Transcript: Couch Talk 34 with Gideon Haigh

Couch Talk Episode 34 (play)

Guests: Gideon Haigh, Writer and Cricket Historian

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Subash Jayaraman – Hello and Welcome to Couch Talk. In today’s episode, we have the prolific writer and an authority on cricket history, Mr Gideon Haigh. We’ll be talking about ICC, cricket administration in general, T20 leagues around the world, especially the IPL and its effect on Indian as well as global cricket, and the future of test cricket amongst other things. Welcome to the show, Gideon!

Gideon Haigh – Good day, Subash!

SJ– Nice of you to be here!

GH– Well, I could’ve been at the Allan Border Medal, but I’d rather have a hole drilled into the side of my head than the Allan Border Medal. So, it’s nice to be on your show.

SJ – So, let’s begin at the top with the ICC. The Woolf Review, it’s been in for a few weeks now and it has made recommendations on better governance of the ICC. But, they are non-binding. Sambit Bal (cricinfo) called it well-meaning, but naive. What do you make of it?

GH– I think there are two points to make about it. First, I think there are too many recommendations. If the Woolf Review had combined itself to 3 or 4 recommendations, I think it would’ve been more difficult for the countries to walk away from. As it is, what seems to be happening is, there is a whole lot of deal-doing and to-and-fro to ensure that the recommendations get nowhere. I know that the BCCI has just agreed to play a single T20 game in South Africa after the Asia Cup. That must be a favour to someone, because it is pointless to take a trip like that for the sake of a single game. I think everyone is sort of gathering their support and girding their loins, to ensure that the recommendations go forward. Because, the vested interest have too much to lose if actual reforms took place. The other area where I think the Woolf Review committee let them down is they didn’t spell out clearly enough what the financial indications were of these reforms. I think, in the absence of a definitive financial picture of the game going forward, it was easier for the boards of control to settle for the devil they knew. Which is a shame, because there are a lot of sound recommendations in it and in general the principle of independence in cricket administration is something that the game will have to get grip with sooner rather than later. And, there are problems with the game fizzling out after the 2015, when the current ICC life-cycle expires, and cricket again goes looking for money to support its key international tournaments in the post-IPL environment for the first time. This ICC life-cycle was made before the IPL came into view.

SJ– If they had made three of four recommendations, what do you think they should’ve been?

GH– I would’ve simply concentrated on the independence of the board. I would try to ensure that the best people run cricket and the ICC has some sort of say on who sits on the board. It seems to be acrostic, for what seems to be a $ 1.5 billion business, that the ICC is not able to appoint its own board of director. They come up with some sort of arrangement by which it taps into various skills and expertises. At the moment all that they’re ever going to get is a group of cricket administrators and how many cricket administrators does it take to change a light bulb? That’s a trick question – they don’t change the light bulbs, they get someone else to do it for them.

SJ– If you want to look at how incompetent ICC has become, you don’t have to look any further than the Decision Review System. They introduced it as the highest levels of the sport without much rigorous testing that it needed because it was changing the way the sport was being played. And instead, they rushed into it for whatever reasons, broadcasters or otherwise, they were trialling it in the test matches. In a “we will fix it as we go” philosophy. How can we have any faith, belief, or hope from such a system? It is questioning the governance of the ICC.

GH– That’s actually not a governance question. That comes from the cricketing committee rather than the executive board. Don’t forget that the BCCI is actually represented on that committee. As I understand it, Ravi Shastri, when he goes to cricket committee meetings of the ICC, is a 100 % behind the technology and umpiring. It is only when he leaves those meeting and goes to the BCCI federal that he is against it. Look, I’m not a great technology fan as far as umpiring is concerned. Ball tracking is as inadequate as any two-dimensional rendering of a three-dimensional event could be expected to be. I don’t mind umpires giving more LBWs which seem to bring more equilibrium in  the game between bat and ball. It has also led to more honesty in appealing. But I’ve never been 100% at certainty in umpiring. I don’t think that is a romantic position. That’s simply practical. I find the use of technology, however obtrusive, an interference with the spectacle. The most ridiculous thing I’ve seen this year in Australia are these mandatory checks of no-ball after the wickets have been taken. It forces the batsman to stand half-way off the ground, while the umpires who should be paying attention to the frontline would seek video assistance. This is ludicrous. I don’t think that adds anything to the spectacle of cricket at all. All it seems to manifests is that we’ve become completely enslaved by the action replay. That is an area where me and BCCI actually see each other eye to eye.

SJ – I support the use of technology, anywhere it helps human beings, great. But it’s not the “be all, end all”. You cannot become a slave to technology, which is what the argument has become, where it was initially, howlers, and now, we are splitting hairs.

GH– There was a fascinating case to demonstrate how we slide from howlers to a 100% accuracy. There was ridiculous situation at the One Day final, the Ryobi Cup, where apparently the rule from Cricket Australia was that only use of the third umpire in domestic game was to be in the even of howlers. That had been the case right throughout the tournament. But, in the final, George Bailey, towards the end of his innings was given not-out by the on-field umpire and the South Australian players picked up such a fuss that the umpire forgot what they were doing and referred it to the third umpire who over-turned the decision. That just simply shouldn’t happen. But, it’s a fact that the technology exists, is going to encourage the people  to seek it out. So, howlers-schmowlers! Players are always going to find ways to game the system, and, it shouldn’t be surprising if they try to gain advantage of it.

SJ– It’s the [MCC] cricket committee understand, but, everything falls under the one umbrella of “cricket governance”. That’s where you start losing faith if they are going to mess up such basic things of common-sense. There is a question from Nicole on ICC. She asks, “Do you believe that the balance of power to full members of the ICC can be neutralised? Can it be changed organically over time, or will the status-quo continue and reproduce itself indefinitely?”

GH– That’s a very good question! The fact is that, even five years ago, we couldn’t have understood the balance of economic power that would fall on the ICC. I go back to the Indian victory at the World Twenty20 in 2007, which changed the dynamics of the domestic cricket totally and made the IPL such a important profit engine for India, to the extent that for India, only 3-4% of its revenue comes from ICC. So, it can quite happily ignore the ICC’s dictates. It doesn’t need the ICC. The ICC needs the BCCI far more than vice-versa. In the short term for sure, the demography rules, and the fact that the BCCi through no merits of its own has access tot he world’s largest cricket market. That’s not going to change fundamentally. What is interesting is what the effect generally may b in the slow down of the world economy and restraints on the break-neck growth of the Indian economy and perhaps some not perceivable things – acts of God, that might upset the Indian cricket economy – such as a major corruption scandal, or the continued decline of the Indian cricket team which of course affects absolutely everyone who is dependent on the Indian tours for television rights money. There are huge house at the moment at the prospect of India not making the finals for the one-dayers out here, because ESPN’s rights for broadcasting of Australian cricket to Asia was renewed last year on the assumption that India would stay in the top-3 international teams. As it is, they seem to have gotten worse and worse as the summer has unfolded.

SJ– Talking about this summer, I want to touch upon the article you wrote in The Australian, in which towards the end you concluded that, the IPL is the only reason in changing the culture and how the Indian players behaved this summer in Australia. It’s more co-incidence than causation, right?

GH– I think I said it was the obvious reason, the obvious change in the Indian cricket environment since the Indian team toured here in 2007/08. They were a terrific team. And the 2003/04 team out here. It’s been a great tragedy that unfolded here this summer, surrounding the team, because there was an awful lot of expectation surrounding them from the Australians. We had actually gotten used to the idea of India being a match for us, more than a match for us. And actually, the Australia quite like the teams that are quite a match from them. They will go toe to toe and hit with them. They developed great respect out of travesty for the English team that toured here last year. Australians don’t mind losing, if they can be on the receiving end of an extremely skillful and able and exciting team. That’s certainly what this Indian team shaped up to be. Man for man, it is as powerful as any team coming to Australia. But, to have underperformed so shockingly, and to have deteriorated to the degree that they have, due to the in-fighting that seems to have sprung up around the team in the last few weeks, it seems to me of a pretty sick culture. The major cultural event in Indian cricket since 2007/08 has been the IPL. There’s no denying it.

SJ – Lot of people, myself included, have issues with that conclusion because the majority of this team of this tour to Australia are the leftovers from 2007/08 and actually...

GH– Doesn’t that make it more obvious? The moving parts are the same, it’s the kind of lubrication that has altered. If there had been five or six key retirements, and we were looking at a different team, perhaps we could say, well that was natural attrition. Don’t you think that it is a possibility that IPL has dictated in keeping the Indian players far more than they should?

SJ– I understand that the marketability of the players. But, who are we fans to tell the players they shouldn’t stick around or not? This whole notion about everybody in the Indian media speaking about such and such person should retire or dropped. That’s the job of the selectors. Returning to the point – The surliness in the behaviour that you noticed, in a couple of players it could very well be due to the fact that one of them is very young or that the team has not performed. You’ve gone through club cricket, you go through a stretch where no matter what you try, you keep ending up on the losing side. (GH- That’s very much like the club I played for!). so, that has an effect on the psyche. Eventually, frustration boils over, they are human. They should have had better character and overcome that, and be equanimous about it. But, sometimes things boil over, and that’s why you have incidences on the field. At times, we have seen, over the course of history of sports and cricket – that these things happen. To take that and paint it with a broad brush and say that this is why that has happened – I don’t quite agree with you on that.

GH– It was a newspaper column, Subash. You don’t have to agree with it!

SJ– You did a spot on Death of A Gentleman, the documentary. What in your views, is the future of test cricket?

GH – My suspicion is that in the next ten years, the ranks of test playing nations will dwindle to about half a dozen. The value of bilateral (series’) TV rights is dwindling so rapidly, because , partly of the rise of the IPL, but also the abiding strength of the ICC marquee events that’s becoming increasingly difficult to justify a series longer that 2 matches between New Zealand and the West Indies. And, that can’t go on indefinitely. Recently, India and Sri Lanka have agreed to play a tour involving no test matches at all. That’s because Sri Lanka desperately needs a short term cash infusion. And, under those circumstances, the cheapest way of earning money is to play ODIs and T20 matches. i think there are more and more boards like Sri Lanka’s, bordering insolvency. The ICC missed an enormous opportunity by not agreeing to substitute the Champions Trophy for a playoffs to the world test championship in 2013. I understand that all full members would’ve to have coughed up about $ 3 millions each. I think it was ludicrous that they didn’t do it, it was false economy. It was like, they easily could’ve built up a franchise around the playoffs to the world championship that could’ve done something to ensure that they continue the test cricket going forward. They may not get the opportunity again. I think we have to wait until 2017, which was a very foolish move.

SJ – There’s a question from one of our listeners – Sunny Mishra. Sri Lanka, cancelling tests with India and scheduling ODIs and T20s.

GH– In their position, I mean, they are in a $50m hole at the moment, in the bank of cricket. And under those circumstances, you’re not necessarily happy about playing a nice leisurely uneconomic test match.

SJ– Not only Sri Lanka, as one of the listeners, Aashish points out – English county are in the red as well. England is probably the most financially successful, after India, but they are struggling there. Your thoughts?

GH– County cricket has never been profitable. It’s got huge amounts of money tied up in depreciating infrastructure that only achieves maximum use on a handful of days a year. The game loses money at first class level all over the world. That’s caused administrators to stint on it to apply a profit-sentimentality. Basically running it down, trying to do without it. The BCCI have done it, it’s done by Cricket Australia. The West Indies Cricket Board have done it. The country that’s given its first class cricket the most thought is probably South Africa. County cricket may have ot do same as what they do in South Africa – to consolidate some of the counties. To me, having 18 counties in this stage of the 21st century is doing is basically for archaic reasons and there seems to be a considerable lack of common sense.

SJ– Let’s move on to T20. Especially the T20 leagues that have sprung up around the world. It started with England in 2003, the 2007 World Cup, and the IPL. Then, you’ve had the Big Bash League in Australia, Bangladesh has a Premier League. Sri Lanka are trying to bring one up again. Where do you think all these T20 leagues are heading towards?

GH– I don’t think there is room for all of them. That’s for sure. But the issue in-front of all of them is quite different. What the owners at IPL are concerned, I think, franchises are out there to want more. It is more interesting that the franchises are run by people like Vijay Mallya and Mukesh Ambani. They didn’t get into these things to lose money. The state of the Pune Warriors is going to be a litmus test. How much value depreciation has been there in the IPL, as a result of its scandals, and as a result of its over-exposure, and fan-jadedness. We are getting into a situation where the franchises are going to mobilise and going to demand further concessions. Because, the whole concept has been over-sold.

The Big Bash League, well, it will get better. It is still finding its way. The players in the first year, we saw, were given one year contracts, which means that over the off-season in Australia there is going to be a generous fill of all the positions and the players are going to wind up on different banners and we know what they meant in the IPL. It became quite confusing for fans as to who was playing for who and for what reason… the ratings were quite solid here this summer. And at the same time, it didn’t develop the same way as Cricket Australia had predicted. They had tried to emphasize the kind of the trivial and aspirational aspects of the league… That, the people were going to put on face paint and all, but it didn’t work out that way. They seemed to go just for the event, for some of the cricketainment aspects of it, they liked the self-containment of the evening, that they could watch the game of cricket in three hours at the height of summer. It succeeded to a degree, but you would’ve expected it to succeed considering al the advantages and all the indulges that it received. The teams being dissolved will take it probably to square one. That’s going to have to start all over again next summer. The reason they signed only one year contracts is because they rolled over the memorandum of understanding  between the Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricket Association for another year because there were so many imponderables about private ownership. Those imponderables haven’t been resolved. But, we are bound to get a new MoU over the next few months.

Bangladeshi Premier League? I think the players are going to play there because the salary cap is quite high- $ 2million for the teams, more than $ 1 million for the teams of the Big Bash league here. But, the competition is growing and I suspect, very probably corrupt. To me, the only people who are at the advantage at the BPL are the book-makers. That’s not sustainable, even in the short term.

SJ– I want to ask you a little bit more about the Big Bash League, because it is running parallel to the home test summer, and your first class season. What is the effect of the Big Bash on those in the long term?

GH– That’s a very good question. The answer is – we don’t know. We got off lightly this summer, in Australia. India were so poor that they didn’t place the pressure on Australia that could’ve made the Big Bash League an embarrassment. As it is, the selectors had no choice to Shaun Marsh, who was making no runs, because they had no other first class batsman in form to choose from. To some degree, the selectors are going to have to stick to the configurations they picked at the start of the summer because there is not going to be a plenitude of alternative selections. If more of Australia’s top class fast bowlers had gotten injured, I don’t know who was next in the queue to replace them. I think they have to shorten the Big Bash, they have to compress it further and perhaps play some double-headers so it doesn’t crawl out of the six weeks, otherwise Australia is sacrificing an enormous advantage that it must have in hosting teams from overseas.

SJ– What do you think are the effects of the T20 leagues on the techniques of test cricketers – the batsmen and the bowlers? The question comes from Achettup, he remembers you talking about David Warner, if he would ever face 60 balls in an innings. What are your views now, as Warner is now slotted as the opener and has 2 test hundreds and has been very close to captaincy of the Australian team.

GH– Maybe that is in the media’s imagination that he is close to the captaincy, I don’t think the selectors have necessarily shared that view. But, when I said that about Warner, I was saying it out of an economic point – that it would be possible for Warner to make a career out of playing just T20 and he wouldn’t financially need to learn to play any other format of the game. It is still true. It’s a credit to him that he decided that it wasn’t enough and with a lot of help and a lot of investment, he has become a kind of a poster child by graduating to test cricket. It’s fun that he hasn’t been able to buy a shortfall run of the game, in which he is meant to be very gifted. T20 is not a bad game, I think it is getting a lot better in some ways. Thanks to the players, rather than the administrators, they have set their minds and skills on to how to play it better. When T20 is bad, it is bloody awful. Guys bowling full tosses, they try to bowl their fifth slow ball in the over, blokes hitting it straight up in the air, commentators becoming mental that one scored 13 off 9 balls. It’s really, really awful! My misgivings about T20 are basically about the corporate model. They are based around what I perceived to be the second and third order of the game. It’s a different argument – the merits of T20 or not. My apprehension, for financial reasons will tend over-time to flood the calendar. It will tend to hold the sponsors, it will intend to infatuate the broadcasters and obsess the administrators to the exclusion of all else. There’s been ample evidence of that happening- those T20 leagues that we’ve been talking about before. Those eventually holding the line have been the players. There haven’t been mass defections, if anything, it has pruned the game of some of its greedier, mediocre practitioners. Why is that? Because, while it has its merits, T20 is pretty unsatisfying, if that is the only format of the game you are going to play. It will axe the scale and the scope and the depth of the opportunity that even something as dull as a four-day cricket gives you. The players who are the biggest fans of the T20, are the ones whose weaknesses and inadequacies are exposed by anything longer and more sophisticated. No one wants to be perceived as that kind of player.

SJ– Fair! Let’s talk about the rotating presidency and John Howard’s nomination to the post of ICC Vice-President. Here comes a question from Shrikant, who is on twitter as @homertweets – Why did Mr. Haigh completely ignore the fact that doing away with the rotating presidency of the ICC was a joint bid by the BCCI and the ECB? Why is he underplaying the fact that it was the South African cricket board that led the call against John Howard, vocally supported by the Pakistan Cricket Board and Sri Lanka Cricket and not so vocally by the Zimbabwean Cricket Board. Given that it takes seven votes of the ten full members for Mr Howard to get the nomination, how can he reconcile this opprobrium towards BCCI in this matter? As an additional point, Gideon, I received a plenty of questions on twitter asking why “Mr  Haigh is so against BCCI, and in extension, against India?”

GH– There’s an interesting issue, isn’t it – “in extension, against India” ? I don’t agree it is. I grew up loving Indian cricket and cricketers, and I still do. The first piece I ever wrote as a young journalist, was on Sunil Gavaskar, whom I absolutely idolised as a player. Players like (Gundappa) Vishwanath, Kapil Dev; Mohinder Amarnath was probably still is my cricketing hero. I met him last summer. He is one of the few cricketers I’ve actually been abashed to meet. I grew up as a kid following Amarnath’s feats against Pakistan and the West Indies. I just couldn’t imagine a better or braver player of fast bowling. What I’m suspicious of, though, is of large groups of politicians looking to divide up spoils and essentially what the BCCI is is, and to an extent that is what the ICC directive board is. It’s not what Cricket Australia is, but Cricket Australia has its own problems. In general, I’m wary of all cricket administrators, warier that I’ve ever been. Perhaps because the game is rich and prestigious, it will attract people who don’t have its interest at heart. This has happened so fast to cricket, it has become so wealthy in such a short span of time, its institution checks and balance has been unable to keep pace with that expansion. And much of the wealth that it’s accumulated had actually been fretted away. If you think I’m tough I’m on BCCI, you should see how tough I’m on CA. They absolutely hate me. That’s OK, because that’s not a bad position for a journalist to be in.

SJ– your thoughts on john Howard’s nomination and eventually, he not getting it? I quote from your article on Cricinfo-“ Ultimately, however, responsibility lies with the chaotic, fratricidal, law-unto-itself Board of Control for Cricket in India, for had it chosen to back Howard, the decision would have gone through on the nod.” How could you say that?

GH– I stand by that. If the BCCI had decided that the power was acceptable, then it wouldn’t have mattered on the ICC board were against Howard, it would’ve been approved. Because no one can afford to be on the opposite side of an argument against the BCCI. The BCCI, they favoured the promotion of Jack Clarke, who was the chairman of Cricket Australia at the time, as Australia’s nomination to the Vice-Presidency, because Jack Clarke is pretty useless, and pretty inept. Clarke could not even get the support of Cricket Australia, to taking up that position. That’s how fancy it was an idea. In the end, it was decided that it was better to continue to choosing from the pool of useless nobodies that the cricket administration is in the hands of, because, someone who was a bit different, who actually might not have a vested interest in the preservation of the status-quo, was considered to be too risky.

SJ– Shrikant has a follow-up question- “If you think BCCI could’ve gotten John Howard just with a nod to get his nomination through, when you say they wield undue influence on the ICC, how do you reconcile with the fact that the idea of rotating presidency, brought by BCCI and ECB, was shot down?

GH– It’s an interesting question. There was an opposition from the start to the rotating presidency. And that was unfortunately, from Pakistan. And nobody was paying any attention to Ijaz butt at that point. There was passive opposition from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. It actually took Nyoka from South Africa to put his hands up and call a halt to it. In the end, I don’t think India had done the necessary ground work to get the idea over the line. So, even though it had the support of the ECB, who were of course trying to endear themselves to India, it was just done too quickly, without the necessary number crunching. It was an uncharacteristic lapse by the BCCI. I think, even they had difficulty in believing it. It was certainly a blow to India’s prestige, but it wasn’t a lasting one. I think they are playing a better game with the Woolf Review reports. They understand that they have to go out there, win friends and influence people, and you will see deals being cut by the BCCI to ensure the Woolf Recommendations don’t go forward

SJ– So, I think what Shrikant is arriving at is, that you’ve seen at least one incidence where BCCI does not exert the influence – it is actually PCB and SACB and SLC has…

GH– The interesting thing about this issue and the one that made it particularly sensitive one is because the administrators were suddenly being told, “You can’t be the president of the ICC”. Isn’t that interesting? That the only issue that the BCCI stood up to was the potential compromise that possibly some of these guys would get their turn at being the ICC president. They don’t give a stuff about world cricket, what they really, really care about is their own power and prestige. Never stand between a  cricket administrator and power, you will be trampled in the rush.

SJ– I think his [Shrikant’s] idea was to point out the contradiction that in one case, you’ve said John Howard’s candidature would’ve gone through if India were for it; and in another case, where India is for a rotating policy, where they get shot down. So, it’s not all BCCI’s fault. It’s unfair to pile everything on them and say it’s BCCI’s fault.

GH– That’s correct, in as much as, it’s not in the strengths of the BCCI that’s the problem at the ICC; It’s the incredible gutlessness and stupidity of the other administrators who are on that board. It is truly a kakistocracy, a government, run by worst of men.

SJ– I agree with you that the other boards need a back-bone. I understand you have to endear yourself to India for money, but, you have to take principled stances. But, considering it is politicians in lot of the cases running it, I don’t expect much from them.

GH– I don’t either. The other thing is – the marginal financial position of a lot of these boards makes it very, very difficult to assert themselves. Sri Lanka is in no position to assert themselves, the West Indies, Zimbabwe, even… Lot of them depend on the Indian tours, basically, to keep themselves afloat. They depend on England tours as well. And England has become quite skilful at bullying other boards and cajoling them into line. Because, they learnt the tactic from the BCCI.

SJ– We’ll talk about a topic on cricket journalism, and the question comes from Kartikeya. He wants to know – “How do you understand journalism?” In his views, there are two pursuits – to educate, promote serious discussion on enquiry; and, to which a lot of journalism has been towards recently, to be popular and get the hits for your website, readership etc. Most people provide some kind of expression on how they reconcile with both these objectives and goals. What do you think is the consequence of this contradiction to cricket?

GH– I try to not get too involved in the high-theory of journalism. I have an imagined, intelligent reader there and I’m at them. I try to be intellectually rigorous, I try to be truthful, I don’t intend to be popular. I try to do respectful to other people’s points of view, but that doesn’t mean I say what the people think they want to hear, there’s enough people doing that. As far as I’m concerned, the  leitmotif of my journalism is that, is independence. I’m beholden to, no corporation, no administration, no sectional interest, no country, even. I don’t barrack for Australia, I don’t barrack for anyone, except maybe fo r the club that I played for in Melbourne. I haven’t been the staff member of a newspaper since 1995. I’ve always believed, where journalism is concerned, I like the words of Mother Jones –“Comfort the afflict-able, and afflict the comfortable”. I guess that’s why I still like to afflict the BCCI very much, because I think they are a little too pleased with themselves.

SJ– As a journalist, I would want the people that I’m reading to know what their responsibilities are, they are shaping the thoughts and opinions of a reader . an unwritten contract between the reader and the writer, that the reader is getting the truth, and not some biased take on something

GH– I think that in sports journalism, Subash, there is some sort of discriminating, well-informed audience, in a manner that there isn’t perhaps for political or financial journalism. Everyone’s got a view on sports. Often very well equipped to make judgements about the voracity of something that arrives written. There is a famous remark of Neville Cardus’, he was a music-critic and a cricket journalist, and he once said that if he once wrote that “if I wrote the Hammerklavier Sonata, I would receive two or three letters of correction, perhaps, from the continent. If I wrote that Sir Len Hutton had scored 363 at The Oval in 1938, I’d receive thousands of letters of complaints from the Yorkshire men alone. It’s one of the reasons why I like writing about sports, that the readers are very quick to tell you what they think. Often, very penchant, very provocative in their views. I like to write for a discriminating audience, an audience that is prepared to disagree with me. Because, I don’t like to think of me as incontestable.

SJ– Shrikant, that we talked about earlier, always tells me there are three sides to a story – “you side, my side and the real/actual side!”

GH– That’s true!

SJ– As a reader, I want that real side. And these days, we are getting less and less of the third side of the story. Rather, everyone is taking a position and trying to justify it.

GH– It has been quite disturbing for me to talk to the Indian journalists this summer, some of whom are pretty good. About, how difficult it is to write about cricket in India, where the BCCi is so powerful and capable of withholding access and privileges for wandering steps out of line. And I know, over the years, have learnt from a lot of Indian journalists that i’ve taken it to heart that I have the luxury, living in Australia, being critical of the BCCI, and are no real consequences for me, apart from the usual flame-thrower quotes from the cricinfo comments section. But, I feel as though I’m obliged to take advantage of that independence, that I should go a little bit further, perhaps, in my criticism of BCCI than my colleagues in India are capable of.

SJ– In terms of Indian journalists and TV media, I don’t have high hopes, or respect, for them. A lot of it is sensationalism. Of course, there are some really good ones, but majority of them are running behind a sensational story, and well, make a mountain out of nothing.

GH– I don’ know if any of you saw it, but I did some stuff for Times NOW, this summer. It was the first time I had done for the Indian tabloid TV and I found it pretty hysterical. It just seemed, for an Australian, who has led a sheltered life, it seemed astonishingly over-the-top. The front moved so quickly from adulation of the key players to absolute condemnation. You know, “Dhoni is finished! Dravid is finished. Tendulkar is almost finished”, or whatever they say,” Tendulkar is finished!” There did seem to  be an almost compulsive addiction to the HUGE calls, HUGE generalisation on the basis of just a day of cricket. I guess the kind of assumption is that it kind of goes in from one ear and out from the other. But, I don’t think that does any journalist favours, when that is the case. That isn’t what journalism is about, even though you recognize that the journalists are sort of transitory and superficial, it should never be that disposable. That simply makes the public to hold them in contempt.

SJ– Not just the public,that gives the BCCI a reason to close ranks and say “Screw you, I’m not going to honour you…”

Well, on that note, thank you so much, Gideon, for coming on the show. It was an absolute pleasure talking to you.

GH– No problem, Subash! It was good to talk to you, too!

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[Download the episode here]

Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman

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