Not so long ago the editor of an English language newspaper was delusional enough to pompously state that he held the second most important job in India. But ever wondered what his reaction would have been if every day at work his staff members took turns to inquire when he would be announcing his retirement?
There is little doubt he would have blown his fuse sooner rather than later, and considering that be believed that he held the second most important job, he would have been livid at the thought that Indians were looking forward to a future without him.
Now cut to Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni making a spectacle of the Australian journalist who had asked what he reckoned was a pretty innocuous question. The Aussie believed he was entitled to ask Dhoni about his retirement plans because Dhoni himself had earlier stunned the cricketing world by quitting Test cricket in the midst of the tour of Australia in 2014. Ever since, the question of his retirement from all forms of international cricket has been pretty periodically asked and was quite normal.
It must have got Dhoni’s goat at times in the past. "Just because somebody has the platform to ask questions, it does not mean that you keep on asking the same questions," Dhoni had said before the World T20.
But this was the first time that he handled it in such a theatrical manner. After making a spectacle of the Aussie journalist he went on to remark that he had fired the wrong ammunition at the wrong time.
Dhoni’s idea of “having some fun” was to make the journalist sit beside him and inquire if he wanted Dhoni to retire. Then he asked him if he thought he was unfit and looking at him running did he believe that he, Dhoni, could not survive till the 2019 World Cup? When the journalist agreed with all of Dhoni’s prompts he patted him on the back and said “you’ve answered your question.”
Dhoni said he hoped that it had been an Indian guy who had asked the question “because I would have asked whether he has a son who is old enough to play and is a wicketkeeper to play. He would have said 'no' then I would have said maybe a brother who can play and who is a wicketkeeper,” Dhoni said with wistful glee.
It is difficult to fault Dhoni for the cavalier manner in which he handled the media. Many of the questions shot at media conferences are frankly an embarrassment. Many shoot off intrusive questions while some don’t even bother to do their homework before asking the most inane of questions.
The quality of engagement between media and the captain or players started deteriorating around the time Mohammed Azharuddin became the captain of India. He was mono-syllabic, defensive and repetitive with his answers. It was also around this time that editors back home started demanding quotes to go with the report.
This was a herculean task for journalists because Azharuddin simply did not have anything to say. His standard response before a match would be “we’ve to bat well, bowl well, field well.” And how many times could a reporter come up with the same quotes?
Later, as other captains, managers and coaches came on to the scene, journalists in a bid to elicit some sort of a different answer, began to ask questions on all sorts of things and then faithfully reporting it, never mind that many of these things had little to do with the game itself. The explosion of media contributed to the confusion as many inexperienced journalists were let loose on an unsuspecting cricket set-up.
Earlier cricketer – journalists engagements were a lot more formal but friendly. There was less familiarity even if there were more of discussion. The media, for the most part, stayed away from reporting on personal issues or even what it considered to be controversial. But that changed in no time as players’ agents swamped the terrain and took control of managing brands and media.
One journalist famously joked that he had to now call up players’ agents if he wanted to wish the player good morning. The relationship had changed. So had the understanding of each other’s profession.
Nothing brought this out better than Dhoni’s lashing out at a journalists after the heart-stopping, last gasp win over Bangladesh at the ICC World T20. The journalist had asked if the captain was satisfied with the margin of victory as all talk before the match was on building a healthy run quotient. Dhoni, unsure of the difference between a fan and a journalist, snapped that he believed that the tone and question of the journalist revealed that he was not happy with India’s win!
Dhoni mistakenly believed that journalists had to react like fans to every situation. He probably did not realise that fans are expected to be fanatical and most forgiving of the follies of their heroes. Their love and hero-worship could withstand the most horrendous of mistakes or transgressions. Unfortunately that is not how a professional journalist works. He is expected to be a lot more detached, objective and even critical where required. Now that’s the grey area ‘heroes’ don’t understand.