Ayaz Memon in Newswatch: A series that wasn’t

19 Sep,2011

Newswatch is a weekly series where we invite editors and veteran journalists from across the country to comment on media coverage. Last week we had Aroon Tikekar, this time, it’s Ayaz Memon:

The English media’s coverage of the Indian cricket team’s ill-fated tour this summer went from heady expectation to surprise then astonishment followed by disappointment and finally distraught acceptance.

By all accounts, this was a terrible tour, arguably the worst-ever in Indian cricket history. This was captured well in the mood and tenor of the media which, like the rest of the cricket world, had been taken by surprise by India’s utterly hopeless performances.

The 4-0 whitewash in the Tests followed by a 3-0 defeat in the ODIs left the Indian team exposed to barbs and criticisms, not all unjustified. To twist a famous quote, no team had promised so much and delivered so little, which perhaps made the job of the media difficult. After all, how much can analyses vary if the team’s failures follow the same pattern every time, with only one player – the magnificent Rahul Dravid – performing in match after match?

The build-up to the Test series had been fantastic; the best I’ve seen in three decades. In earlier years the media in England could be neglectful or patronizing, but this time the volume of space and tenor of opinion bespoke India’s status in the sport – both on and off the field.

As the powerhouse that drives the eyeballs for cricket currently, India has acquired a curiosity, awe, envy, frustration, ire, appreciation, admiration across the globe. But interest in this tour was not only because of the financial clout India commands: this was also a marquee series, remember, because Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team was number 1 in the ICC Test rankings and only a couple of months prior had also won the 50-over World Cup.

The charisma of Sachin Tendulkar, poised to get his 100th international century, made the series even more seductive. Tendulkar had scored his first-ever international century in England in 1990 and had since gone on to become not just one of the greatest cricketers of all time, but also the Pied Piper of modern cricket, attracting fans and media everywhere.

Tendulkar’s teammates were stalwarts like Rahul Dravid, V V S Laxman, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Gautam Gambhir and Dhoni which India an all-star attraction. The fact that the first Test at Lord’s would be the 2000th in the history of the sport and the 100th between India and England added to the significance and the glamour, always good grist to the mill for the media.

Pre-series write-ups flooded the English newspapers. Broadsheets devoted big space to the greatness and virtuosity of Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman – all on their last tour of England – as well as India’s phenomenal rise in international cricket in every aspect over the past decade.

England’s victory in the Ashes series a few months earlier had made them strong aspirants to become the number 1 Test team, and this contest promised high drama and spectacular performances galore. But this proved to be unfounded as India crumbled badly because of poor preparation, and even poorer application under pressure.

By the middle of the tour, it was clear that there was to be no turnaround in India’s performances and the tone of the media had gone from admiration to cynicism. The world champions were looking like they had feet of clay. Tendulkar’s impending 100th century became a matter of ifs, buts and sighs. Barring Dravid’s resilience – and to an extent the hard toil of Praveen Kumar – there was little to extol in the Indian team.

Several causes and reasons were sought to explain the utterly abject performances of this highly regarded side and inevitably the Indian Premier League, the BCCI’s greed, recalcitrance to accept the DRS etc came under sharper focus than might otherwise have happened.

One of these debates on TV led to an altercation between former captains Ravi Shastri and Nasser Husain – with the former defending the BCCI and Husain emphatic that he had a right to criticize as a professional mediaperson — that was to resonate even across the seven seas.

In many ways, that was also the high point of a series that wasn’t in the cricketing sense.

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One response to “Ayaz Memon in Newswatch: A series that wasn’t”

  1. Naresh Gupta says:

    Thus series clearly highlights the perils of what lies in store for us once the big guns hang their boots. And the future is definitely not bright. Looks like Indian cricket will have to undergo some time of reinventing and retuning.