I have been told that watching a match with me is an ‘interesting experience’. Not because I am a loud, abuse-hurling fan, but because of the kind of notes I take — wagon wheels, colour scoring, field changes, player mannerisms, and other random tit-bits
I have been told that watching a match with me is an ‘interesting experience’. Not because I am a loud, abuse-hurling fan, but because of the kind of notes I take — wagon wheels, colour scoring, field changes, player mannerisms, and other random tit-bits

“No clapping in the press box is a convention similar to that applied to sledging: there’s a line that cannot be crossed. Except there isn’t really a line. It is more a series of guidelines, with no absolute umpire. Traditionally a journalist’s role has been to report in an objective and detached manner.” — Peter English, Press on Regardless, Cricket Monthly

In my very first class as a journalism student, my professor told me the exact same thing: journalists are meant to be objective. Their job is to simply state the facts — the whos, whats, whens, wheres, whys and hows — of an incident and not add any opinion or bias to their piece.

“Easy-peasy,” I told myself. Little did I realise what I was getting into.

English goes on to explain in his essay that most sports journalists start off as sports fans. This means they often have a favourite player, a favourite team and also players or teams they detest. Add to that a bunch of former players who work as ‘experts’ for various television channels and newspapers and it is hard to believe that any of them are writing (or speaking) in a ‘detached manner’.

I got my first taste of cricket reporting barely seven months into my first job. Not only did the 2016 ICC World T20 launch the likes of Hayley Matthews and Brittany Cooper into stardom, it also saw my career as a ‘wannabe’ reporter take off.

I was allowed to ease into my role, using the women’s practice matches in Bangalore to get a taste of what was to come. They may have only been warm-up games, but for a women’s cricket geek like me, it was an opportunity to see some of my friends and heroes in action.

Walking into the press-box on the first day I was nervous, but that was quickly overtaken by what-would-I-give-to-be-on-the-other-side thoughts. However, once the cricket got underway, all those thoughts and feelings disappeared. I had a job to do.

I have been told that watching a match with me is an ‘interesting experience’. Not because I am a loud, abuse-hurling fan, but because of the kind of notes I take — wagon wheels, colour scoring, field changes, player mannerisms, and other random tit-bits.

As a reporter, it is rather hard to shut down the cricketer inside you, especially if you are playing the sport for most of the year. As much as I tried to stay ‘objective and detached’, it was very hard. When Smriti Mandhana smashed a straight drive, I almost jumped out of my seat in admiration. When Niranjana Nagarajan threw down Catherine Dalton’s stumps, I gasped in wonder. And when 14-year-old Gaby Lewis of Ireland was throwing herself around at cover I controlled the urge to get up and clap.

I would like to think that as the tournament progressed I became less emotional, but I am not sure that was completely true. In press conferences, sitting barely five meters away from the likes of Charlotte Edwards, Suzie Bates and Mignon du Preez was the most nerve-wracking experience ever. When it was my turn to ask a question, I would generally fumble through the whole thing, never sure if I even made my point. It took a great deal of effort not to refer to the Indian captain as ‘Mithali-di’ in front of a dozen other reporters and even more self-control not to ask every player I ran into for an autograph!

Of course, it seemed a lot easier when I penned down the reports. Writing about people who inspire you is exhilarating. Telling the world how awesome those people are and why they should look up to them as well makes you feel like you have achieved something. Except, that is not what a journalist does: ‘Objective and detached’, remember? Harder than I thought!

“I have been guilty of crossing that line on a few occasions,” says Mamatha Maben, former India Women captain who worked as a journalist with The Asian Age and ThatsCricket during her playing career in the early 2000s. “Reporting is about being objective, but many times when I was writing about my colleagues, I would bring in a personal angle as well.”

“Since you know the players and deal with them on a daily basis it is slightly harder to see things objectively, but that is what professionals are meant to do,” she continues.

While my analytical streak allowed me to look at and dissect the game in a certain way, the insider knowledge helped me see detail that not many others could. I had pages of experiences and observations, made at close quarters, which I could fall back on while watching them in action
While my analytical streak allowed me to look at and dissect the game in a certain way, the insider knowledge helped me see detail that not many others could. I had pages of experiences and observations, made at close quarters, which I could fall back on while watching them in action

In the beginning I fell into a similar trap with most Indian players. Having seen them at close quarters at domestic level for many years, it was quite a task trying to be completely unbiased. I felt slightly protective of them — certainly not the place you want to be as a reporter.

As English said, “Journalists are there to report, not cheer.” Therefore, finding a way to stay neutral and impartial was top priority.

I was lucky to strike a balance quite quickly. While my analytical streak allowed me to look at and dissect the game in a certain way, the insider knowledge helped me see detail that not many others could. I had pages of experiences and observations, made at close quarters, which I could fall back on while watching them in action.

There is still a sense of awe and wonder when I write about or speak to international cricketers. The cricketer inside me is often a super-excited five-year-old, but the journalist manages to stay calm. While the journalist is able to identify and pursue the more interesting details of game play, the cricketer analyses its technical and tactical aspects. It is important not to let either side dominate the other because both are essential to finding a good story and telling it well.

“Being a fan set up the path towards professional employment, but the position of respectable cricket journalist comes with standards,” said English.

While the cricketer (and fan) in me will never completely fade away, I would like to think that whenever I have been on the job, it is the journalist with her set of standards that has made the important decisions.