting a losing battle .

  • crickeyt on August 29, 2010, 3:39 GMT

    Good quick thinking by Ms. Sharda Ugra to quickly hide this article and limit the negative reactions! She wrote one of her usual "India Today" type articles - full of sensationalism, bereft of any real cricketing issues. But this is Cricinfo, where the readers know the game and care for it. They understand how shabbily the Indian media treats cricket players. For all of Dhoni's arrogance, he is loved for standing up to the press-people. Ms. Ugra even tries to portray the media's effort to drive a wedge between Dhoni and Sehwag as a good thing! If any Cricinfo editor ever reads the comments - your website is loved because it has always tried to stay away from such effigy-burning, mob-inciting articles. Please do not go the tabloid way by getting tabloid writers as "senior editors" on this amazing website!

  • jessjess on August 28, 2010, 18:42 GMT

    India should definetaly bring in Suarabh Tiwary! It will balance the team much better

  • Vilander on August 27, 2010, 15:32 GMT

    Two of my previous comments not published, but i would continue - Sanga's comment has been misinterpreted here - he ment indian players hide being indian media for favorable quotes, not as the author states. And the last line if pretty provocative what does the author mean by saying india is slipping ?? is the author referring to India the country/or is it a refrence to indian cricket team - in any case it does not seem correct since both are doing well.

    v1.2 - version notes - all expletives removed to increase possibility of publishing.

  • dev_naik on August 27, 2010, 8:31 GMT

    Media should be banned to make unnecessary assessment by media person(not the expert of the game).Media sometimes hypes someone unnecessarily and sometimes demoralize a talent passing through a lean patch.Media just want to do their business rather than bringing out the fact to the public.In INDIA,media's unthoughtful comments affects common man greatly,particularly in cricket.Media should get the confirmation from ICC board before printing anything .

  • LivingDead on August 26, 2010, 17:17 GMT

    If media can boycott the briefing for players not being professional, doesnt it work the other way? Shouldn't the players boycott the media if they ask absurd questions and spread rumors? Undermine captains authority? Thanks to Dhoni's 'show of unity' we do not have infighting like Pakistani team. A weak and docile person can't be a succesful captain. I was surprised why this article was published in cricinfo, that too earlier was on the mainpage? What did the media expect ? The readers and public to rise up and support them instead of the team? And quoting a rival captain's comments was a new low.

  • cute_jan on August 26, 2010, 15:41 GMT

    I dont get one thing here....everyone says Dhoni/Team India is always making excuses...they only do tht bcoz the so called "media" bugs them so much to answer questions....and whn they decide not to...they write such articles!! Whatever happens between the team members or whatever happens on the field shud be sorted out by themselves....not with the whole world being involved in this...how wud any of u like it if ur family problems got into media? so please dont write such articles, as it may not just hurt the feeling of Team India..but also all their fans like me....

  • Sam_Patel_US on August 26, 2010, 12:07 GMT

    Here we go ! Media is crying coz Mr.dhoni didn't come for an interview on time, How abt the media when they go after the player when they going thru some rough time in their career. I remember after india's early exit from 2007 world cup, people attacked on dhoni's house, i mean people were angry but media were adding fuel into the fire...and make people more angry that they go and do such things....Then wot media does...they go with the camera there and get the story which they can show on tv all day long, That's media for u. there was a time when they criticised shewag for his technique and even said what is he doing in the team, he doesn't deserve tobe there. Now they licking his feet saying he is a legend. We don't media's confirmation to believe that shehwag is legend. Every true cricket lover know this right from the beginning. Its a shame that some people in india they go and attack on cricketer's house for not performing in the game.

  • dummy4fb on August 26, 2010, 10:17 GMT

    Seriously, this article is the worst piece I've ever seen yet. If the media really wants respect from Team India, it should give due respect to them too. But nooooooooooo, all the media can think of is unnecessarily interfering in the lives of players, and running out small and trivial things, probably rumors, as "Breaking news.". Again, WORST. ARTICLE. EVER.

  • Vilander on August 26, 2010, 9:52 GMT

    i suggest they make Jadoo as the indian teams permanent media briefing player, he is anyway futile on field so he wont loose much by not practicing.

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