Fans, media and cricket

BY Jaya Uttamchandani| IN Media Practice | 31/03/2007
In the midst of the mayhem, it`s important to stop and think of the media`s role because a lot of the blame can easily be slapped on those covering the game.

Jaya Uttamchandani

Drug scandals before the start of the event, a murder in the early stages followed by burning of effigies, an unprecedented retirement that saw the retiree and many others in tears and a billion people shocked and angry. Very angry. I am talking about the Cricket World Cup 2007. We started it off with debates on should the minnows be playing in the World Cup and after the Group Stages we have seen Ireland and Bangladesh through and cricketing nations like Pakistan and India out. Inzamam-ul-Haq and Anil Kumble have announced their retirement from the shorter version of the game, while Pakistan¿s coach Bob Woolmer got murdered. In the midst of the mayhem, it¿s important to stop and think of the media¿s role because a lot of the blame can very easily be slapped on those covering the game. While doing the breakfast show today, Sports Brew on PLAY Channel 520 on WorldSpace, a sports fan called in and asked - Why does the media still cover cricket so intently? With Team India not doing well, shouldn¿t we take the attention away from them and focus it on those more deserving of the attention?

A valid question; but the truth is, we as fans care about Team India¿s performance, and the helplessness to do something turns into a cynical lash out. Then again, maybe that¿s exactly what has created the bitter after taste. We digress, put the spotlight somewhere else, create hype, pump in the money and ruin it.

Sports started off as a form of digression from the harsh realities of poverty, corruption, employment or merely education. As a journalist you enter this field with great pride in the fact that you can share your views with minimal censorship, report the news because it¿s a passion and while doing so, you secretly know you are one of the crazy fans. My first heart-break in the world of sports was learning the term match-fixing, the media revealed that my cricketing hero Azhar and a cricketer I was starting to adore in the middle order, Jadeja, were not playing ¿clean¿ cricket. I hated them at that point. Never did I think it was part of the game. Now, match-fixing, ball-tampering, drugs, murder? hit me with anything except plain and simple cricket and I won¿t be surprised. So are we merely covering a sport that is tainted with too much money or is it just an imperfect world whereby the media has a wand and all the gold that we touch turns into coal?

While this article is going to pose more questions than answers, there are other aspects (media-related) that have made the news in this World Cup. India played Sri Lanka in a do-or-die match and more than cricket we saw ads. Advertisers had paid unimaginable sums of money and were about to see their ad campaigns come to an end. Products endorsed by yesterday¿s heroes were about to be labels sanctioned by tomorrow¿s villains. The NOW was maximized. A Yuvraj Singh wicket was followed by a Yuvy selling a soft drink. A Sachin Tendulkar wicket was followed by Sachin selling biscuits. Suddenly you realize, while people were at the ground watching a united dream crash, those watching it on television saw a whole different story unveil. A truth that we hate to admit, we were not watching a match, we¿re seeing cricketers who WE turned into stars. Cricketers we took off the pitch into our bedrooms, into a world of stardom, worshipped them, not merely for the cricket they played, but for the spurts of entertainment that they have provided us. And like an Amitabh Bachchan, no matter how many flops follow from here on, he is the Big B. The difference being that unlike the actor who arguably does his best and acts well in every film, the eleven men on the pitch don¿t reach that caliber in their field of play.

Like all that isn¿t enough, the ICC now gets on You Tube¿s case for rights infringement. All World Cup footage should be taken off the site. Fans should not be uploading it, and fans should not be viewing it, fans should not burn effigies, fans should definitely not deconstruct Dhoni¿s house, and fans should not throw stones at Zaheer Khan¿s restaurant. The media needs to give the cricketers¿ space and privacy, stop putting them on a pedestal and then pushing them off, the media needs to be more sensitive, the media misquotes, and the media spins stories to sell; All these remarks that we as fans and as the media have heard time and again..

I as part of the media have had my fair share of BCCI bashing, Sourav Ganguly chanting, Sehwag lashing, glorifying and dethroning Team India. I accept. Guilty as charged. But now that we are done with what the fans and media should and should not be doing, here is what Indian cricket needs to do. It¿s simple yet a tough ask?

Selectors need to select cricketers based on current form, cricketers need to play decent cricket, Coach and Captain need to look at every single match as a winning opportunity and not an experiment, and cricketers need to play cricket for the nation and not to get their face plastered on billboards.

On a conclusive note, while I do not condone and am in fact against fans expressing their angst by burning effigies and throwing stones, let us not lose perspective on the fact that the fans ask, the media delivers and that¿s how the board benefits. It¿s a vicious cycle and the only way out is results on that pitch.

[Jaya Uttamchandani is a Radio Jockey for WorldSpace (Channel 520 - PLAY!). She has also worked as a web-editor for ESPN STAR Sports. jayau@hotmail.com]

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