Grace and grandeur which sporting names are known for, enveloped the CK Nayudu Hall of the Cricket Club of India last Sunday. It was an evening organised by the Sports Journalists’ Association of Mumbai (SJAM) to honour performers in 2012-13 over various disciplines.
The awards function used to be an annual affair until the late 1980s and the last memorable one for many was the function in 1988 when, apart from sportspersons in the senior and junior categories, two schoolboys who answered to the name of Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli were honoured for their 664-run partnership - a world record in school cricket.
Players and media are cynical of each other since time immemorial, but Sunday’s function was bereft of egos from both sides of the fence. Snooker stalwart Yasin Merchant, before his brief speech on fellow cueist - young Aditya Mehta (Sportsman of the Year award-winner) - said that the media could make you or break you. Such is their power. While we’ve not heard many stories of the media playing solo roles in the breaking of careers, there are a few examples of how they have helped practitioners of sport toughen up and get into the ‘I’ll-prove-you-wrong’ mode.
Nandu Natekar, who was the chief guest at the awards function recalled how a Mumbai-based journalist ridiculed a world-class overseas badminton player by saying that the smash shot didn’t show up in his armoury. This smash ‘weakness’ was highlighted in the headline during the tournament - A CHAMPION WITHOUT A SMASH.
This didn’t escape the player’s attention and he smashed his way to victory in the next match. Journalists at times love to adorn the role of advisers too and Natekar remembers the same journalist admonishing him for training with women badminton players for he feared that would cause a drop in focus. But India’s biggest name in the sport was doing so only because the young ladies were giving him some meaningful practice.
Some writers get sentimental about players who they have watched grow up. I remember late journalist Sharad Kotnis telling me how Sandeep Patil told him that he was quitting the game while returning from the 1986 tour of England where he didn’t figure in any of the Tests. On landing in Mumbai, Kotnis telephoned Sandeep’s father and instructed him not to allow any retirement announcement to take place.
Now, Kotnis was on his first overseas cricket assignment and would have welcomed the scoop, but for him, Sandeep’s interests came first. Sandeep was his boy. He played for Shivaji Park Youngsters, a club Kotnis served till his end.
Navjot Singh Sidhu was deeply hurt when cricket writer Rajan Bala called him a ‘strokeless wonder’ after his ordinary debut series against the West Indies in 1983. Sidhu stuck the clipping at a place where he would see it everyday and worked on his strokeplay to make a significant return to international cricket in the 1987 World Cup. Each time he walked into bat during that tournament, he returned with a 50-plus score, save the semi-final in Mumbai. And at times, he thanked Bala for that comment.
Anshuman Gaekwad woke up on the morning of a domestic match in Mumbai and decided to read the newspaper, something that he didn’t do when he was playing for India. To his horror, a reputed journalist dwelled on why Gaekwad should be playing domestic cricket when he had no chance of playing for the country again.
Gaekwad couldn’t erase the article from his mind and smashed a hundred. When he completed his ton, he took a few steps, held his bat aloft and walked a little towards to the press box where the writer had positioned himself. Somewhere, somehow those words sparked a flame of determination. Most players don’t hold any grudges, but they do remember those instances.
Tendulkar said on Sunday that the forgettable times involving him and the media was part of the overall package. That’s a balanced way of looking at things and one hopes he will have the same view when he ends his career. Players and writers will continue to have their good and frosty times. It’s a marriage they must work hard to keep.
Clayton Murzello is MiD DAY’s Group Sports Editor