Can we have more intelligent cricket stories, please?
Stop talking down to fans! We must start thinking “cricket” as opposed to gossiping about “cricketers”.
For someone who loves the game of cricket, irrespective of which teams play, I must concede that covering cricket matches almost became an untenable career option for me. I joined journalism to be involved with the game I loved.
Of course, like most aspiring cricket writers, I made a cardinal mistake about the way sports coverage functions - I assumed what I wrote would change the way things are perceived. However, that is not the reality. My initial perception of 'changing the system' with my work was soon shattered; I learned that it’s not just the content but how this content is packaged as well that matters.
At the risk of sounding idealistic, it’s about time we do some soul searching and change the way we cover cricket. Cricket is perhaps second on the priority list in terms of editorial policy for most newspapers, and fairly so, given the amount of money invested in the game and the reader interest in it. The holy truth being, cricket is still considered “religion” and as a modern Karl Marx would put it “the opium of the masses”.
Content driven by gossip
There is a degree of intolerance creeping into our coverage of cricket. Have we as an industry walked into the classic trap set by football writers in the UK where gossip transgresses facts, emotions blur and blind objectivity, and vendetta dictates content? Or, are we so gullible and blinded at times that we soon turn into parakeets of an establishment that at best is an inept bully? Are we just plain noisemakers because cricket, like sex, sells in our country? Or are we incapable of writing cricket from a larger perspective, objective but also one that engages with the reader and gives him something worth a thought on the breakfast table? I think we’re much, much better yet pretend and prefer to sound much dumber.
Tell me something I don’t know
When I open the back pages of three national dailies, I see columns offered by player management agencies, which I know are ghosted and at most times fail to achieve their objective of telling me something new rather than the same old “India must bat first in Sri Lanka”. I already know this! What it quite simply does is fill space and tells me about journalistic lethargy. There is a presumption that the larger crowd is incapable of appreciating thought-provoking pieces by intelligent writers. Another dangerous assumption is that the average cricket reader wants to read solely about their own team rather than the larger narrative of cricket.
Cricketers and advertisements
There are other compulsions that fall into the Chomskian model that play their weight; advertising revenues end up almost dictating content. But undeniably, there is an advertiser-player-agent-journalist nexus. Not only does this directly prevent the reader from critiquing a cricketer during his bad days, but as Kumar Sangakkara eruditely put it, “the players invariably have the backing of the great Indian media” and often, this fear of criticism is directly proportional to losing the next available ad.
TV loves controversy
The same goes for television, where a good controversy is always welcome. As a powerful medium with a reach beyond established doubt, TV ensures that the controversy lives on until the noise has invaded the last available television set in the country. It infuses different “isms” like jingoism, ultra-nationalism or hyper-patriotism or the most perverse form of cricket nationalism.
We must start thinking “cricket” as opposed to “cricketers”. Once we let go of that obsession, we’ll do better as cricket writers.