George Bernard Shaw wrote, “He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches”. A closely related maxim for sports would be, “He who can, plays; he who cannot (or has retired), writes”. There is no doubt that doers or players deserve all the attention and accolades, but where will the doers come from without teachers and who would ever know the players without those who speak, write or commentate on them.
In the late 50s, English journalist and BBC’s cricket commentator, John Arlott was known as the “voice of cricket”. This was the time when players of colour could not play first-class cricket in South Africa and were banished to play in separate “coloured” leagues. Basil D’Oliveira was a cult figure in these leagues. A big-hitting batsman and a steady medium pace bowler, D’Oliveira wanted to rub shoulders with the best in the sport. In a desperate bid to break free from a life of anonymity in the ghettos, D’Oliveira wrote to Arlott for help. Arlott was a fierce critic of the apartheid regime and wanted to help the cause of coloured cricketers in South Africa. He used his influence to help D’Oliveira find a club to play professional cricket in Lancashire. D’Oliveira went on to play for England and got selected for a place in the team to tour South Africa, a move that eventually resulted in South Africa’s exclusion from world cricket. Some say it was the first in the series of events that lead to the abolition of apartheid in 1991.
The Arlott and D’Oliveira case is perhaps the greatest example of a close relation between a player and a commentator having a far reaching consequence on not just the sport but also on society in general. But it isn’t always the praise and support that makes this relationship special, sometimes chastising a player at the right time can be useful. In 1983, noted journalist, Rajan Bala wrote a column on young Navjot Singh Sidhu titled “Sidhu: The Strokeless wonder”. Sidhu fixed that newspaper clipping on his wardrobe to draw inspiration from it and trained hard on his game, especially his big hitting skills. Four years later, Sidhu scored five consecutive half-centuries in 1987 World Cup and earned the nickname “Sixer Sidhu” for his ability to clear the ropes at will. Bala paid due credit to the youngster by writing another article titled “Sidhu: From Strokeless Wonder To A Palm-Grove Hitter”.
The relationship between players and media is going through a rough phase at the moment. Players have become wary of media’s penchant for sensationalism. Most of the top cricketers in the world are very careful of who they speak to and how they are represented in the press. After all, a good reputation doesn’t just bring accolades from fans, it also presents an opportunity to earn endorsement dollars.
Things have become so bad that commentators are being criticised for speaking their mind. Harsha Bhogle was needlessly drawn into controversy during WT20 last year when a Bollywood star in an apparent reference to Harsha criticised “an Indian commentator” on Twitter for not praising Indian cricketers and being too focused on foreign cricketers. He got support from the Indian captain himself. Bhogle hasn’t been a part of BCCI’s commentary team ever since for unknown reasons.
More recently, Kieron Pollard used Twitter to vent his fury on Sanjay Manjrekar’s comment on him during an IPL game. Manjrekar was telling an established fact based on Pollard’s record that he is a great batsman when it comes to the last five or six overs of the innings but doesn’t have the “range” to bat longer. Pollard either misheard or misread Manjrekar’s comments and didn’t take kindly to it. To be fair to Pollard, Manjrekar’s comments were also misreported in some places. In either case, Pollard’s outburst was uncalled for. He may or may not rate Manjrekar as a commentator but it’s his job to speak on the game as he sees.
Commentators and writers are there to speak, players are there to play. A reversal of roles where those who can play start talking about those who speak is a needless exercise. A player always has the option of responding with his skills on the playing field. Mark Nicholas was made to eat his words after a team he thought was “short on brains” went on to win the World T20 win last year.
The peerless Pollard (not earless, mind you) could have responded in a similar manner with the bat whenever an opportunity presents itself. Word of caution here though. Carrying a sheet of paper with “Yeah, Sanjay Talk Nah” in his pocket like his ex-West Indian teammate Dinesh Ramdin is something he may go on to regret like Ramdin himself.
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Updated Date: Apr 12, 2017 18:44:27 IST