Indian cricket media needs to ask right questions
Over the duration of India's tour of Australia, it has become pretty evident that there is quite some way between the cup and the lip. Bytes, especially from Indian players, are worth quite a bit for they lend credence to any story. But what happens when the story becomes more important than anything that has been said or what was meant to be said.
As a whole, these press conferences are never telecast on prime time news/sports channels. Broadcasters have that rule pertinently written in their contracts and they control the duration of any such clippings shown on various channels across the world. Of course the onus is then on showing the spicier bits. It is then down to the print media to make sure that all that has been said reaches the fans back home word for word. Problem arises when they too give in to the urge of providing content that sells.
The underlying point here is that the cricket covering Indian media today stands at the crossroads. Relations between players and journalists are at an all time low, simply because they do not trust what they say to be taken in the right spirit. The issue of rift in the Indian dressing room is a prime example here. Skipper MS Dhoni talked in detail about how losing twenty runs whilst fielding is a problem for his side and hence he needs youngsters to do that job. And the media reported it as if the three senior-most players in the squad were being fired upon.
Speculation based on half-baked information is the bane of our media at the moment. Why cannot statements be taken in the manner they have been intended? What is the need for drawing inferences from such statements? Is the average Indian fan not intelligent enough to understand these statements, to judge them on their own ability? What is this need for spoon feeding?
The tipping point came about when the team for Asia Cup was announced. Normally, the selectors don't really come out from their coves to discuss matters with the media. But this time around they made an exception. And it did not take long for it to become a free for all, not just in the ensuing press conference but also in the innumerable TV interviews that Kris Srikkanth was gracious - and patient - enough to grant.
It needs to be asked whether the right questions were put forth to him. Yes, there were some obvious ones that needed to be answered. For example, why is Virender Sehwag not in the squad? Had he been dropped? But once when the answer came about that the player in question had requested for some rest, there was only thing to be asked - the state of his injury or indeed whether this was just a request for rest after a long tour.
The business of speculation that went about in the aftermath of Srikkanth's refusal to answer about Sehwag's rest has been baffling. Why does the word 'dropped' need to figure in wording from the selectors or the BCCI? Why isn't 'rested' good enough? Maybe because his poor showing warrants that Sehwag not be in the squad. Check again, he is not in the squad for that particular tournament. That should have been the end of the matter.
It wasn't because Indians like to hear what they want to hear. Everybody wants to hear that Sehwag has been dropped. Similarly everybody wants to hear that Sachin Tendulkar is playing on just for his 100th hundred, and once achieved, he will retire at least from the ODIs. People are even questioning why is he playing two consecutive series? Maybe, in some people's opinion, he doesn't fit in the ODI scheme of things anymore and they are entitled to their opinions. But to say that he is just playing on for numbers is to insult the man and what he has done for Indian cricket.
Has anyone stopped to wonder that playing against Pakistan is an absolute rush, one that is not too forthcoming these days. And that this rank competitor wants to feel that rush once more, before he calls time on his ODI career. Yet the media (most of them) do not think twice before jumping on a populist bandwagon of assault. One channel went as far as to say that being picked for Asia Cup is like a consolation prize. Really? Did anyone stop to think that he might have played the tournament even if he had gotten his landmark? What new accusation would they have leveled against him then?
The crux of the matter is a simple one. After two outrageously poor foreign tours in less than a year, it is time to ask some tough questions of the team, of the selectors and of the board. Why is Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja in the side, because clearly they cannot compete in foreign conditions? Are India now following a horses for courses policy? And if so, have the players who will play abroad been identified? Has the process to identify them even begun?
Why is Yusuf Pathan back in the side? Is he suddenly good enough for the ODI format after being ceremoniously dumped post the 2011 World Cup? What about Umesh Yadav? Has he been rested or the find of the Australian tour is not really good enough for the 50-over format just yet? These are but some of the questions that needed answering.
But the media keeps getting stuck, at the same point on record. There has to be a step taken beyond sensationalism. Otherwise the coverage of Indian cricket will be trapped in the same stinking quagmire.