Transcript: Couch Talk with Clayton Murzello, MiD-DAY Sports Editor

Couch Talk 107 (Play)

Guest: Clayton Murzello, Sports Editor, MiD DAY Newspaper

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to couch talk. Today’s guest is MiD-DAY newspaper’s sports editor Clayton Murzello. He talks about the transformation in the Indian cricket media landscape in the last two decades, the relationship of the media with the BCCI, the state of Mumbai cricket, his relationship with Sachin Tendulkar over his career amongst other things.

Welcome to the show, Clayton!

Clayton Murzello (CM)– Pleasure, Subash!

SJ– It is absolutely my pleasure having such a long time cricket reporter on the show. You have been covering cricket for such a long time; One thing I want to know first is how has Indian cricket media changed over your career. It used to be a very print oriented media but now it is TV-centric, and you have competition from websites and cricket portals such as Cricinfo. So, how has your job changed and how has the entire cricket media transformed over the years?

CM– Firstly Subash, the transformation has been exciting for the followers of the game. That is what matters, actually. For a large extent, the cricket coverage for the fans today has become exciting and there are more options to pursue his passion. So, that has to be good. The power od television and the Internet has done massive amount of good for the game. So, if you and me are fans of the game, we’d be very happy to be in this era. Any cricket follower has a lot to be grateful for, today.

SJ– That’s true. From the fan’s perspective, the change has been dramatic and has been very good. For someone like me who moved out of India 15 years ago, having th ability to follow cricket at the push of a button, sitting so many thousands of miles away, is just fantastic. But from a mediaperson perspective, how has that transformation affected you?

CM– It has been exciting and it has been challenging. Life without a challenge wouldn’t be fun. I look at it from that angle. The problem is when things get trivialized and that, I don’t think a cricket follower enjoys too much. For example, during the 2003 cricket world cup, or may be a little later, there was a program on TV called “Cricket Villian” in Hindi, where they used to dissect the performances in the game – which is fine, but they also used to dissect the guy who did not do well. Now, in a game where you fail more often than you succeed, I thought that was quite unfair. At times, the media today don’t treat cricket as a game. They treat it like it’s another day at the office where things could go wrong. I think in many ways, media do not treat cricket as a game now. So, that’s changed in my job.

SJ– There is always a competition for the eye balls, and TV by the very fact the kind of media it is, has to have the dramatic effect to capture the attention of the fans and keep it there. As someone who grew up and worked in an era where you catered to the thoughtful cricket fan, this must be quite jarring to the system and yet, you have to compete with this. How do you adapt to that change in situation?

CM– First thing is, you go with the flow. You see on a day-to-day basis what the reader wants and try to give him the best you can offer. The competition is there and it’s challenging. You have got to do more than what the TV does. That is exciting because there are some things you can do in print that TV can’t do, but basically the fan is in a better position and that’s quite satisfying.

The pressures of the job, they have changed certainly. It makes me nostalgic. Fifteen years ago, I could go on a cricket tour and I could just approach a player without an agent coming in to play or the BCCI guidelines, and the player would take the call as to whether he wants to talk to me or not. I think that was a good system where as now, it has changed, it is more structured, more Army like.

SJ– Is it to do with the fact that when you do a TV interview, there is no going back. Once you said something on camera, you’ve said something where as in a print interview, there is always that give and take, and you knew the guys, and these were cricket people who were always around you? The career of a print cricket reporter depended on the player and the information about the player could only get out through the print guys, where as now, you have so many more avenues and TV journalism is pretty much “Gotcha!” journalism. They are always trying to get a player to say some thing headline worthy . The Army-like structured thing is because of that? I’m trying to understand what brought up this change.

CM– I’d say that the needs have changed. Players have become more guarded because of the TV media around. What you say is right, once it goes on record, it is on record but in many ways, it’s the same with print media as well. In a way you are right, it has become pretty ruthless. The personal touch is lacking. You don’t get as close to the players as you would 15 years ago. That is something you have got to accept because in this scenario, you can’t please every one. My problem is that the board isn’t doing enough to improve media relations.

For example, I’m told that “Dhoni is a great captain”. Fine, he is a great captain but he doesn’t give interviews. We don’t know what gos on in his mind. Apart from the usual match related press conferences, Dhoni doesn’t give any interviews. He doesn’t grant any time. This is where the Board should come in. I would like a scenario where the board comes to media houses and says, “Tomorrow, we are making the Indian captain available 10 minutes per media house” and let the captain speak or let a player speak for that matter.

SJ– I agree that the board should do a much better job of handling the players and the media. What was the breaking point (in souring of the relations)? Was it the media that got worse or was it the board that got strict with these things? As someone that has seen this relationship over so many years, where was it that the balance between the media and the board went off kilter?

CM– I think what changed it was when Jagmohan Dalmiya became president (of BCCI) again in 2001. He stopped any media interactions with the chief selector. I may be wrong here, but I think after the interaction with selectors was stopped, everyone followed suit and just kept quiet. I think Chandu Borde was the last Chairman of Selectors that spoke with the media after every selection committee meeting. That resumed when Kiran More became the chairman but it wasn’t all that regular.

On one occasion, after a game against Zimbabwe in Nagpur, Chandu Borde was grilled and it was quite ridiculous because I think the media were unfair to him. I think Dalmiya took a note of that and stopped all interactions between the media and the chief selector and it trickled down to the players as well.

SJ– Is there any way we could go back to a time where the relationships were a litte bit more cordial and there are more regular interactions between the Indian team establisment and the TV/print media? What could cause that change?

CM– To be fair to the board, Subash, the numbers have increased. There comes a point when you cannot please everyone. I understand the board’s line of thinking here that you cannot please every media house or every media person. But, overall, I think they can improve the relations with the media. It will help them also. You open a newspaper any day and you see an article that is anti-BCCI. That’s fine, some people say they are thick skinned and they are not bothered but I think somewhere down the line they have to improve the media relations.

In years gone by, I remember the 1998 tour to Sri Lanka, India won the tournament and we went to a party which the Indian team was involved in. At the party, we felt a little uncomfortable. The players were celebrating and we walked out. There were still my post-match interviews to be done and I needed to speak to [coach] Anshuman Gaekwad. I remember being quite unwell that night and I told Gaekwad that, “I am really unwell and I need to speak to you fast. As soon as you get done with your party, I’d like you to talk to me.” Gaekwad said, “Don’t worry, since you are staying in the same hotel [as the team], I’ll come over to your room and we can talk about the match.” Subash, those were the days! I don’t think any journalist will experience those days again. It is not only me. There are other people who will have such instances to relate.

SJ– That’s a fantastic story and I’m sure there are others who will have such stories…

CM– I’ll tell you another story from that tour. I was working for MiD-DAY and I still continue to do so, and I had to concentrate on post-match interviews. We were an afternoon tabloid nespaper and we had to give something different than the morning newspapers. I remember being the only journalist to go over to the team dressing rooms and wait outside the door for the captains to come out. Arjuna Ranatunga was leading Sri Lanka then and I had a big problem to get to the dressing room because of the security especially at the Premadasa Stadium. I explained my problem to Arjuna and he said, “Why don’t yo do one thing? Instead of coming all the way to the dressing room after the match, why don’t you just go back to the hotel and get me on the phone there and I’ll speak to you about the match?” Can you imagine any captain doing that today? But then, those were the good days.

SJ– True.

I have only heard about how, for a lack of a better word, predatory, the Indian TV media could be, but at the Sachin Tendulkar post-retirement press conference I got to see it first hand. There were about 400-500 credentialed media people and the only ones that got to ask a question of Sachin were the ones with the TV camera. It was supposed to be done in an orderly fashion but after the first question, all went to hell and everyone started yelling “sachin, Sachin, Sachin” and all the print journalists took a back seat, shrugged the shoulders, saying “well, if this how it’s going to go, then, what is the point?”

How are you, as a print journalist, allowed to conduct journalism when 1) Access is restricted and 2) Whenever there is access, it is taken away by people with TV cameras?

CM– Well, I was at that press conference. I agree it was disrespectful to the man. This was going live and people at home got to see and hear what was going on at that press conference. It was quite disgraceful. How do you handle it? Well, don’t waste your time on such a show. Wait for your one-on-one with Sachin and it will be worth it. That’s how I look at it. I wasn’t going to waste my questions in that presser.

SJ– But not every print journalist there is going to get an opportunity to do one-on-one with Tendulkar. So, that was one chance for that particular print guy or woman, to ask a question of Sachin but they didn’t get that opportunity. With the way TV media approaches it, what advice would you give someone that is entering print journalism in India?

CM– Hah! I don’t know whether I’m in any position to give any sort of advice. What I’d say is, “Go with the flow and make the best use of any opportunity coming your way.” You spoke about this specific press conference, and you are absolutely right. Not everyone would get a chance to do a one-on-one with Tendulkar. Fair enough. I don’t really know what you would do. You saw many journalists with their hands up, with questions for Tendulkar and they didn’t get a chance. I think they should have had a separate press conference for the electronic media and a separate one for the print media. I think they could have handled it better but what we saw was quite disgraceful.

SJ– That’s an interesting idea – one presser for TV media and one for print.

CM– At any rate, they had a separate session for the TV after the press conference. So why not have an exclusive press conference for the print media? I just didn’t understand that.

SJ– Okay. I want to talk a little about Mumbai cricket but not exactly the nitty gritty of the players and selections and all that, but an overall view of things. You always hear about when there is a bright, new young talent coming through in Mumbai, the word gets around and you get to hear from people on television lik Sunny Gavaskar and Sanjay Manjrekar that when they were in the Indian team they got to hear about some young players etc. I want to understand from you, as some one that has covered cricket in Mumbai for so long, how does this news network work in Mumbai? How does the word get around?

CM– I have always felt it, and many others have too, the heart of Mumbai’s success is in its club structure. When a player scores heavily in the club circuit, he gets known and he gets watched, by selectors, groundsmen and club secretaries and then the word gets to the media. That’s how players are exposed [to the outside world] at a very young age. That’s where Mumbai cricket is different.

Although, I am not willing to say everything is rosy in Mumbai cricket. Yeah, we have won the Ranji Trophy 40 times but the club structure is as good as it should be. I don’t think club loyalty exists now. This is pulling Mumbai cricket back now. They need to look at club structure in spite of the 40 Ranji trophies and see the bad things there. There is a new format from this year where they have done away with the monsoon flavor of the Kanga league. I’m not too sure whether that’s the right move but we can’t be too cynical about things also. We’ll have to give it 2-3 years to see how it goes. I thought the Kanga league was a very important part of Mumbai cricket. Although the Kanga league lost its importance over the last 10 years, I think the administrators should have done things to improve it rather than completely take away the monsoon flavor.

SJ– There is a question from listener Abhijit Banare. The question is: We often forget the other side of Mumbai cricket. In the sense that, you hear about players like Tendulkar that were spotted at a very young age and went on to fulfill all the expectations and the promises. A lot of the careers go nowhere at a very young age because of the pressures that come with the cut-throat competition that is Mumbai cricket. How do these pressures affect the young cricketers in Mumbai cricket?”

CM– That’s a very good point. In the past, there used to be a lot of mentoring that went on in those tents in the maidans. You can ask any one in Mumbai cricket and they will tell you that they were not short of mentors. There is a shortage of mentors now and that’s not a good news for a young cricketer. The young cricketer in many ways has to fend for himself. To a point, players have to fend for themselves but you need those mentors and backers to tell you when you are wrong and encourage you when you are going well. I think that’s lacking in Mumbai cricket now and that’s not good news.

The MCA has to build a good environment around club cricket to ensure what was experienced in the past is experienced now.

SJ– What would be some of the things you would like to see for MCA to do?

CM– Well, I’d like to more players coming in to the MCA. I’d like to see more players encouraged to come in to the administrative fold of the mCA. I don’t see that happening. You need the right kind of players. I don’t mean to just bring in all the players to run Mumbai cricket. That won’t work. You need administrators as well but you need a fair amount of good cricketers to come in to lead the way. It is really sad to see someone like Dilip Vengsarkar not having anything to do with the association. He should be your cricket operations man but he is nowhere in the association. He didn’t even stand for the elections this year.

SJ– In terms of the involvement of the ex-cricketers that you had in the 80’s and the 90’s, and the current situation you have, you hear of things like Sunny Gavaskar took an active interest in Tendulkar and gave him advice and his pads etc., is there still that kind of involvement? Are the Mumbai Ranji players and the Mumbai players representing India still keep in touch with their Mumbai club roots?

CM– The main thing is that the first class cricketers don’t play enough of club cricket which used to happen in the past. However big a player you were, you had to play for your club. You wanted to play for your club. I don’t think that exists any more and so there is no interaction between the senior and junior players. This is what I feel. I don’t think the club cricketers are benefitting from their senior players. Because senior players don’t turn up; they don’t have the time to turn up. The schedule is such that the senior players cannot play club cricket at times. You can’t blame them. That’s why I’d like to see an enhanced version of the Kanga league where the normal club cricketers get to rub shoulders with their seniors.

SJ– I huess that’s where the point you raised about mentoring comes in to play…

CM– Subash, the point is that mentors need to be encourage to join the fold again and that’s not taking place. That’s why you’ll see a lot of cricketers going astray. You’ll see a lot of bitching around going on Mumbai cricket, and that’s because of the complete shortage of mentors.

SJ– Okay. We have a few minutes left. I want to talk about Sachin Tendulkar. MiD-DAY was the first newspaper to carry an article about him back in 1987-88 I think, and also MiD-DAY organized that TV interview of Tendulkar that Tom Alter did. Your newspaper career has pretty much coincided with Tendulkar’s career. What has been your relationship with Tendulkar from the time he was 16/17 years old to now, when he has retired?

CM– We have had a really good professional relationship. I don’t think I can claim to be his friend which many people feel. A lot of people pull my leg at the office about this but I’m tired of telling them that I’m not his friend, and I just enjoy good professional relationship with him. I think that relationship has been fostered with trust, like any relationship. We understand each other’s pressures; I don’t push him for anything if he was in the middle of a series. Look, if Tendulkar didn’t want to talk to you, he will not talk to you. He will always put his cricket first.

He has been really good to our newspaper. Sachin spoke to us quite often, even late at night. He did everything possible to assist us and I’m really grateful for that.

SJ– I saw the “Five Questions” that Siddhartha Vaidyanathan did with you for the “Farewell Tendulkar” microsite on Cricinfo. There were couple of interesting anecdotes. Beyond that, any other interesting anecdotes from the 24-year career you have had with him?

CM– Nothing really much to boast about, Subash, but as I said, he’s been good to me. I recently got out a book on him and he was kind enough to write an introduction and he was very generous with his words. Practically, every year he granted me an interview in those 24 years. Well, not 24 years, since I first interviewed him only in 1990. I’ve been interviewing regularly since 1994.

SJ– That is still a lot of interviews with Tendulkar!

CM– I used to cover Ranji Trophy a lot. After every day’s play, I used to wait outside the dressing room to get his views on the day. May be that helped!

SJ– Tendulkar was a one man industry that kept cricket alive and active on TV as well as the print media. Now that he has retired, how do you think the whole media landscape changes? Does it change in India?

CM– It will definitely change because you are talking of someone who played international cricket for 24 years and who has been the heart beat of this nation.

In terms of who will be the next successful Indian batsman, I don’t think we have to worry too much. History will show you that whenever a great oes out of the game, a new great gets developed. We have a good bunch of youngsters to look forward to. The future is good for Indian cricket.

SJ– I don’t question that. It’s not like suddenly the talented batsmen will disappear. We have already seen some really good batsmen lining up to take Tendulkar’s spot but my question is more from the media perspective. Tendulkar came at this particular juncture in time when the media in India exploded. From a few dozen newspapers to several hundreds of newspapers, websites and TV channels covering cricket 24×7, he was the first modern superstar of cricket. Finally he has exited. The media landscape – does that change?

CM– I don’t think so. The media still have to go out and cover matches and chase their stars. There will be new stars to chase and I don’t think the media landscape will change and there will still be a job to do.

SJ– I agree. Any final thoughts Clayton?

CM– I just wish the board does something about the media limitations and improve the relations. Actually, the board sometimes has to project the good they are doing. They are doing a lot of good in Indian cricket. Sure, there are a lot of anti-BCCI pieces floating around but the board is actually doing some good work. If they improve the relationship with the media, people will get to know the good work they are doing.

SJ– That’s an extremely valid point and I couldn’t agree more with you.

Thanks a lot for coming on the show Clayton and it was an absolute pleasure talking to you.

CM– Thank you for having me Subash. I don’t know what qualifies me to be on your show but I’m really honored. Thank you.

SJ– Thank you!

CM– G’day. Bye.

SJ– Bye.