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Wriddhiman Saha controversy: The thin line dividing player-media relations-Opinion News , Firstpost

The media-athlete relation has always been a touchy one, and more so in cricket in India. Ideally, it should be a mutually beneficial arrangement, where the deserving cricketer gets acknowledged for his feats and equally, the journalist get his accolades as someone who knows the sport, at least in its true spirit

File image of Wriddhiman Saha. Reuters

We begin this article from one of those glorious days of our youth, when first-class cricket was still a thing to cover and players were still considered for their performances in cricket played in whites with a red cricket ball. It was one such glorious day of Delhi winters at the Feroz Shah Kotla ground as the hosts played another Ranji Trophy match. The sheer luxury of watching quality cricket from close while sitting in the sun just outside the boundary ropes (yes, we had ropes those days) was something else. This is how cricket should be played, we always thought.

On the same day, one India hopeful playing for Delhi, fielding barely 10 feet away from where we sat, turned around and asked a correspondent, representing one of leading dailies of the city, “Bhaiya, kabhi hamare baare mein bhi likh diya karo.”

The response wasn’t very encouraging. “Should I write a Mahabharat about you?” was the caustic reply and the youngster recoiled into hurt silence.

A couple of days later, the youngster was named in an India team and went on to represent the country for a long time, while the correspondent was left with a fair amount of egg on his face.

The media-athlete relation has always been a touchy one, and more so in cricket in India. Ideally, it should be a mutually beneficial arrangement, where the deserving cricketer gets acknowledged for his feats and equally, the journalist get his accolades as someone who knows the sport, at least in its true spirit.

More frequently, this thin line has been crossed from either side but the results have not always been good. As we just saw with the Wriddhiman Saha episode with a certain journalist.

It is quite a high to be evenly remotely connected to the high-profile and glitzy world that the Indian cricket star lives in, but the roots of that too originates in domestic cricket, where these same players, unknowns to the world are actually brought to the fore by these same reporters, through their newspaper columns in early days, then via television and now through the Internet and social media.

As the glitz attracts, it can become pretty difficult at times to keep your balance as a reporter, to be objective and fair. Especially since there are many who will try to manipulate and bend your opinion through friendly advances. It is not uncommon for players’ parents, coaches and even clubs to try and influence the reporting through various means, most of which are related to ego satisfaction.

So, it would be fairly easy, especially for young reporters and interns, to get swept away in the adulation, real or make-believe, and result in their objectivity being swayed.

But like cricketers, members of the media also mature with the years spent on the beat, and after a few years, most would know a real player from a connived one and be able to establish it through their journalistic product.

That meant rubbing shoulders with top players and officials and not getting carried away, a trade learned near the ropes of a domestic match.

But things have changed. Media interaction for individual players is almost a thing of the past and many from the business, including senior people, have to resort to all sorts of efforts to get a ‘exclusive’ out of a cricketer.

This ‘exclusive’ however always is the good stuff. Few, if any, players would appreciate criticism, even “constructive criticism” as it is coined, so all the stuff has to be about his good side.

One can assume that this whole Saha episode has genesis in this effort to get something out of nothing, especially in a situation where the players are almost in some sort of bubble, be it pandemic-related or just plain orders from the board.

Going one-up on the competition is a natural phenomenon in any business and the media, including sports media, is no different. It can lead to many an effort to find something different, or report a certain thing differently.

That includes the social media bandwagon encompassing players’ families – wives and children are the new eyeball grabbers and reports are dime a dozen about where they were seen, what the kids were doing, or where the family went for a vacation. And of course, the marriages prior to all this.

It would all be fine if all concerned stuck to the business of cricket and found the ‘extra’ in their vision or understanding of the sport. That isn’t always the case, so such episodes do crop up.

Most of the time, they go unreported, as the mutually-beneficial arrangement needs. But at times, it just gets a little too much.

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