May 2, 2011

Memo to a coach

The sooner Duncan Fletcher gets used to the ways of the Indian media the better

Dear Mr Fletcher,

Welcome to Indian cricket. Over the last few days we've found out a lot about you, from folks you worked with in South Africa and England. There has been lavish praise for your abilities as tactician, thinker, man manager, and for your achievements with Western Province and England. All of this accompanied by a rider.

Not about the ODI record with England - for at least a year, few in India will care about the team's ODI record - but the business of media relations. How your general media duties with England became your only weakness, and how handling the Indian media would be a struggle, your "biggest challenge."

Results and coaching careers do not depend on media relations, and that is well understood. But as a newcomer to our country, it is only polite that the Indian media is formally introduced to you.

Well, hello. Here we are.

We're the ones who jammed your inbox within a few hours of the BCCI's announcement and rang your South Africa number non-stop. At the very least it would have given you a good idea of just how many of us there are. At your first press conference, expect at least 25 television cameras, and maybe a room full with about 100 people. There's a good chance some of us will locate you at the airport where you land, or emerging from your the car to enter or leave a hotel. The one way to handle it is to think of it as the rock-star treatment. There are people in Hollywood who would kill for it.

There's a reason we're often called the "scrum" or the "pack". This rugby analogy is not about the pushing and shoving of mikes and cameras, though. Think of us, the Indian media, as reflective of rugby's marvellous variety.

Some of us do the work of the forwards, stuck in the mud, creatures of unfashionable labour, territory covered inch by inch. Some are the versatile flankers, capable of breakaway and tackle, side-steppers and confrontationists rolled into one. They are pretty easy to spot. The wingers among us have a nose for opportunity and charge into the first opening; they can be quite startling. Then, like fly halves and scrum halves, you'll see set-piece players and shape shifters.

We're always looking for a just single thing, but each of us wants a different single piece: of analysis, insight, information, a move, a foul, a plan, gossip. We are not a team because we work for different bosses whom we often blame for our mistakes, like players do with coaches. Sometimes, mind you, we can be right. Sometimes we can be very wrong. Just think rugby formations and you'll be able to read us better.

We're actually quite easy to manage. Ask the ICC's media department - they probably have a secret manual on us. We are easily charmed and equally easily offended. Oh, and we like jokes, even when they're on us. Ask Shahid Afridi, who ticked us off and made us laugh at the same time.

The BCCI won't hire a media manager for the team because life would just be too boring. Besides, their own office bearers will then spend too little time on TV and in the papers.

You couldn't have missed those comments from legendary Indian cricketers about why you shouldn't be here. That's part of Indian cricket's welcome ritual, set into motion every time a new coach is appointed, and always is carried out with the chanting of Jimmy Amarnath's name. We're not sure how hard Gary Kirsten worked on his Hindi when he was here, so if we can offer a few useful phrases: maybe aloo paratha or masala dosa would help.

The team you will work with does live in a bubble most times, but the moment there's a stirring within, our pack gets to hear of it. If anyone wants to grumble about anything, we will be called and told. There are few secrets in Indian cricket

Your new captain, MS Dhoni, has a simple and successful media template: arm's length. In six weeks of the World Cup, he was the lone face and voice of the Indian team. Other than whenever India had a Player of the Match, which just happened to be Yuvraj Singh through the entire tournament. "The less exposure, the less the controversy," was how the Great Leader explained it to us. Given that a World Cup is won with that, you can't argue much. It's not the only template, though.

One of the latest stories has it that your new contract says your media duties are minimal, and that you don't even have to turn up regularly at press conferences. It may seem most considerate of the BCCI, (we call it a gag) which also follows the less-exposure-less-controversy dictum. Now just because your media duties are minimal, it doesn't mean the Indian media will automatically also become so. We don't, and won't, go away quietly. Why should we? Our equations with your players have many layers. They despise a few of us and trust others; some follow the MSD template, others work on their own. The 'boys' can be pretty good media managers.

Some of the biggest names in your dressing room invited journalists to their weddings. Tendulkar had introduced a dozen by name and workplace to his new bride. He's a good one to talk to. In today's overheated and competitive environment, Tendulkar is actually far more accessible than he was in the 1990s. His cellphone number is known but no one dares call him during a series. When he travels to Mussoorie up near the Himalayas for a family vacation, he has one media conference and then is left alone. He has never spelt out his rules to us, but we just know them.

The team you will work with does live in a bubble most times, but the moment there's a stirring within, our pack gets to hear of it. If anyone wants to grumble about anything, we will be called and told. There are few secrets in Indian cricket.

All this may lead you to look on our English brethren, the ones you left behind, in a much kinder light, but any special treatment to them this summer would be irksome. India's not such a tough place anyway. You don't know it yet, but an invisible army stands behind you ready for your defence, whenever you face a mike or a camera. No, not the BCCI but the team's aggressive fans, who would buy tickets for these moments if it gave them heckling rights whenever an uncomfortable or stupid or unadoring question is asked. (We can do all three inside two minutes.) Think of the questions as your rock-star tax; maybe it will help. We know we are not the massed ranks behind you and they are not us, and none of us wants to switch.

Just like the teams you have coached, we have good days and horrendous ones. As India coach, your view of the media will include wide blue skies and close-ups of the gutter. It depends on where your focus is. We too enjoy victories, are delighted by perspective and can sense signs of progress in the team and mutual respect.

That's about it. Make yourself at home, enjoy the ride.

Sincerely etc,

PS: The TV commentariat will introduce themselves on their own because they belong to a different species.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mohan on May 5, 2011, 12:52 GMT

    When Media has known that Duncan Fletcher is not so comfortable with them, the venomous part of media must be now trying to spit venom and target him,and affect his performance.From the team India there is only three persons who can handle media effectively,Dhoni,Sachin,and Gambhir.Dhoni reveals too much about teams' strategies.So by appointing either Sachin or Gambhir as a part time media manager.Gary did the best to avoid media.Now it is the turn of Fletcher."W" W- Warning.Warning from the media via Cricinfo. NICE

  • Raja on May 3, 2011, 13:01 GMT

    It is gratifying to note that the pack of professional scavengers / vultures also have a sense of humour. It is equally interesting to note the unashamed confession of such vulpine techniques. Way to go Media. Have to confess that it is better than the IPL cricket coverage in Calcuta where The Telegraph by virtue of being the media partners of KKR have become cheerleaders for the team, albeit in newsprint and without the miniskirts and pompoms

  • Priyam on May 3, 2011, 10:06 GMT

    The Indian media is a bit of joke which tries to sensationalize every bit of news even though no matter how nuisance that news is in actual. They have no idea what to cover and how to cover. They are just obsessed with having a breaking news and if such news doesn't exist then create it. Most of the news channel have no moral and ethical values either. To them every thing is a breaking news. This article is just a small representation of how cricket is covered in India. As a fan, what I am interested in is how team performs on the ground and Not how many interview sessions the Coach has with media. I hope that get's printed.

  • Dummy4 on May 3, 2011, 8:38 GMT

    I think the media is a small part of the coach"s job in other parts of the world. In India though it is a completely different kettle of fish where it suddenly assumes gigantic proportions. With due respect Sharda many of your peers are complete clowns who are just looking at opportunities to "break news" even when there is nothing newsworthy. I have been amazed at the way in which simple statements are misinterpreted especially when made my foreign cricketers and coaches.I think the BCCI has learnt from the Greg Chappell fiasco in preventing Duncan Fletcher from talking to the media. The challenge though is not so much the media . I think managing the team and the environment is a delicate task that Chappell made a hash of and both Wright and Kirsten did a great job. Fletcher is closer to the Chappell mould than the Kirsten mode. So I somehow feel that it will not be a bed of roses for the new coach. I hope that he does not rock the boat as Indian cricket is on a high sridhar

  • Mark on May 3, 2011, 7:28 GMT

    I thought Fletch's contract specifically let him off having to deal with the media? Suspect none of this will be relevant. Andas others have said, the fans couldn't care less as long as he does his job.

  • Cessy on May 3, 2011, 4:22 GMT

    This is absolute brilliance! What an article, and what brutal honesty! Its simply very very real. I haven't read an article this true in a while, and I completely agree with everything you say! The Indian Media is truly not the easiest to deal with. In fact, they can insult and humiliate anyone to the extent that the person does not even want to see the face of India ever again. Ask Greg Chapell. But at the same time, the Indian Media loves the team, and want them to do well. Yes there are times when they annoy the shit out of the team. They are always after gossip, controversies, insights... but like you say, there is quite a few secrets in the team. No one knows about them other than the team, and once its opened up, a small hell could break loose. So I hope he can handle the media, the team, the players. Hope he can respect the captain's views, the player's opinions, the 'experts' advice. It is all this that takes to be a good coach... more than anything. P.S. I love your P.S. LOL!

  • Dummy4 on May 2, 2011, 21:59 GMT

    At the end of the day it's going to come down to the coach's relationship with his support staff and the players. Fletcher has been handed a very talented and confident team, fresh off a World Cup Victory and paramount success in the test arena and his job is clear cut - maintain the Indian dominance. His relationship with Dhoni will be the one to observe in the coming months as he will attempt to align his goals with that of the Board as well of the fans. As long as he can keep the media satiated the way Kirsten did, we are in good hands.

  • praveen on May 2, 2011, 21:24 GMT

    The job of the coach is to train and guide his wards to success on the field. Why should a coach care about the media which is keen on sound bytes and thrives on hype to get ratings? Actions speak louder than words - enough said.

  • Dummy4 on May 2, 2011, 18:43 GMT

    Very good article and nice presentation.

    But, for ''US''- the FANS the only one thing which matters is good cricket from Team India. Yes, they are doing well. So if the coach is doing his duty which he is supposed to do, then is there something which is more important than that? If he is lil odd in dealing with press also it wont matter much for FANS if Indian cricket is doing good. But saying that I too agree with the fact that he will be facing a lot more of you people than he did face before any time in his life. Good to experience though, hope he will DEAL with press better, OR ELSE...............

    OUTS THAT......:)) Not fair but!!

  • Rohan on May 2, 2011, 18:42 GMT

    Ma'am, what was that? Simply brutal and awesome at the same time.. You just killed it with every line of the article.. Hats off...! Love your writing as much as Tendulkar's batting..!

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