This is an old story, a story that started almost five years ago and will make some people see red, for it seems to paint a picture of colonialism perhaps. But I see more to it, a sorry story soaked in media callousness and irresponsibility. Half way through reading what I am about to say, I anticipate that you will ask me the standard "Why now?" question. Well, I guess I have more unsuspecting victims who can silently suffer my ranting, more than the one or two that used to read earlier. Also I believe strongly in what I have to say.
Anyways, fresh out of engineering college, I was then waiting everyday with sweaty palms, waiting for the Mahatma in maroon to bring in warm tidings about the various applications that I had put in. With nothing to do and having won at both the Knock-out and the Tournament modes in Need For Speed II (Special Edition), I found myself reading more about cricket than I had in the past. And that was when Australia landed in India for what is now considered a turning point in Indian cricket.
Soon, I started reading more and more about the Australian team's preparation. So much that I started expecting to see babes in bikinis and surfer dudes off the surf at Beasant Nagar. At one point of time, the sidebar in the cricket section of a major Indian website sported links to columns by at least three (then current) Aussie cricketers not to mention regular interviews and columns from former Aussie cricketers who, as expected turned on the heat against the Indians. Of course, that was to be expected, given that the Australians were then in the midst of a record run of victories (before flying out of Kolkata with their tails between their legs). In contrast, the Indian repartees (if you want to call them that) came from the likes of the current manager of the team who sought to raise the Aussie captain on a high pedestal that others had not put him on. But then Laxman (and Dravid) happened. Soon after that, Harbhajan decided to join in the fun. And the world turned on its head, in spite of the negativity thrown at the Indian team by its own media outlets (by the opposition in proxy).
Well, that was in 2001. So this is where you get to ask the one question that I have allowed you to ask. The answer is perhaps Indian media’s worst kept secret. Since the Indian media talks very little sports other than cricket, it is definitely fair to pin the blame on the whole media than just the cricket specific outlets only. You see, I don’t think any media outlet in India cares about the game. Otherwise why would they go and talk to a Pakistani about India’s chances. And why would they highlight a Aussie cricketer’s visit to a slum while simultaneously claim (quite illogically, I should add) that Indian cricketers don’t do something similar (or raise money for the Tsunami victims!)? So finally I come to the point of this rant.
From the time Australia landed in 2001, till this day, a couple of hours before Dravid and Inzy go out to toss at the Qaddafi Stadium, Indian media seems to get the most explosive of statements from every Sarfaraz, Javed and Khan. That’s not to say that the Singhs, the Lele’s and the More’s have been spared from an opportunity to insert a footwear less appendage into their mouths, though in his defense, I should say that Mr. Lele became a star performer in this category much earlier.
So, why am I riled what a lot of people (outside the media) term minor? Because I think it is not minor. If it was minor, then you would see the likes of Sidhu write columns in papers such as the Dawn and we would hear Kapil Dev speak about how strange it is that Shoaib Akhtar has had only one series when he has bowled more than 100 overs (a stat that I read somewhere). I think the Indian media is being disloyal and irresponsible by repeating comments by washed out ex-cricketers who are not Indian. And they seem to do more disservice by pushing the mics in front of our own men and forcing them to react to words that they rather ignore.
If I were to play Devil’s Advocate, I’d argue that one of the key qualities that international cricketers should possess would be the ability to get into a zone and push distractions like the media out of their mind once they step onto the turf. But my defense would go along these lines - Is it too much to ask of the media to get behind their own team and support them? Why should the media take perverse interest out of making a cricketer’s job any more difficult than it is? Why would a Mid Day or a Hindustan Times go to a Sarfaraz Nawaz for quotes every time India lands in Pakistan? Do we expect cricketers and officials from other countries to turn against their own just like we do?
Oh, I get it. It’s the money. Bold text sells newsprint, just like breasts sell Bollywood movies these days. All through these past few years, I see this same vicious cycle unfolding – the media opens up a Pandora Box by breaking news about something and carping about it like nobody’s business. Then the Indian public jumps on the cricketer concerned. The cricketer loses whatever sanity he must have had and goes on the defensive. Then the public slowly start losing interest. The next thing you know, the media turns all preachy and starts hoping that in the best interests of Indian cricket, the events of the preceding days could be avoided in the future. But wait! Didn’t the media fuel the flames with the inflammatory commentary? All that is conveniently forgotten. So at the end of it all, the poor cricketer (who, by then has started feeling that the worst indiscretion that he ever committed was to start playing cricket in the first place) is in the dumps. The public, by now has lost interest and the media has earned its few cents.
So has Indian cricket gained anything from all this? From where I am looking, it doesn’t seem so. It just seems like every time Indian cricket is on the verge of something big, we find that the media, cricketers and the public participating in their own version of the Mexican standoff. And in few of these occasions, one of the nervous parties pulls the trigger and then we have mayhem. So who is to blame? All three, I would say. But the party who has the best chance of defusing the situation and guarding against history repeating itself would be the media. But does the media realize this? More importantly, does the media want to do something to change this status quo? Sadly its seems that this will continue forever and that, my friends is a shame. Because for all that we Indians talk about patriotism, we seem to forget that while cheering for the opposition is defined as sportsmanship, dissing the home team is not exactly in sync with the concept of patriotism in a country that wants you to respect your national colors so much that till recently, you were forbidden by law to fly your own flag without “official permission”.