The Player Me­dia Dis­con­nect: No End in Sight

The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games -

At the very end of an ex­tended op­tional net ses­sion at the Feroze­shah Kotla in New Delhi on an un­usu­ally pleas­ant April evening, Rahul Dravid did some­thing de­cid­edly unusual. He picked up a pad and a hand­ful of balls, and beck­oned Karun Nair to an empty net. Those watch­ing the prac­tice, from bored po­lice­men to selfie-seek­ing fans to cu­ri­ous jour­nal­ists, had their hopes mo­men­tar­ily raised. Was the Delhi Dare­dev­ils men­tor go­ing to pad up once more? Per­haps one of the rea­sons such in­ter­est was piqued was be­cause of an in­ci­dent just be­fore the prac­tice ses­sion, when Jav­a­gal Sri­nath led a team of um­pires out to the mid­dle of the ground to in­spect the pitches. On the way, he found Rishabh Pant prac­tic­ing range hit­ting – the new of­fi­cial term for slog­ging – and quickly picked up a bat. Sri­nath stroked a cou­ple of balls rea­son­ably gen­tly be­fore hear­ing a fa­mil­iar voice in Kan­nada from the Kotla dress­ing-room urg­ing him to put one in the stands. Re­spond­ing to for­mer team­mate Dravid’s call, Sri­nath launched a cou­ple deep into the stands in trade­mark fashion, arms f lail­ing in gay aban­don, and then pointed to the dress­ing-room as if to say: that was for you. But, while Sri­nath was only hav­ing a bit of harm­less fun, Dravid and Karun were in the nets for more se­ri­ous busi­ness. And, yes, while Dravid did carry the pad into the net to pro­tect his leg, it was in an en­tirely dif­fer­ent sense than the man­u­fac­tur­ers in­tended. Plac­ing the pad on the ground, Dravid went down on one knee, and be­gan to roll the ball, un­der­arm, all along the ground to Karun, who re­sponded with strokes. Any­one who has at­tempted to get a tod­dler in­ter­ested in hit­ting the ball will be fa­mil­iar with this method, as it’s al­most im­pos­si­ble for the bats­man to miss, but what ex­actly was go­ing on here? Karun is an ac­com­plished young bats­man and there must have been a very spe­cific as­pect of the game that Dravid was hop­ing to ad­dress with this drill. From afar, one could only spec­u­late that the at­tempt was to get Karun used to keep­ing the bat as close to the ground as pos­si­ble, but spec­u­la­tion is a dan­ger­ous thing at the best of times.

In the not-so-dis­tant past, such a query could eas­ily be an­swered. At the end of the net ses­sion, the jour­nal­ist would beckon ei­ther Dravid or Karun and find out ex­actly what that was about. Oc­ca­sion­ally, that would lead to an in­ter­est­ing and ed­u­ca­tional story, some­thing that the reader might en­joy and end up as a re­port. More of­ten than not, the ex­pla­na­tion would be more mun­dane, and all it did was en­hance the jour­nal­ist’s per­spec­tive.

In this day and age, se­cu­rity is so pro­tec­tive of play­ers that it is harder and harder to get close enough to any­one for a chat, and even when you do, there is hardly space to have a quiet and pri­vate word, with peo­ple of all de­scrip­tions mob­bing the player.

With that be­ing the case, the other av­enue to seek an­swers and clar­i­fi­ca­tions, is the for­mal press con­fer­ence. While that was the orig­i­nal func­tion of the press con­fer­ence – to gain in­for­ma­tion that could aug­ment re­portage – this has change dra­mat­i­cally with the kind of blan­ket cov­er­age across dif­fer­ent plat­forms that cricket re­ceives. Now, young crick­eters just try­ing to find their feet are asked about whether Sal­man Khan was the right choice for brand am­bas­sador of In­dia’s Olympic cam­paign. There is no right an­swer to such ques­tions and the player sees the trap a mile away. If he doesn’t, the me­dia man­ager han­dling the press con­fer­ence – of­ten a for­mer jour­nal­ist who knows ex­actly where this is headed – steps in and nips it in the bud. What this has meant, is that most play­ers now refuse to en­gage in any mean­ing­ful man­ner at press con­fer­ences. A ran­dom sam­ple of ut­ter­ances from the last few days tells a story.

“They are the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons. Which­ever team plays well on the day will win the game. We are just con­cen­trat­ing on our process and the re­sult will take care of it­self.” That is one of the tem­plates, the plat­i­tude or cliché.

“If they send me down the or­der, I have to fin­ish the games and if they send me up the or­der, I will have to build the in­nings and set the stage for my team.” That’s an­other tem­plate, stat­ing the bleed­ing ob­vi­ous. “I’ve been feel­ing fine the whole tour­na­ment. I’ve just been find­ing ran­dom ways to get out, which can hap­pen in this game. There’s been noth­ing wrong with my form, I’ve been hit­ting the ball as well as ever.” This af­ter scor­ing his first half-cen­tury in 34 out­ings, is an­other tem­plate, out­right denial of any merit in the ques­tion. “We have plenty of good left-han­ders who can play spin there. Plenty.” In fact, Gu­jarat have one left-hand bats­man in their top or­der, Suresh Raina, and that’s an­other tem­plate, the com­plete dis­con­nect from re­al­ity. Cut back to the net ses­sion be­tween Dravid and Karun. Not happy that his ward has fully un­der­stood what he was meant to do, Dravid walks across and takes the bat from Karun, ask­ing him to stand be­hind and watch as some­one rolls balls to him. Dravid hits. He looks to be go­ing at the ball a bit more force­fully, with more f lu­ency, hit­ting through it bet­ter. But then, that’s blind spec­u­la­tion. At the next op­por­tu­nity, per­haps some­one will ask Karun or Dravid what that was all about, and one of them might sur­prise us with a simple, hon­est ex­pla­na­tion. But, if the cur­rent press con­fer­ences in the IPL are any­thing to go by, please don’t hold your breath.

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