Sunil Gavaskar: How the Indian media manufactured a ‘distasteful comment'

The media had some hearsay for lunch. And Sunil Gavaskar paid for it.

ByAyush Tiwari
Sunil Gavaskar: How the Indian media manufactured a ‘distasteful comment'

"Ab jab lockdown tha toh sirf Anushka ki bowling ki practice ki unhone, wo video dekhiye. Us se toh kuch nahi ban na hai,” the commentator Sunil Gavaskar remarked as Virat Kohli stood ready to bat in the Dubai cricket stadium on Thursday. “During lockdown, he did bowling practice only with Anushka, you watch the video. That won’t be enough.”

The former Indian cricketer was referring to a video of Kohli and his wife, actor Anushka Sharma, that had leaked to the media in May and showed them playing cricket on a terrace. His comment was preceded by a remark on Kohli dropping catches earlier in the day, and an observation on the batsman’s training: “He knows he can become better only with more practice”.

Within hours, Gavaskar’s utterance was twisted, caricatured and slammed by celebrities, journalists and internet influencers who seemed to have not heard the original commentary.

Two things happened. One, several media outlets alleged that Gavaskar had blamed Anushka for Kohli’s poor performance in yesterday’s Indian Premier League match against Kings XI Punjab. Two, a double entendre was inserted into his remark: that he was being mischievous when he referred to Kohli playing with Anushka’s balls.

A feedback loop of bullshit begetting bullshit was soon in place. #BoycottGavaskar was trending on Indian Twitter by early afternoon on Friday, and a fellowship of moral crusaders and crazed fans began gunning for the legendary cricketer’s commentating job.

The mainstream news TV, which usually saves its energy for primetime, promptly rose to the occasion as is its wont. And their coverage made it obvious that little due diligence and fact-checking was done before the following was tweeted out:

Gavaskar’s comment, we were told, was “distasteful”, “sexist”, “obscene”, “unsavoury”, and “in bad taste”.

Taken in by the outrage machine on Twitter and Instagram, even Anushka was hurt. She put out an angry statement that was tweeted out in toto by the official handle of Filmfare. “When will I stop getting dragged into cricket and stop being used to pass sweeping statements?” she asked. “Respected Mr Gavaskar, you are a legend whose name stands tall in this gentleman’s game.”

Back in the mainstream media space, even the News Minute and the Press Trust of India joined the bandwagon of hearsay. In the PTI article carried by the Indian Express, Gavaskar’s actual comment was not quoted at all.

The News Minute used borrowed adjectives, saying Gavaskar’s comment was “distasteful and sexist”. It also implied that the commentator was taking a jab at Kohli’s poor performance with the bat when in fact the comment was made before Kohli was dismissed.

(Update: Mirror Now and News18 have deleted their social media posts. The News Minute and the Indian Express have updated their reports.)

What Gavaskar likely meant was that the Indian captain did not get much practice during the coronavirus lockdown, and whatever recreational practice he did do in the leaked video was not enough. Scroll pointed out that in a video released by Royal Challengers Bangalore in late August, Kohli had revealed that he was “pretty scared” because he had not “picked up a bat in the last five months” before his first IPL training session.

News18’s report did not even quote Gavaskar accurately. Nor did Mumbai Mirror.

By 3 pm, India Today — fighting a losing war with Republic TV over ratings — had rolled out a broadcast on the “controversial”, “derogatory” and “disdainful” comment.

“When you make a comment like that, a woman is not going to take it lying down,” roared anchor Chaiti Narula. Vikrant Gupta, the channel’s senior executive editor, disagreed: “To be very honest, I did not find it distasteful...but it could have been avoided.”

Gupta added that he spoke to Gavaskar, who told him the comment was “tongue-in-cheek humour”.

Times Now anchor Navika Kumar – who nightly bedevils women actors on her primetime show and reads their private chats on air – advised the cricket board to remove Gavaskar from its panel of commentators for “the MCP attitude”.

Barkha Dutt also tweeted about the “utter rubbish” and “crap”.

As the afternoon progressed, a video of Gavarkar’s actual comment surfaced on Twitter and the self-righteous tweets began disappearing mysteriously. It was clear the two meanings attached to his comment had been pulled out of thin air.

Gavaskar is yet to make a public statement on the entire fuss. But it is too late to undo the dent the former cricketer has suffered over a mere afternoon by trolls, influencers, and most disappointingly, journalists. One hopes he would swiftly deflect the oddballs to the fine leg as only he could.

Update on September 26

Sunil Gavaskar appeared on India Today last evening and offered a clarification for his comment.

He said: “Firstly, I would like to say, where am I blaming her? I’m not blaming her. I am only saying that the video showed she was bowling to Virat. Virat has only played that much bowling in this lockdown period.”

The piece has been updated with Gavaskar's clarification and more information.

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