Media is a Tricky Pitch

The real rift in the team lies in the communication gap between the team management and the Indian media contingent.

The supposed rift within Team India has been widely lambasted by the media and put forth as one of the main reasons for the pathetic display Down Under. Dashing batsman Virender Sehwag and skipper MS Dhoni, two of India’s most iconic players have reportedly fallen out with each other, and all is clearly not well with the embattled Indian cricket team. But the real rift is not within the team. It lies in the huge communication gap between the team management and the sizeable Indian media contingent.

The hush-hush policy that Indian cricket typically adopts is no doubt the reason for the utter lack of trust between the players and the media. Media management with respect to Indian cricket has seldom been professionally handled by the establishment. Office bearers of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) typically act as media managers on tours, often with disastrous results.

It is also evident that the India media is usually out to rip apart the players and their reputations at the first opportunity. That makes the Indian media seem objective in its approach to reporting on cricket. But is it? Aren’t some reporters out to get players whom they think are past their prime (though they may not be), or who have annoyed them in some way? Aren’t there planted stories for or against a player at times?

The Indian captain himself does not appear to have endeared himself to the media by staying away from official briefings unless absolutely necessary. Junior players like Ravichandran Ashwin have been pushed to the firing line to answer probing posers from the press. They have failed miserably to handle the volley of questions that have been thrown at them following each successive defeat.

What has worsened matters is the fact that recent negative stories published in India have been accessible to the players through the internet and have obviously had a demoralising effect upon them. While there is no excuse for the calamitous show that Team India has put up on recent tours, it is a fact that adverse media coverage of non-cricketing issues has clearly exacerbated the pressure that it has to withstand.

The media manager on the current tour, GS Walia, has been the prime target of some of the stories. His faltering tone and fumbling ways have become the butt of ridicule. Not a professional media manager, he has done the best that he could, but not endeared himself to the Indian media contingent that is accompanying the team. Newspapers have been having their fun by publishing details of Walia’s media conferences ad-nauseam. His pet phrases like “Let us be positive” and “Let us not analyse too much (sic)” have already become part of cricketing folklore.

The Indian Team and cricket correspondents on the tour have, it seems, been at loggerheads. The diabolical display of the team on the field has obviously impacted the entire ecosystem within and around Team India. The mood of the media-persons on tour is thus probably just as foul as is that of the players themselves.

The news of the tension between senior players is sensational without doubt. There has been talk of a big divide within the team, with players taking one side or the other, thereby indicating that a major crisis looms large in Indian cricket. A team which won the World Cup just ten months ago has been beaten badly by England and Australia both in Test matches and ODIs since then. India did hit back with a 5-0 thrashing of the visiting Englishmen after their disastrous summer in the away series and did wallop the Windies too, but those home wins were like bright blips in a murky sky.

The nightmarish sequence of losses in Australia has dented India’s stock no end. India’s batsmen, bowlers and fielders have all failed to put up any worthwhile performance against a young energetic Australian team and now against a resurgent Sri Lankan side.

It was in this grim scenario that rumours of a chasm in the dressing room started emanating from Down Under. These were soon strengthened by startling statements from Dhoni and Sehwag that set the cat-among the pigeons. Dhoni stated that the seniors in the team were slow movers on the field. Hence a rotation policy was adopted whereby only two of Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir or Sachin Tendulkar would play per match. Sehwag on the other hand defended his own fielding by saying that he took a diving catch very recently and added that he’d been told by Dhoni that the rotation policy was introduced only to provide more experience to younger players.

Newspapers have been acerbic in their tone and tenor while reacting to the issue. Reporters have highlighted the fact that the problem started as far back as 2007 when the burly opener was left out of the playing XI in the World T- 20 Final against Pakistan which India won in dramatic fashion.  The coverage of the feud has now attained mega-proportions, with the team continuing to perform disastrously.

The BCCI stepped in and issued a statement to the effect that the team had been asked to ensure unity and to avoid public statements of the sort. Dhoni himself denied that he has a problem with Sehwag and promptly tried to prove that by allowing the latter to bowl as many as nine overs in the loss to the Aussies on Sunday. Alarming whispers emanating from insiders in the know have only heightened perceptions that the rift is likely to widen and worsen in the days to come.

But a long term solution to the major rift, that between Team India and the Indian media, has to be found by the BCCI very soon. The Board needs to appoint professionals to manage the media on tour and at home. With the cricketers under so much scrutiny all year round, only a capable team led by a Director of Communication would help the BCCI in handling the prowling press.

Till then, the players had better watch out. The darlings of the nation may become fall-guys and punching bags if relations between the team and the media that covers it do not improve soon enough. We shall be watching too.


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