On 24th March 2016 after the India vs Bangladesh match in the World T20, a journalist asked India captain MS Dhoni if he was content with India’s one-run win over Bangladesh. Dhoni replied back with a “I know you aren't happy that India won today” and went on a small rant about how Cricket does not follow a script.
On 31st March 2016 an Australian journalist asked the 34 year old Dhoni, "You have achieved virtually everything that a cricketer could. Are you keen to continue playing on?" Dhoni went on to make a mockery of the journalist by inviting him on stage to “come have some fun”.
On 5th April 2016 Suresh Raina responded to a journalist's question about his preference for the coaching role. On being asked if he preferred an Indian coach or a foreign coach, Raina retorted: “Are you comfortable with your own wife or someone else’s?” He did go on to answer the question, however.
On 8th April 2016 R. Ashwin snapped at a journalist who asked him how he would counter the dew factor at the Wankhede ahead of his new franchise’s Rising Pune Supergiants’ opening IPL game at the same venue. The scribe suggested that Ashwin had struggled to bowl with the wet ball against West Indies in the recently concluded World T20 semis. Ashwin started with a "frame your question better" and then proceeded to give a curt reply. He even later confronted the journalist to find out the publication he represented.
After the Test series triumph against South Africa, Virat Kohli spoke out against criticism in the press -- "someone who hasn't played for the country has no right to comment on an international cricketer anyway" -- he had said.
Latest in the series of seemingly isolated events, on 10th April 2016, cricket fans were shocked to find out that this year’s IPL would not feature the familiar voice of Harsha Bhogle whose contract had been very suddenly terminated. While the reason for his ouster is not clear (even to him) speculation is that it could be because of a heated exchange he had with a Vidharbha Cricket Association official during India’s opening World T20 game in Nagpur last month.
The other theory is that the sudden termination of his contract may have something to do with Amitabh Bachchan's tweet some time back. "With all due respect, it would be really worthy of an Indian commentator to speak more about our players than others all the time."
This tweet was later quote-tweeted by the Indian captain – MS Dhoni -- with "Nothing to add".
These recent incidents reveal an ugly and dangerous trend that has started emerging – our cricketers and the board that manages them has stated to believe that they are above any form of questioning. The idea very simply is “either you are on my side or you are my enemy”.
The most striking and the most shocking has been the way Bhogle, one of India’s most celebrated commentator and someone who has been associated with the IPL from its inception has been treated. The cricketers that the BCCI pays for are free to play their shots but commentators are not free to 'play' theirs -– debate, discuss and in some cases criticize. For a man who has been serving Indian cricket as a commentator since age 19 it is unfortunate to see the BCCI treat him this way.
While he might not ever get the respect that a Sachin Tendulkar gets, Bhogle’s contribution to the sport must be recognized. He gives a voice to cricket. He may not produce those strokes on the ground but through words he brings them alive and makes them magical. Cricket is part of a larger ecosystem that goes beyond just the cricketers. While the cricketers might feel as if they are at the center of it all, they must realize that they are not the only ones who inhabit this universe.
As professionals working in the sports industry, Bhogle and the other journalists were just doing their job. Their job as experts and writers is to question and discuss, not sing the praise of a certain team. Their loyalty at all times must only lie with their profession. Why would we want a commentator to trivialize the exploits of an opponent team player, only because he/she plays for the other side? Similarly why would we not want our journalists to ask our cricketers tough questions regarding want went on in the field?
It is high time our very pampered cricketers (and the high-handed BCCI) understand that everyone is not going to have a fanboy/fangirl moment with them.
It is critical to teach the next generation of cricketers that they need to get off their pedestals and learn to engage, which becomes even more impractical when the board that controls the game seemingly stands for such behaviour. When they are playing the game the players are in charge but once they step out from that zone into say a press conference, they would do well to relinquish that power.
You cannot sound disrespectful under the garb of cheeky humour. You cannot expect all experts to be rooting for you at all times. Being a cricketer of repute in India gives you great public visibility, but that does not make you an automatic demi-god where anyone who seems to hold an opinion that doesn’t resonate with yours gets shot down and treated like a lesser mortal.
This, admittedly, goes both ways. Journalists and experts must also encourage each other to ask tough and yet, pertinent questions. Like Harsha Bhogle himself wrote in a Facebook post, where he said he was uncomfortable with all the attention he has been getting, there is a need to make sure journalists and experts 'remain the teller of the story, not the story itself.'
But instead of obsessing about avoiding tough questions, there is a need to promote a culture of asking them. The art of questioning is a tool that must not be neglected.
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