Perhaps to no one’s surprise, the dogs of war are out before the World Cup semi-final between India. And also unsurprisingly, it seems many of them are operating from media houses, trying to compensate the absence of hard news with a very unsubtle dose of jingoism.
It seems that a lot of people want to substitute sport with war — the strong war imagery that we’ve been subjected to over the last few days suggests that. Newspaper headlines have words like “battle”, “war”, “combat”. Perhaps they don’t really mean much when two contestants haven’t been involved in actual warfare; but in the case of India and Pakistan, for which war or conflict is a reality of past and present, they are hardly ideal.
Over the last couple of days, one TV channel used images of missiles to illustrate an infographic on cricket; another called the Pakistan team “Afridi baba and 10 Chor”; another talked about how to “demolish” Pakistan. People have sighted anti-aircraft guns near the stadium which, on closer scrutiny, have proved invisible.
After India lost their group match to South Africa — after a close and thrilling endgame — Graeme Smith was asked what he thought of India’s problems. “It’s, what, their first loss, isn’t it?” he said, apparently perplexed by the intense scrutiny of his rivals.
But late that night, reporters were screaming on TV that Mahendra Singh Dhoni must explain the defeat, that he owed an explanation to the nation on why he used Ashish Nehra for the last over instead of Harbhajan Singh. Shouldn’t he have known better, they wondered.
Dhoni says he’s not been watching TV at all, but a lot of people are; in fact, for many people, TV channels seem to be rapidly becoming synonymous with “news media”. When people on the street meet a journalist, they generally ask: “Which channel are you from?” It’s clear that for a very large number of people, TV channels are the default source of news. TV’s importance in forming opinions can’t be overstated.
To their credit, most cricket journalists who work for TV channels deplore the state of affairs, but they’re aware there are no choices. They say it’s journalism or quits for them, for “what do you expect us to do when our managing editor actually screams rather than tells news every night?”
It doesn’t help when the top leadership of the two nations have made significant diplomatic investment into this game — they’ve made it bigger than just a game. A Pakistan minister has actually warned their team that they’re under a close watch in case they have any thoughts of fixing a match.
Aren’t the politicians thinking of the poor players? Do they expect the players can help solve problems they themselves haven’t been able to solve?
The semi-final was just a match, but it’s become bigger than that because the politicians, media and the marketing people want to use it for their own ends.
To the utter shame of the true fans of cricket, Ricky Ponting was barracked and booed at the presentation ceremony after team’s loss to India at Ahmedabad. He had put on display a very high quality century in the match — the best innings of the game, in the words of Sanjay Manjrekar — but his sins were greater. He had become India’s enemy No. 1 because the day before, he was reported to have said that “we won’t allow Tendulkar to score his 100th international century”.
That’s not what he’d said. He’d actually said, after a long preamble in praise of Tendulkar, that his team would “try to delay the century for as long as possible”.
Now’s the turn of Shahid Afridi, the Pakistan captain. There have been reports that quote him as saying that his team would not allow Tendulkar to score his 100th century in Mohali. Afridi lost his cool when asked about this on Tuesday. “I’ve not said anything like this from the time I’ve started from Dhaka,” he said. “I’ve been seeing over the last two days that the Indian media tries to make even small matters very big. I’ve never said anything like this about Sachin. Sachin, no doubt, is a great player. But If I'm asked about Sachin, I won't say I'll allow him to score a century, would I?!”
“The media should use their brains, and be positive (about reporting),” he added.
Something’s not quite right when a player like Afridi — the opposite of “stable” — has to, rightly, admonish the media to mend their ways.