MS Dhoni addresses the press at Kolkata ahead of the ICC World T20 2016. © Getty Images
MS Dhoni addresses the press at Kolkata ahead of the ICC World T20 2016. © Getty Images

Bedlam broke loose on social media the moment MS Dhoni hoisted Al-Amin Hossain over deep mid-wicket for another iconic six and in turn guiding India to their record sixth Asia Cup title. The Indian media expectedly went gaga over the nation’s show. India have not looked back since their win at Adelaide in the first T20I against Australia on January 26. Since then the side has won 10 of their 11 matches, winning a series in Australia and beating Sri Lanka at home; finally came the icing on the cake — the Asia Cup T20. There is a sense of positivity; fans are pleased, as is the hard-to-please Indian media as the side enters ICC World T20 2016 as the top-ranked T20I side. Full Cricket Scorecard: India vs Bangladesh, Asia Cup T20 2016 Final at Mirpur

It does not leave a good taste when Dhoni takes a jibe at the media soon after Asia Cup title. Dhoni said, “India losing a final is a bigger headline than India winning a final. It’s like putting in a lot at stake: if you win then they say ‘nothing really’; if you lose to Bangladesh, say people ‘oh, you lost to Bangladesh?'”

Dhoni is known for his instincts and spontaneity, but these scathing comments seemed well-rehearsed; it was as if he was looking for a chance to jump on the critics. Such has been the case for some time. The relationship between media and Indian players are not what it used to be, and, to be fair, a chunk of the blame falls with the former.

In the dot com era where the rise of page views is directly proportional to the bucks earned by media moguls, content and sanity have taken a backseat to sensationalism. Celebrities being soft targets, the aim has been quite easy. Even on television, the dynamics have changed with increase in competition, reducing the format to a rat race of TRPs with sanity being replaced by decibels. It hurt when a top channel promotes #ShameInSydney after the national team ended their World Cup campaign after one defeat after seven consecutive wins — that to the side that would eventually win the tournament. But at the same time, the sane ones ensured the campaign backfired.

Dhoni, cricket and India

The cliché cannot be ignored: cricket in enormous in India, and is followed with a lot of passion. The coverage Indian cricket receives is proportional to its popularity, so there are bound to be extreme reactions. And maybe that is why the image of Dhoni’s six that sealed World Cup 2011 is more revered in media than a Darren Lehmann square-cut or a Ricky Ponting blitzkrieg. Fans and media have converted cricketers into demigods; Dhoni has not been an exception.

To be fair, Indian media has been instrumental in providing the fans with behind-the-scene stories; the media has told the tale of a once long-haired maverick from Jharkhand’s humble beginning as a ticket collector to an Indian captain who loves milk, dogs and bikes. They stood by their team when Mike Denness penalised half the Indian side, or the ugly Monkeygate episode in early 2007-08 threatened to rock the relationship between India and Australia. Be it the hostile British press or Australian media, their Indian counterparts have been firm with their support. Even before the Asia Cup final, when a ridiculous meme by a Bangladeshi fan went viral on social media; and Indian fans vented their rage with support from Indian media. READ: Not answerable to critics, says MS Dhoni

The current bitterness stems from numerous situations that have plagued Indian cricket and pulled it down when the curve had started to look upwards. Were they wrong to question transparency in IPL? Were they wrong to question biased selection patterns that bordered in the line of favouritism? Were they wrong to question why India did not go for the win at Dominica Test in 2011? Were they wrong to question why an unfit player was summoned from his vacation to play a Test in England the same year? Were they wrong to criticise the side after their terrible overseas run, which mostly ended in whitewashes? Were they wrong to question the captain on a spot-fixing scandal ahead of an important tournament? Was the same thing not done to Sourav Ganguly in 2000? It was a big issue, but was it not worth being asked? Do people in responsible position not have a responsibility towards fans, the sport’s biggest stakeholders?

Virat Kohli’s rise as the Test leader and a cricketer has been impressive. It is a matter of time he is given the limited-overs mantle. If a section vouches for the same for the benefit of Indian cricket, it should not be seen as a personal attack.

The mushrooming media houses over the past decade have indeed created more chaos and contributed in strained relationship but Dhoni’s recent comments come unwarranted.

Here are some of the things he said in recent times and my comments in bold italics:

“India losing a final is a bigger headline than India winning a final,” Dhoni post Asia Cup 2016 win.

The support you have even on foreign shores show that your side is immensely lucky to be loved so much. No, majority of the media wants Indian cricket to excel.

“I believe, in India, everyone has an opinion on issues and especially on cricket. There is freedom of expression and everyone is entitled to an opinion. Play like this, play like that, do like this, do like that. The problem is cricket looks a bit easier on television than when we play it at the ground,” Dhoni post Asia Cup 2015 win.

That is probably the same with rugby in New Zealand or football in Europe and South America. Of course, it is easier on television and that is why you are out playing and the not are not. There will be experts who read the game well who will be commenting. That is how it goes. In years to come, many from your dressing room will be out in suits, watching the game on TV and commenting.

“Best for an individual is to take the middle part. Don’t get too bogged down by criticism and also don’t take yourself too seriously when you are praised. The media also balances it. If they take you up they will also bring you down. If you are up on a parachute, you can delay your coming down, but eventually you will come down. And then they will again throw you up.”

Yes, the media can be harsh at times. With the social media boom, tolerance and patience levels (not to be confused with intolerance) have gone down. Competition has increased. There are millions being spent, so it is a part and parcel.

“It is not an easy game that we play, a lot of people wait with open swords and want you to make mistakes and have fun with it,” Dhoni after his match-winning feat at Indore in South Africa in October 2015.

I cannot answer this on behalf of others, but I do not think it is the sadist society you think it is. It is a fact that some of the failed chases in recent times were very un-Dhoni-like, and that is what has been spoken of. Even Sachin Tendulkar was booed at Wankhede Stadium but most in this cricket-maniac nation loved every bit of him. If you are not delivering results for long, questions will be asked and that is media’s job and stands true for every domain.

Dhoni has time to go before he hangs up his boots. He is already one of the game’s greats. He does not need to stoop to a level where he is waiting to perform just to go and hit out at critics. Dhoni is above that. He is an inspiration, a role model to millions and for most in the nation, there will be no greater joy than seeing him lift the ICC World T20 Trophy for one more time.

The nation backs you, MS. Build on the positive momentum gained and the negative comments can take a backseat.  Remember, most in the cricket media were once avid fans.

(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India’s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sports marketer , strategist, entrepreneur,  philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it’s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully and rivu7)