There is a nugget, probably apocryphal, of Keith Miller – explosive Australian all rounder of the past – asking in colourful language what Neville Cardus, music critic and undisputed doyen of cricket journalism, knew of a square cut. It must have been a particularly unpalatable report for Miller to have confronted Cardus thus. The latter’s reply was a classic put down: ‘You don’t have to lay an egg to know if it is good or bad.’
Since then there have been many incidents between cricketers and journalists, from Ian Botham’s jostling of Henry Blofeld in a West Indies airport to Mike Artherton calling a Pakistani journalist a ‘buffoon’, to Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s dig at a foreign journalist who enquired about his retirement.
The latest storm in a tea cup is of an Indian journalist asking Virat Kohli after the series loss in England if he thought this was “the best Indian side in 15 years?”
It was a loaded question but Kohli refused to rise to the bait. Instead he asked the reporter what he thought. When the reporter said ‘I’m not sure’, Kohli simply said ‘well, that’s your opinion’ and moved on.
That tiny 20-second interaction should have been just a blip in a larger media conference. But for some reason it has been blown out of proportion.
Without getting into the merits or otherwise of the issue, the ability to instill belief in others is a priceless asset in a leader. When Kohli says that this was the best Indian team in 15 years he not only believes in it, he gets even the opposition to believe in it.
Dozens of England’s former players, writers and commentators have stressed that this Indian team was one of the most competitive teams they had encountered. English media ran graphics of how the Indian pacers had out-bowled their English counterparts. This sort of positive comparative analysis was unheard of.
The rare ability to get even opponents to swear by your abilities is what sets champions apart. When Viv Richards walked out to bat even rivals knew that he would pound the bowling, irrespective of conditions.
This incredible ability to get opponents and others to believe in your prowess is found in other sports too. For instance, when Tiger Woods plays in any competition there is that air of expectancy about him. Those ahead in the leaderboard always keep an eye on his score.
Thousands of spectators follow him around knowing for sure that he will attempt and pull off spectacular strokes. When Tiger attempts such low percentage shots, he does it with the firm belief that he can pull it off. Astonishingly, he gets others too to believe that he can do it. This literally is what the aura of champions is all about.
Champions have this skill to ignore gloom and instinctively focus on an infinitesimal iota of optimism. They relentlessly work on those tiny specks until they are able to finally crack open the puzzle. They sincerely don’t believe they can fail and before long they pass on this belief in their abilities even to the opposition.
This is true in all sports, not just cricket. This is one reason when an exceptional sportsman says ‘we/he will take the positives from the defeat’ he has to be taken very seriously.
Champions cannot mope over losses. If they do that they would simply crumble into insignificance. For instance, if a great boxer recalls the hammering he had received in some previous fight he would be shattered, hesitant and afraid in the next bout. Instead there is some part of his mind that simply shuts down on unpleasant results or negatives and focuses instead on the task at hand.
It is this same ability to filter negatives that enables a crack bowler who has been smashed 4-0-60-0 to not get disheartened. The best of them would have forgotten the pasting by the end of the day. It is a pristine mindset that cannot be taught.
It is this invaluable trait which allows top batsmen brutally struck on the helmet to return to top level cricket as though nothing happened. Their mind would have filtered out the unpleasant experience and primed them for the next contest.
Evidently, Kohli’s thought process is on similar lines. His mindset is different from other average folks and must be hailed for what it is.
When he says this is the best Indian team in 15 years he does not say it for effect. He believes it and means it. His fast bowlers already believe it and strut around and perform accordingly. Somehow, he needs to get his batsmen and fielders too to think likewise.
Finally, emotion has little role to play in reporting a sport. Journalists are not fans, or at least should not be. Fans will forgive their heroes anything. But professional reporters need to be a lot more discerning. Sportsmen too need to realise that the game is above their agents, marketability and market value. However, immature journalists seek selfies, autographs and the like from sportsmen they tend to be bracketed with fans. The lines start getting blurred at that stage.
Presently, criticism becomes a burst of emotion, just as praise is often in excess of that warranted.
In India, where sometimes even reporting falls into regional traps, praise for one captain or his team might seem like criticism of another captain from another region. Thus, there are no right or wrong or even ideal ways to look at these subjective issues.
Sadly, in all these the readers’ expectation of being informed and educated takes a hit. That’s the crying shame.