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Are Press Conferences Irrelevant in Modern-Day Cricket?

One is not going into the details of the reasons and its merits and demerits of the world number women tennis player Naomi Osaka quitting French Open 2021 after she was fined by the organisers for not attending the mandatory press conference. Instead, one is just trying to contextualize this controversy and the relevance of mandatory press conferences in India’s most popular sports. “We’re not the good guys: Osaka shows up problems of press conferences” the headline on UK’s The Guardian was so compelling that an influential voice like former cricketer Sanjay Manjrekar couldn’t resist sharing the story’s link on his Twitter feed with an additional comment which was in complete agreement with the article’s overall sentiment. “This piece hits the nail on the head on press conferences.”

Relevance of press conference in Indian cricket

Indeed, there is some merit to the argument put forth in the article, but to conclude that press conferences offer no value in the modern world of Indian cricket as Manjrekar seems to indicate is a bit unfair. The idea that press conferences fail at their central function arguably holds true for cricket pressers in India and abroad as well. However, one is forced to recall the great Graham Greene who used to say that human nature is not black and white, but black and grey. Perhaps, the same holds true for the cricket press conferences, too.

Over the last two decades, this writer has covered countless press conferences across the world from a seemingly meaningless first-class game to a world cup final. No matter how boring and at times useless the PC may sound and appear, the fact of the matter is that no reporter can afford to miss it. The sheer nature of its unpredictability makes a press conference still relevant even if your boss may often shout at you by saying that what’s the point of attending it when you are going to get the important quotes or bites through the agencies.

The structure may be flawed but not the importance of a PC

In an increasingly competitive media space where exclusive access to a cricketer is getting tougher with each passing year, press conferences are the only source of interactions for many journalists from different parts of India. It includes yong and upcoming journalists as well some of the cynical scribes who maybe be based in one city throughout their career. It serves everyone well. Of course, the cricketers and sometimes even the media managers (most of them former journalists themselves) often make fun of the seemingly silly questions they have to answer from a lot of non-serious and not adequately trained journalist in almost every press conference, yet one can’t but appreciate the fact that a mandatory PC before or after every match is one of those rare democratic spaces still left where the stature of an organistion doesn’t matter. If IPL allows a young talent from nondescript places to showcase his talent on a bigger stage, an aspiring journalist from a smaller center gets the same kind of opportunity when he or she gets a chance to sit together with the ‘big journos’ and also have a fair and equal chance of posing a question to a Virat Kohli or a Dhoni.

Evolution of cricket press conference in the new century

From personal experience, I can vouch for the fact that because of press conferences the vernacular media got its belated due in a world where the so-called superiority of the English media called the shots. The fact that questions are being asked in Hindi, and of late in Marathi as well, in places like Melbourne and London speaks volumes about the role the presser have played in the growth of many journalists.

And, then there are other benefits of press conferences as well which rarely a one-on-one interaction in a controlled set-up reveals much about the players. Without press conferences, how would you know that even a captain cool can be unmasked?  Last year, I was part of a very small media contingent that was traveling with the team on a tour of New Zealand. One was stunned by the reaction of captain Kohli when a young Kiwi reporter asked not-so-difficult question.

In fact, coach Ravi Shastri in past has also tried gracelessly to mock some of the respected scribes when they made a comeback in an ODI series in South Africa after previously struggling in the Test series in 2018.

The recent examples are to just illustrate the simple point that nowadays players or coaches don’t ‘fear’ or give professional respect to the journalists who are just doing their jobs. Of course, you can’t be defending the entire community because the newfound hostility and scorn which comes from the players have a lot to do with the constantly diminishing quality of cricket journalism where you mostly find over-enthusiastic and barely trained journalists who are just looking for click-bait stories. So, an aspiring journalist has a difficult choice to make from the beginning. You either try good numbers for your story or get respect from the players for being an honest professional.

In this new century, cricket press conferences have been witness to many changes. A lot of great players from the earlier generations used to get intimidated by the presence of so many journalists in a cramped room. We have heard so many stories from an RP Singh to a Mohammad Kaif that it was always easier to get a five-wicket haul or a hundred in a match than to face so many people in a media room. The diminishing utility of press conferences as many players and cricket administrators may feel was articulated by Dhoni in his later years as captain. Dhoni always privately mentioned that as an Indian captain, he gets too much exposure because of these pre and post-match press conferences.

His argument was that neither questions nor answers change a lot in frequent interactions with a bunch of journalists he had to face day in day out. Former captains from Mohammad Azharuddin to Sachin Tendulkar and even Rahul Dravid too didn’t relish press conferences much. However, another former captain Sourav Ganguly often used this platform to his advantage where many Kolkata journalists were too eager to help Dada when he deliberately wanted some questions to be asked for his own benefits.

And, how can you forget the contribution of an iconic statement from Anil Kumble’s “Only one team was playing with the spirit of the game, that’s all I can say” from a high-voltage PC in 2008 after the controversial Sydney Test which rattled the Australians terribly.

“The great conceit of the press conference is that it is basically a direct line from the athlete to the public at large, that we humble scribes are but the people’s faithful eyes and ears in the land of the gods. In case you hadn’t noticed, this hasn’t really been true for a while. Athletes now have their own direct line to the public, and spoiler: it’s not us,” is a sentiment which has been articulated in The Guardian’sThe structure of modern press conferences is definitely flawed and steps must be taken by the media as well as administrators to make it more meaningful and relevant  article and fits comfortably in modern Indian cricket context as well. However, at the same time, it is difficult to agree completely when he tries to justify the irrelevance of press conferences by saying that the modern press conference is no longer a meaningful exchange but really a lowest common denominator transaction.

The structure of modern press conferences is definitely flawed and steps must be taken by the media as well as administrators to make it more meaningful and relevant in this PR-driven coverage of cricket but to simply shrug off its contributions and present role would be wrong.

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