A cricket symphony that has gone wrong amongst the press, commentators and players 

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A cricket symphony that has gone wrong amongst the press, commentators and players 

The recent spat between the two greats of Indian cricket, Sunil Gavaskar and Virat Kohli has brought to light a very interesting issue that exemplifies the trend and relationships that exist presently between the press, commentators and cricket players.

In the past, one never questioned or derided a senior cricketer on his comments verbally or through the press. A word of advice from the likes of Vijay Hazare, Professor Deodhar, Chandu Borde, Tiger Pataudi, Vinoo Mankad and several others was taken with seriousness. Whether one followed it, thereafter, was up to one’s discretion.

Criticism is something that no individual in the world reacts well to. No matter how one perceives or discards it from one’s mind, the thought lingers forever. The famous line of “listen before you speak or write”, is one that is drilled into every individual, however, following it for most is a difficult task. Words once spoken or written cannot be retrieved and many incidents of despair and disharmony have arisen due to a thoughtless response.

Sunil Gavaskar is one of the most astute thinkers about the game of cricket. His knowledge and depth of it, having played, watched and commented for over 5 decades at the highest level makes him a true guru of the sport. Virat Kohli’s response to his comment, however indirect it may have been, was quite unnecessary, especially as it related to Gavaskar not having an understanding of the T20 format of the game. It referred to the fact that most older critics and former players have not played or played this format, sufficiently.

Gavaskars analysis and thoughts have proven to be correct. The modern T20 batters in order to be successful have to be like a Formula 1 sports car. The accelerator is on full pedal from the very first ball that one faces. The recent match in the IPL, wherein, Travis Head and Abhishek Sharma chased 165 runs scored by Lucknow Super Giants against Sunrisers Hyderabad in less than 10 overs is a good example of it. The strike rate needs to be as high as possible throughout one’s innings and not one where one lingers on initially and then soars upwards.

One gathers that the present Indian players shun journalists, commentators and former cricketers who happen to pen or verbally criticise individual or team performances. That’s sad, as cricketers today are professionals and they need to take in their stride the good with the bad.

This takes one back to the days when dune bashing of the Indian team and individuals was at its peak. India did not boast of being a formidable side then and the press and journalists had a field day criticizing, whenever the side performed badly.

The irony of it was that most of the cricket writers and journalists were friends as well. The evenings were spent together, however, one was mature enough to understand that they were doing their job. There was criticism but not malice in their reporting. As a cricketer, if one failed to perform one quite understandably was the target of their piece, however, if one did well it was the same journalists who made one into a hero.

Indian journalists then were as poorly looked after as the Indian cricketers. One assisted them in every way possible, in their travel, stay, food and inside stories. Sharing and caring was the order of the day.

Several journalists were as much a part of a touring Indian side as the players themselves. Many who did play cricket were welcome to bowl at the nets, as with a squad of 15 players, an extra hand was always acceptable.

There are a few funny tales that one can relate to and laugh about now, however, I was livid with the journalist friend at that moment.

Rajan Bala was a journalist who enjoyed belittling and debating on cricket and a cricketers’ performance. He once sent me a lovely photograph of my getting out against Bengal, with the words “You do like outswingers”. In the second innings I proved him wrong by getting runs with a message, “ Yes, especially when they hit the middle of my bat”.

Rajan Bala, remained a good friend and one who even in Test matches gave me a few throw downs on the morning of the match. I looked at it as a lucky ritual whenever he was around, as it had proved successful in my domestic cricket journey and finally when I played for the country. Rajan never failed to praise or criticize me and that was the close bond then that we shared between a player and a journalist. A similar bond also existed with many of the other players as well.

The well-known writer Behram Contractor, B”usybee”, once wrote a humorous piece, when in a match, I decided to try out a motorbike helmet while fielding at forward short leg. He made fun of the incident in his column. Many years later, I happened to meet him on the day Raman Lamba died after getting hit on the head at short leg. The very next day there was a column by the great man apologizing to me for his naïve comment

The famous cricket writer, K.N. Prabhu, wrote a flowery piece on a short sweet and delightful half-century that I made in a Ranji Trophy match. To add a twist to it, he finished the piece by giving me a backhander as well. He said, “If Yajurvindra concentrated a bit more on his batting rather than on blow drying and styling his hair, he would achieve far greater laurels”. One then did have a mop of hair!

There was never a dull moment between the journalists and the players. One could showcase ignorance through the popular parlance of saying that one never reads or listens to comments during matches. This is a myth that a cricketer likes to project, however, every piece is elaborately scrutinised. How else will one have memories?

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