There’s a conversation I have, ad nauseum, with friends and cricket fans alike. It goes like this:
Q: Why have you stopped writing about cricket?
A: Would you believe, ennui?
*Cue puzzled/disbelieving look*
Q: Dude, get paid for watching cricket all day and writing about it? We’d kill for your job.
At which point I go, mentally, ‘You want to try doing it, day in and out, for a year, mate. Then let’s talk.’
I leave the thought unvoiced, these days, because I’ve never in the past managed to convince anyone — not even close friends — that ‘doing this for a living’ is not all it is cracked out to be. How do you explain, for instance, the difference between kicking back and watching cricket as a fan and sitting in front of the TV or in the press box, laptop open, scrutinizing each moment minutely for technical points to make, for “turning points” to identify and use to season your report, for broader narratives to expound on?
After a time, you see only the trees — the greater beauty of the forest is lost to you.
Earlier today, on Twitter, I’d linked to a lovely piece by Tom Swick, on travel writing in the age of YouTube. Partly because the piece is in itself worth a read; partly because parts of it resonated at a personal level, in context of writing about cricket.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan — a good mate, who you likely know from his excellent writing on Cricinfo, and who you can follow on Twitter here — sent me an email that expresses exactly what I’ve been trying to say, to those who ask ‘How come now that you are in Yahoo you haven’t gone back to writing on the game?’ [Incidentally, it is not as if I couldn't do that in Rediff, or that I was prevented -- I chose not to, thanks to the sense of ennui I mentioned earlier].
Thanks so much for sharing Tom Swick’s piece on Travel Writing. It got me to write something which you may agree with.
Here’s one part that struck a chord:
These books have done a great deal to romanticize the profession. (Tell people that you are paid to travel and write about it and you’ll be greeted by exclamations of envy.) … “Travel writer” may be the one title everyone wants except the people who have it.
I can see where Swick is coming from (and I’m sure you can as well). “Cricket writing” is a highly romanticized profession too. People gawk when told about one traveling the world to cover cricket. And that’s way off the mark. Several leading cricket writers spend close to 250 days of the year away from home. Even the ones who are assigned individual tours, are out for 50 days at a stretch. It’s an immense burden on their family lives and several end up with extremely unhealthy lifestyles (it’s difficult to be on tour and stay away from a drink or seven).
Cricket reporters go through tournaments under so much stress. One needs to file three or four stories every day and it often requires preparation, burrowing instincts and last-minute flexibility. Persistence is vital – whether it’s calling a former cricketer for an interview, or lounging around in the team hotel lobby for a stray quote or diary entry.
The additional occupational hazard is the daily press conference – often a stream of cliches that add little value. Each one of these is like a repeat of the previous – with players being highly guarded about team compositions, injury updates and team assessments. Every game is “crucial”; every opposition “cannot be taken lightly”.
A handful of writers may well bypass all these irritants – you can work for a monthly magazine, you can skip the press conferences, you can write and not report – but what even they can’t do is change the way they watch the game.
We all began as cricket fans before becoming professional cricket writers. Being in the profession, though, takes away a lot of the fizz. Of course, we’re supposed to be objective (to the point of being cynical) and stay away from flag-waving zealotry but what really rocks the boat is the gradual understanding of the players’ personalities, the system they operate in, the subtle politics, the shenanigans.
You begin to understand that X was picked over Y not necessarily because he was better but because he was from a certain zone or because he was backed by a certain agent or because he was the distant cousin of Z. You also realize how players (some of whom you might have idolized before you entered the inner circle) can be egotistic pricks and manipulative Machiavellis.
At a more basic level, you are constantly searching for narratives to write on. The multiple aspects of the game that you earlier noticed give way to a more thematic observation – trying to weave a story through a common thread. Of course there was a wonderfully athletic catch at midwicket but how does an appreciation of that play fit into the day’s story? You are forced to focus and not simply ramble along – which is basically what fans do when they watch a game together.
At some point, when all these influences come together, you start watching the game through a different prism. It’s no more the innocent past-time that made you jump up and shriek or kick the floor in anger or sulk all day. It’s now the sport that you trying to be detached from (though you’re actually very close to the epicenter). It’s a sport you think you have figured out (though you actually have very little expertise on the subject matter).
Gradually you begin to view it as another job – I’ve actually felt really frustrated when a cricketer died on a Sunday, simply because it meant more work. Soon you ask yourself – just like Swick says of travel writers – what (the heck) am I doing here? And over time, you gradually forget why you got here in the first place.
To paraphrase Swick, ‘cricket writer’ could be the one job everyone reading this, and the far larger universe not reading this, wants — except those of us who have it for the asking.
Actually, when Sid says “Over time, you gradually forget why you got here in the first place” — he is bang on the money.
Why did I get into cricket writing? Because I love the game to bits [and because when we were starting out in Rediff, none of the "established writers" wanted to join us, so someone had to do it and I got elected]. So why do I not want to write too regularly on cricket? Same answer — because I love the game to bits.
I’m fairly certain that after reading all of this, you guys will go “Huh, what the eff are you cribbing about?”. And/or have questions to ask. Go for it — and while on that, a long weekend starts now. So — no Yorker tomorrow [if you missed logging in while Aakash Chopra was live, today, here's the transcript].
I’ll be back with the live show Monday — and over the weekend, will swing by here only if able.
Have a good weekend, all.