And suddenly there is no cricketer worth being reviled more than Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Here are some Monday morning headlines, hours after the national calamity:
AajTak: Mahi ne machayi tabaahi; Kis kaam ke bade khiladi; Team India ne katayi naak; Bagaawat ki bu-siyasat ki bu (Mahi has destroyed us; What use these big guns; Team India has shamed us; Signs of a revolt, signs of dirty politics).
IBN7: Flop ho gaye captain cool; Yeh kya kiya Dhoni (Captain Cool has flopped; What have you done Dhoni).
India TV: Dhikkar hain, dhikkar hain, dhikkar hain….; Bas naam ke dhurandar; Inhe sharm bhi nahi aati. (Shame on you, shame on you, shame on you…, World-beaters just in name; These guys have no shame)
Star News: Shok Ho! (as opposed to Jai Ho, the name of their show, ‘shok’ is grief)
Their English cousins were gentler in the headlining, but Times Now and Headlines Today were in as savage a mood as the Hindi channels. While HLT dismissed Dhoni’s apology to the nation (“we don’t need your apology Dhoni”), Times Now suspected “if he looked sorry enough” while apologising. And that was just the beginning of their tirade.
We know our channels only too well to be surprised by their over-the-top headlining and frenzied anchoring. They have to individually feel the pain and grief of each one of those one billion fans (who did the census, I want to know!) and reflect their collective anger on national TV, so we understand. Our channels take any defeat badly but cricket defeats are especially personal. Not only are the endless hours of hype wasted, the channels are shortchanged on easy content by a few days. Criminal dereliction of national duty on the cricketers’ part, I must say.
One look at the war cries on TV will help you figure out what I am referring to. Here are some names of the T20 World Cup shows:
IBN7: Maha Yuddh (Great War, IBN7)
India TV: Vijayee Bhavah (Victory be yours)
Aaj Tak: Bees Ka Boss (Boss of T20)
Star News: Jai Ho!
CNN IBN: Mission T20.
That’s not all. Headlines Today had to abort their “Mission World Domination” and Times Now is upset with the violation of a simple order: Bring back the Cup!
Having done so much ground-laying, I don’t know if the channels were angry with Dhoni because he looked stupid or he made them look stupid for not countenancing defeat even once. Even then, we must concede them the right to a post-mortem. The problem is what they have done with that post-mortem.
It does not take hard boiled experts to figure out that Dhoni goofed and goofed big. While giving Dhoni what he got, no channel, not even NDTV 24x7 and CNN IBN which were not shrill in Dhoni’s condemnation, expand the scope of their inquiry to include the BCCI and a certain Lalit Modi.
Every channel raised the “too much cricket” question, but mostly to paper over it or to mock at coach Gary Kirsten’s fatigue-and-niggles theory. And that was easily done. Rajiv Shukla, a BCCI vice-president, was at hand. Without saying much he insinuated that the fatigue theory was a load of you-know-what, and that the BCCI had already told players they could opt out at will because there was a “huge talent pool”. Channels are generally grateful for the byte, so they don’t ask too many questions when a willing subject grants them 10 seconds of audio-gold.
All the channels did their own version of Mr Shukla’s byte but not one reporter asked him a few crucial questions:
1. Sir, what talent pool are we talking about? You couldn’t find a replacement for Sehwag to last four innings…
2. For argument’s sake, if Zaheer, Dhoni and Yuvraj had asked to sit out of the World Cup, would they have been allowed? And who would you have replaced them with from that rich talent pool?
3. Is it not the BCCI’s job to ensure that the best team, in the best shape, represents the country in tournaments of pride?
These questions were necessary to probe the depth of the BCCI’s argument or, actually, to expose the hollowness of Mr Shukla’s nonchalance.
You organise a bone-cruncher of an IPL up to a week before the team’s call for national duty and then you say it’s up to the players to decide which they want to miss, money or honour? Do you seriously think they would want to miss either?
Mr Shukla said IPL cannot be blamed and that was that, the gospel. The channels just let it pass. They were not even willing to shoot from the shoulders of Gary Kirsten. The national coach, not one to shoot his mouth off, risked his assignment with a retributive board to point fingers at Lalit Modi’s IPL (Blasphemy!).
There were enough reasons to probe the coach’s line. It was no secret that the team did not have enough recovery time before the Cup. It was no secret that the coach had to regularly let the team skip training sessions. It was no secret that many of our top guns were carrying injuries. It was no secret that of all the international teams, ours had been on the road and the field the longest. It is no secret that Indians’ fitness levels being what they are, we need longer turnaround time. (Rahul Kanwal on Headlines Today came closest to analysing the Board’s complicity in the defeat, but just about. He stopped way short of any stinging criticism of the Board).
The channels were more eager than Mr Shukla to ensure no blame was attached to cricket’s new cowboy and its new cash-cow. They cleverly put up Dhoni’s quote (“no international player can give fatigue as an excuse”) against Kirsten, made fun of the latter and exited. Again, no interest to dig deeper. Firstly, what Dhoni said is what any player would have to say, with big brother BCCI watching all the time. And secondly, if indeed there was no fatigue, why would just one or two players turn up at the nets for “optional” training sessions and why was it that Dhoni granted his mates so many training-holidays in the middle of a prestigious tournament?
The problem is, cricket is moving in a new direction and all our arguments and debates are getting outdated fast. The question is not anymore about how much cricket to play, whether to play for money or honour, etc etc. The success of IPL last year and the encore this year, has settled that question. From next year, IPL is going to be two times over in one year. Other nations are planning their own versions of IPL and our stars will be playing there, too. This year’s “crammed” calendar would seem like a leisurely holiday, next year. And don’t even try to look beyond that. T20 will claim calendar space from the one-day game so future cricketers won’t be juggling multiple formats.
We, the fans, the board and the media, made IPL1 such a roaring success and set off an explosion in the world of sports marketing. Team Dhoni is T20 laboratory’s guinea pig generation, absolutely central to its evolution. No other generation will have to go through so much testing and so much change in such a short while. We want them in IPL, we want them in the World Cup and we want them for every other regular cricket engagement. And yet, we will refuse to acknowledge fatigue because well-paid cricketers should not complain even if everybody else is making the mega bucks by flogging them dead!
If it is true that Team Dhoni killed the aspirations of a nation, it is also equally true that all of us are co-conspirators to the murder. We all wrote a part of that script.
What say? Shall we drop charges?
(Venkat, as the author is called, thinks the media was extra harsh on Dhoni because it had to be extra soft of the BCCI. The IPL has just helped their bottomlines in a bottomed out market, you see. The views expressed are the columnist's own and not those of the editors and publisher of exchange4media.com)