Should the stump mic be left switched on or is it time to switch it off completely? The recent episode involving Shannon Gabriel and Joe Root brought out the unsavory side of conversations that sometimes take place between the players on the cricket field. Gabriel’s apology was genuine, Root’s response to his slur was exemplary and the fact that Gabriel has served his punishment should be enough for us to move on from that episode. But the questions about the utility or futility about the presence of stump mics and the bigger question about the intrusion of privacy remain.
Back in the day, the playing field was the sanctum for cricketers, which kept them isolated from prying eyes and ears even when they were performing for the public. Global icons like Tendulkar and Lara have mentioned how they treated the pitch as their inner sanctuary, for that was the only place on the planet that allowed them to be themselves. It was only on the pitch that they were no longer the icons chased by millions of their fans and didn’t have to wear a mask to please the horde. The presence of stump mics and broadcaster’s willingness to amp up the volume to bring ‘live’ chatter into living rooms has changed that dynamic too. Earlier you could only be seen, but now you are also heard.
Sport is an emotional pursuit of excellence and there are times that you lose control in the heat of the battle. You say things that you wouldn’t otherwise and regret later. When you view it from this standpoint, there’s a legitimate reason to believe that they are doing more harm than good. But over the last few years, the world we inhabit has changed radically. The dominance of social media has ensured that the same icons who stayed only in the hopes and dreams of their fans have started living in their mobile phones. The importance and benefits of the new medium isn’t lost on anyone and therefore, most sportspersons have willingly opened up their lives and homes to their fans. The problem with access though is that the more you give, the more the recipient desires. And it’s never enough.
(To read Sanjay Manjrekar's views on the stump mic topic, click here)
If there’s an obvious flip side to keeping the stump mic on, there are some incredible benefits of keeping it the way it is. Some of the conversations we can hear through it are gold dust. While working for Channel 7 in Australia for the recently concluded India’s tour Down Under, we were instructed to stay quiet when Tim Paine and Rishabh Pant were in close proximity. There was a lot of chatter, friendly banter and I felt that it enhanced the viewing experience of the spectacle. It brought us closer to the game and told us lots about the two individuals involved, which in turn led to enhanced respect for both. The same is true when Dhoni is tutoring the two Indian wrist-spinners and his insights on the game and strategies are worth listening to.
Since every modern day cricketer is aware of the presence of these mics, they are, generally, smart enough to be dignified and careful in their selection of words. There was one instance in Bangladesh when Australian players felt that it was intruding into their privacy too much and they devised a very smart tactic to force the broadcaster to switch the mic off. An automobile company had sponsored that series and they started praising a rival automobile brand in all conversations close to the stumps. The moment the broadcasters realised what the players were up to, they switched off the mic for good. So, there are ways to wriggle your way out of this trap too.
But it’s not as much about getting away from them but about why there’s the need to get away from them. Moeen Ali has come out in support of the same, for that’s a good way of ensuring good behavior. His logic, and I’m full agreement with him, is that the absence of it allows the players to cross the line and hit below the belt. I’m pretty sure Dhoni won’t have a problem with them switched on also, for he’s always maintained that his team should be well behaved. In fact, he doesn’t allow or encourage abusive behavior in the dressing room either.
But while appreciating and encouraging the use of stump mic, we must also acknowledge a possible outcome where only the players from the touring teams are caught transgressing. The ball-tampering incidents have established that the host broadcasters tend to play for the home team because the home team is never caught on camera. Never. How is it possible that only the visitors tamper with the ball and never the players from the home team? The same can happen with the stump mic too — it’s open to manipulation to paint a picture that the host wants to paint.