Wright Thompson (ESPN) was describing an incident from his trip to India a few years ago. He mentioned watching the Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni being crowded by people…fans…in the airport, inside the airplane, at shops, wherever he goes. Mahendra Singh Dhoni is an icon in the cricketing world, and a brand in India.
That is true for many Indian cricketers. They are revered across the length and breadth of the country. Every second brand has a cricketer as an ambassador, or in its advertisement. There are cricketers showing up on your newspaper, the television, the internet. Even in your dreams.
But, look at their social lives – they can hardly come out in the public without drawing excessive attention. Sure, they can have people to help them get groceries from the stores. But, do they get to go to the park and have a peaceful couple of minutes without 200 people breathing down their neck for an autograph, for a pep talk, for a photograph?
Forget the people, can they just escape from the media breathing down their neck?
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the captain of the Indian team was sitting a press conference before leaving for the Champions Trophy in England. Indian cricket was reeling under the IPL spot fixing allegations. There were 100 unanswered questions floating around. Nobody had an answer. There they had the captain of Indian cricket team, captain of the Chennai Super Kings, employee/stakeholder of India Cements – M.S. Dhoni – sitting in front of the microphone facing the media. The media asked a question based on the spot fixing issue, and they were hushed up by the media manager. All journalists were asked not to ask questions related to the fixing issue.
101 unanswered questions.
India went on to win the Champions Trophy in ways on Dhoni can explain. Maybe. M. S. Dhoni was asked in the Caribbean tour by Mr. Subash Jayaraman about his methods that amazingly tilted the table in India’s favour in the finals. But Dhoni, in his own way, replied – “If I tell you how I think, there will be no secrets. You’ll have to figure it out for yourself.”
India is a country with more than a billion people, and I assume atleast 6 out of 10 Indians like the game of cricket. We Indian fans idolize cricketers, we mimic their batting and bowling styles. We call each other Sachin or Dhoni to feel good. We always dream of meeting them, spending a few minutes with them, talk to them, know them better. That is exactly what boils over as the emotions of fans who jump over the railings and past bouncers to get close to their idols.
We want to know more about them all. We are fans, we deserve to know what they like, what they don’t. We can’t figure it out for ourselves all the way. Our love for the game doesn’t end at stumps. It goes beyond it, which is what fandom is about.
I noticed that many cricketers joined Twitter, which is a really wonderful engaging social media. Twitter is where millions of fans can follow you and it gives them the freedom to connect to their idols, something that seems impossible outside the internet. Maybe not. Even here, the players don’t respond to any of the fan cries. Some of them are too self obsessed, showing off their universities, promotions, horses etc. Some of them log on to send occasional festival wishes. Or “Yes. We won.” kind of tweets. I know who won. I was checking the scores on cricinfo.
This is totally different from how basketball players in the NBA use the twitter media, or for that matter – any media – to interact with media houses and fans alike.
Just assume there was a parallel universe in which the cricketers were not chained slaves of their cricket board(s) and were allowed to give candid interviews to journalists, spoke openly on the burning issues of the day, cleared the air about speculations etc. Fans already have the answers to most of their questions. They are still fans. They are better, informed fans. Next time, maybe they won’t ask Ravindra Singh Jadeja eat at a Hyderabadi restaurant if he likes Awadhi cuisine more. Or, maybe they will not send Sachin a video of a monkey playing “Happy Birthday To You” on his birthday, if Sachin is allergic to monkey videos.
In this parallel world, the cricketers might be able to move around freely. More freely, in comparison. They don’t have to worry about the media – they have been answered. Yes, there will be fans coming to meet the players. They will meet them, maybe shake hands, take a photo, wish them luck and move on; knowing the fact that he will be there again 3 days later to buy the same vegetables and sit on the same chair in the park while whistling the same tune from that movie in 1990s.
Getting back to reality, all that is not possible. I wasn’t even allowed to speak to a Ranji cricketer after a domestic game. Fans were chased away from watching the players practice after game (this happens in international games too). I couldn’t even have a “hi – hello” conversation with Nayan Mongia who was playing with his kid in the nets. Does the fan really matter in this game? At all?
(images courtesy HindustanTimes.com and SouthAsiaBiz.com respectively)
(Article based on a conversation with Mr. Rajat)