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Bathing in the banal

The mind-numbing banality and inanity of the mandatory post-match press conferences have become almost ludicrous, writes Nirmal Shekar

The writer of this column had to endure one of his most disappointing mornings in recent times on Monday. Imagine starting a day without being able to find out what Mahendra Singh Dhoni had to say after India had lost a cricket match to Sri Lanka — although not lost for words, we will still go with ‘lost' despite the fact that the devastating Dambulla debacle in the ODI was a stunning surrender by the richest and most feted cricket team in the world as the host won with 209 balls to spare. That is like losing a football international by 10 goals.

Of course, I blame my esteemed colleagues in the print media for my miserable condition. They chose to boycott the Indian captain's post-match press conference.

Obviously, Dhoni has no time — or any serious professional regard — for the very men who helped turn him into a multi-millionaire megastar whose hairdresser is more famous than most high achievers in Indian society.

But Dhoni might have had good reasons to do what he did — play football with his mates as journalists fighting tough deadlines were sweating it out and chewing off their fingernails in the conference room.

Saviour in studs

After all, having accomplished the hugely significant feat of taking India to the top of the Test rankings and to the No. 2 spot in the ODI rankings in a sport played seriously by seven and a half countries, Dhoni perhaps believes that it is time to try and raise India's stock in the world's most popular ballgame. Why else would he be playing footie with hordes of pressmen waiting to hear his words of wisdom?

Then again, like time's arrow, Indian football travels only in one direction — the opposite direction, to be sure. Not even Dhoni's charisma, luck and enviable bank balance, not to speak of whatever skills he may possess as a footballer, can help India, which is now ranked world No. 138, climb anywhere close to the top 100. Anyway, we shall wish him good luck.

But that is not the point of this column. In over three decades of sportswriting, this columnist has dreaded few things about this highly emotionally rewarding and challenging profession as much as post-match press conferences.

At best, most of them are yawningly boring, a sure-shot cure for insomnia; at worst, they can be almost dehumanising, meaningless twaddle that is an insult to one's intelligence — if such a virtue (intelligence) can be spotted in the raucous media conference rooms of sports stadia these days.

Inane

Over the years, the mind-numbing banality and inanity of the mandatory post-match press conferences have become almost ludicrous. While it would be naïve to believe in a myth-historical golden age of sport when sportsmen and pressmen had meaningful exchanges that, in turn, enlightened readers of newspapers and magazines, the age of celebrity-centred infotopia has made substance almost irrelevant. There is nothing now that is quite as decerebrating about sport as the post-match conference. There are indeed rare exceptions.

But most of the time, a 10-year old can predict the questions; someone even younger can predict the answers.

After a heavy defeat, a typical opener would be, “What do you think went wrong?”

“Nothing worked for us today.” These were actually Dhoni's words on Sunday night. That was par for the course.

Did we need that piece of rather enlightening information? Even if you had not watched the match on television, newspaper reports would have clearly conveyed to you that Team India really botched it. What do Dhoni's words add to your understanding of the contest?

Of course, things can get much, much worse, not just in cricket but also in almost every major sport.

Maria Sharapova would come into the conference room after an opening match victory in a Grand Slam tournament and the first question would be something like this. “Do you think your designer has done a good job with your new outfit? Do you plan to wear this all season?”

And, somewhere down the line, after the sartorial symposium is concluded, would come this, on a day Sharapova had won 6-1, 6-1. “That was a little too easy, wasn't it?''

Oh, no, surely that must have been a Herculean effort, winning one and one! Clichés may have an argumentative simplicity, but they are crushingly dreary.

Notable nuggets

These are some of my other favourites, not necessarily in their order of merit.

Question: You guys missed a couple of crucial catches out there.

Answer: Yes, we did. They made a difference. You know, catches win matches.

Question: Do you plan to rebound from this big loss?

Answer: Of course we do. Every match is different. We believe in ourselves and the boys want to do it.

Question: That was close, wasn't it? (After a five-setter that goes all the way to the wire).

Answer: You know, it could have gone either way.

There are several such gems. But we have to stop here. The point is, readers missed nothing because the print media boycotted Dhoni's press conference on Sunday.

Postscript: A well known sportsman told me four or five years ago that a young television reporter chased him for half an hour after a practice session for an ‘interview.' Finally, she got lucky and the sportsman obliged.

“Ok, shoot,'' he said.

“No sir, just give me a quote,'' said the reporter, sticking the microphone perilously close to his lips.

The clever young man said something trite and insignificant but did manage to put a smile on the reporter's face.

The parting shot from the reporter: “Sir, can I please have your name?''

Guess we will leave it at that.

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