You could have poured a cocktail out of the intoxicating evening sun that slanted in from the glass windows of the Trident Rooftop in Mumbai on February 28. But inside the venue, Ravi Shastri was speaking about a different kind of light - the harsh glare of the media on current cricketers.
The occasion was the launch of Mid-Day founder Khalid A-H Ansari’s memoir, It’s a Wonderful World, where Shastri was a special invitee, along with chief guest Shashi Tharoor.
A few days ago, the tension between Indian cricketers and the cricket press hissed to the fore. Wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha revealed that he had been sent intimidating messages by a journalist after Saha had ignored his call and interview request.
Shastri was asked his views on the topic by emcee Cyrus Broacha, who, apart from being the OG of comedy in India, is also a cricket fanatic. (“As Vladimir Putin might say, ‘Stay safe’, Broacha said at the close of the event.)
“It’s changed from the time we played,” said Shastri, one of the stars of Indian cricket in the 80s. “The equation we had with journalists was far, far better than the equation you see with the boys [and media] today. I was part of the dressing room for the past seven years. And I don’t blame the guys [the players]. The spotlight that is there on today’s players is nowhere like what it was on us. We [only] had the print media…there was TV that had just started. “
Continuing his point, the winner of the ‘Champion of Champions’ Award when India lifted the 1985 World Championship of Cricket, said, “We’ve tried to discuss it with them [players]. Speak as much as you can to the media but make sure it’s a proper kind of press conference, take everyone’s questions at one go, because what happens is a lot of things are taken out of context these days. I’m being honest about it. Because of the competition that exists [between media organisations}."
“As a result, the player has no choice but to go into a shell." He says: ‘I’d rather look within, focus on the game, let my cricket do the talking, and once I’m done and dusted, I can speak to whoever I want to.”
Shastri acknowledged the contribution of journalists such as Ansari, who launched Mid-Day, the energetic Mumbai eveninger, in a ramshackle office under a leaky roof in 1979. The Mid-Day Group also brought out a sports magazine, Sportsweek. A generation of sports fans and athletes grew up reading the weekly.
“You look at that gang of journalists in the late 70s, 80s, there are a few who stand out. Khalid was certainly one of them,” Shastri said. “He was different, he ran Sportsweek beautifully. It was something that educated a lot of Indians growing up, certainly me, reading some of the best writers who wrote in Sportsweek. It’s helped me go a long way in my career after the game – broadcasting - and of course in numerous other things."