January 13, 2012

The media doesn't play cricket

All too often, the press seems to think it needs to indulge in psychological warfare on behalf of the teams

A few days ago an old friend of mine in Australia wrote an article that said Virender Sehwag was causing a rift in the Indian team. I read it and saw neither proof nor any suggestion of proof, and it got me thinking. Did the writer hear it himself? Did he have access to people who would tell him the truth about it? Did it strike him as an interesting thought while in the shower? Did someone whisper it to him?

And I wondered what would happen if Sehwag sued him and the newspaper. Could they hide behind the old "we can't reveal our sources" line that is sometimes essential but at most times a flimsy excuse? And what if Sehwag then used the same "won't reveal sources" line and called the writer a deranged lunatic and the newspaper a source of terrorist funding? Where does it end, and more relevant to us, where is it taking reporting of sport?

Predictably the Indian media took it up amidst desperate attempts to find sinister meaning in a go-karting excursion. And on Twitter many people asked me "to give it back to them", thus raising the possibility of a second contest on tour. But surely the media's job is to report the only contest there should be: on the field of play between two sets of players. Or do we fall into the trap of believing that we are part of the plan to dismantle the opposition? Do some of us run the risk of thinking we take a wicket or two as well?

In 2007-08, soon after the extremely ugly events of Sydney I asked one of the reporters from the Australian, a newspaper that had routinely cast an acerbic, contemptuous look at Indian cricket, out to dinner. To be honest, I was keen to know what kind of person he was, and I almost expected to meet someone full of hatred. Instead, I made a friend. I found him very sensitive to different cultures, with a love for travel and history, but also to be someone who talked about the compulsions of having to project a certain stance for the public.

I disagreed, because I refused to believe that cricket followers who pay good money to follow sport are driven by this jingoistic nonsense; certainly I did not meet a single Australian in 2008 whose views echoed that of the newspaper. I found instead that the people of Australia, inevitably great sports lovers and admirers of a good contest, did not believe that the behaviour of their cricket team and the stance of the media were representative of them as a country. You only have to see the extremely warm reception India's cricketers have got from crowds in Melbourne and Sydney this time around as proof.

I hear similar arguments from reporters of news channels - about the need to sensationalise, even to be vitriolic, because that is what the public wants. Every statement is an affront, a challenge, almost as if it is inspired by a politician addressing a rally. I was once at the other end of a telephone line, awaiting my turn on air in a phone-in, and I thought I was hearing a script that Salim-Javed might have written for Amitabh Bachchan in Deewaar.

Now I could be completely wrong, and I could be rightly accused of not knowing how the rating wars work, but what I do know is that the people in the media I looked up to and still do, the most widely respected, don't feel the need to take sides, or to deliver speeches on air, or to take wickets in their columns. They don't go to war every day. They describe, they inform, they paint a picture, and they put things in perspective, and the much maligned "public" seems to like them doing that.

And so I wonder as I look ahead to a cricket match, not a media tussle, in Perth. Are we leaving the right legacy? Have we been custodians of the game as we expect others to be? Do we do in our profession what we lambast others for doing in theirs? And have we got this whole business of sport wrong? Do we, in spite of the posturing at press conferences, read too much into what is essentially a contest on a field of play between two teams?

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Shyam on January 16, 2012, 11:47 GMT

    well said Tram,...kind of sums it up why the team is losing...its a collective failure! Oz might lose in India but definitely not as one sided as it was here. individual brilliance will not win you matches consistently..it has to be a team work and Indians are found wanting in all aspects of the game!!

  • Jason on January 15, 2012, 23:28 GMT

    A good article, but let's be honest and recognise that the same article could have been written about any countries press - England, South Africa and yes... India.

    The sensational sells.... and you will always have press that play to that.

  • sudhir on January 15, 2012, 16:29 GMT

    hi ! Harsha ! well, dhoni was telling that he will take a decision in 2013 whether to play test cricket or not. Why don't he retires from IPL and champions league right now and play longer for the country. By continuing to play in IPL many player did not got rest and got injured. Some of them took a break after playing in IPL. So IPL was more important for them than playing for the country. Even sachin played in IPL and did not toured the west indies. So playing for a franchisee was important rather than playing for country. Players and the board played with the emotions of 120 billion Indians. Players and board should remember that this is the interest of 120 billion people which has brought money and fame in cricket. Moreover Indian players are mentally and technically ill prepared for playing on green top. They loose the battle on seeing a quick wicket even before it begins. senior players like laxman , dravid has to go. Sehwag is poor in overseas tests .

  • Dummy4 on January 15, 2012, 12:56 GMT

    U should teach this to Mr. Chappel.

  • RAJASEKAR on January 15, 2012, 10:43 GMT

    Harsha, you are right as you are most of the times. The main problem lies with the Indian Media which fuels the jingoistic Indian fans many of whom think that no other country deserves to be rated at par with the Indian Cricket Team, which excels more in the sub continent conditions. What is the logic in blaming supporters who support other teams when watching matches in India? We are very proud when Indians settled abroad with all rights of local citizen support Indian teams when we tour that country. No one in those countries call them unpatriotic and abuse them.

  • Dummy4 on January 15, 2012, 8:55 GMT

    I would like to ask a simple Question to great Indian Cricketers who are sitting in n speaking cricket... n to Cricket Extra team.. Is there any one in this world to teach the Indian team how to play pull n hook shots... Coz they are playing these shots as if they are playing dandia in some dandia class room

  • Dummy4 on January 15, 2012, 8:25 GMT

    Harsh...come back to ESPN STAR commentary team...sick and tired listening to Ganguly and Tom Moody...Come back Please

  • B on January 15, 2012, 6:09 GMT

    Having heard you commentating on ABC radio yesterday, where you vehemently and repeatedly accused the Australians of "pretending" to have heard an edge when appealing for a catch and wouldn't let Kerry O'Keeffe get a word in edgeways, this comes across as more than a little hypocritical.

  • natmastak on January 15, 2012, 3:36 GMT

    this is one of the rare sensible article on this site.thank you mr. bhogle .

  • Dummy4 on January 15, 2012, 1:02 GMT

    The media, the fans will always talk, but facing good balling outswinging and inswinging good line and length at 140 to 150 kph consistent variation was the real key to a seasoned Indian batting line up failure--- it's time upcoming players are in India are exposed to overseas condition and pitches need to sponsor young players to play overseas, blame game will continue time immemorial the real question is how we improve our game with a positive attitude, first recognize our weakness and then find strength to learn from mistakes.

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