The ‘psychological advantage’

As I walked in to office this morning, a young lady reporter on one of the TV news channels was doing a ‘spot report’ as part of the channel’s preview of the game, later today, between India and Australia at Mohali.

She seemed very taken with the notion of ‘psychological advantage’, to the point where in course of a typically breathless one minute monologue she repeated it thrice. The track has some grass on it apparently and Mohali ‘traditionally’ supports pace and bounce, but India has the ‘psychological advantage’. Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag are doubtful starters and India will miss them, not simply because of their experience and ability but because of the ‘psychological advantage’.

TV anchor: Gambhir and Sehwag are doubtful starters, and that could be a big blow for India as it seeks to build on the psychological advantage of having a 2-1 lead.

Reporter: Yes, Gambhir and Sehwag are doubtful, and that is a blow not just because of the experience they bring to the side but also because India wants to maintain its psychological advantage.

TV anchor: Yes, India has a 2-1 lead but the injuries to Sehwag and Gambhir are crucial as they could cost India the psychological advantage.

And so it went, back and forth…

And then, thanks to Cricinfo’s surfer, I found this piece where Greg Baum is extremely critical of the Aussie touring party for gaming the Indian media.

THAT was a bit of a wrong-‘un that the Australian cricket team sent down to the media in India this week. You can read about it in coach Tim Nielsen’s blog on the Cricket Australia website. ”The boys tried to have a bit of fun with the media day,” he writes. ”As I’m sure you can imagine with so many interviews you tend to get asked the same question over and over and we had a bit of a competition running to see who could work the most sporting cliches into one answer.”

There’s also the one about their ”concern for the image of the game” and a ”need to give something back”. Something, but nothing that was truly meant, not anything from the heart. The message from Australia’s cricketers to their supporters is simple: don’t take anything we say seriously, because we don’t.

…”Walking out from the press conference with Rick [Ponting], we left about 70 cameras and another 150 journalists, which I find amazing every time we are exposed to it,” writes Nielsen. ”Although when you consider how many people are over here in India that follow the sport. I suppose it’s fair enough.”

But not so fair enough, evidently, as to dignify questions with anything other than the pretence of considered and worthwhile answers. Not so fair enough not to put on a charade. Whatever Australia was up to that day, it just wasn’t cricket. Ho, ho, titter, titter, slap thighs.

Far from feeling shame about this tawdry exercise, Australia’s cricketers boasted about it, via their coach’s blog.

The offending paragraph has since been deleted from Tim Nielsen’s blog, Baum tells us.

Whether such behaviour is apt for a team that is increasingly so enamored of the riches of Indian cricket that when its stars are not making money in our proliferating leagues, it has plans to play India home or away every year for the conceivable future is a question for the Australian captain, its media, and its board to consider.

Hopefully, we won’t now witness a paroxysm of righteous indignation from our own media people – the fault, dear Brutus, lies with us.

Amit Varma is fond of telling this story dating back to when he was covering India’s tour of Pakistan. Virender Sehwag appeared before the media, and almost immediately confronted this question: ‘Aapke is century aur pichle century main kya farak tha?’ Sehwag being who he is, responded with the straightest of faces: ‘Bas kuch thees run ka farak tha’.

That’s the kind of inanity that characterizes our ‘press conferences’. The point should be clear: if the touring Aussies are treating our media with contempt, it is because we deserve it — if we insist on asking the most inane of questions, we shouldn’t be surprised if we get canned, cliché-ridden answers.The irony is, these responses are then carried verbatim, with breathless commentary on television and/or hyperbole in print.

The surprising aspect of this affair is not the Australians gamed us – it is that we didn’t know we were being gamed, and that is as eloquent a comment on the state of the cricket media as any.


6 thoughts on “The ‘psychological advantage’

  1. Live broadcasting might have something to do with Psychological advantage.!
    Sometimes while people have less content,and are thinking about manufacturing more content – that’s when the great “looping” happens.

    In true mediaspeak – they’re only trying to do their job.!!

  2. Prem,

    Sehwag looked off-colour even before he got injured yesterday while batting and fielding (I don’t remember him stopping any of the shots that were hit a couple of feet either side of him). Do you think he may have been carrying an injury into the match?

    • I went shopping for antique furniture that morning, mate, and it took much longer than I thought it would. Ended up missing the first half of the game, so no real insight into what you refer to.

  3. I like AGB’s take on this in his article it isn’t always the easiest thing to gauge considering rarely you get a candid interview from anyone nowadays. Each side has their own agenda and the cliché-ridden interviews are the accepted norm for safely navigating your way out of the “breaking story” that is going to be published anyway.
    I’ll never forget how a guarded Mitchell Johnson responded to “What was the bowling plan?” with “The bowling plan was, erm, to urm, to stick to erm, urm, to the bowling plan” which I hardly think was an attempt at recursive wit. Its honestly not just an indictment on the cricket media, its the sorry tale of what a lot of sports journalism has devolved to in general and the strategies adopted by player’s agents and publicists.
    Tell me honestly if you weren’t schooled to try and get someone to say something you wanted to hear from them in an interview, even if thats not what they meant? Its something I was taught a few years ago, when someone from the press interviews you, keep repeating the point you want heard, don’t answer any of their questions directly but weave your point in, i.e. make sure you keep stressing what you want heard, because at the end of the day this is your effort to publicize your story while safely making sure your version is not misquoted under any circumstances. Frank and candid interviewees might have fun and be appreciated initially, but eventually someone is going to twist what they say and they’ll be more careful in future interviews.
    On another note, try this fun game. Count how many times the Neo anchor says “on the day”… there are a few more, will jot them next time I hear him.

    • Oh I can tell you quite honestly that I wasn’t taught any such thing. That of course could be a function of the fact that I never went to journalism school — what I learnt, I taught myself, mostly by reading the experts in the craft. Also, if you look at the cricket journalism I did online, I rarely if ever did interviews — and even the very few ones I did were extensive, and done only if there was a definite reason for it.

      One of the problems is that journalists, in the rush to fill space, figure the easiest thing to do is buttonhole whoever is available, ask whatever comes top of the mind, and string it all together into an “article”.

      One of the advantages of being able to work the way I did was that folks trusted me enough to (a) give me time when I asked for it, since I rarely asked and (b) talked frankly off record, since they knew I never used what they said at such times. I agree with your larger point, though — and I’ll confess I was incredibly lucky, when doing cricket for Rediff, to have a boss who let me be, and do the kind of stuff I wanted to do without interference.

      • Oops, I’m sorry for the mistaken assumption, I meant no offense. I should have known better considering I enjoy this blog and the almost-plastic-templates used by so many who ply your trade is visibly absent here. I was going to add in my previous comment that ethical journalists who earn the player’s trusts are far more likely to get a more honest and thoughtful reply from the interviewee, and I’m happy to note you brought that up.
        I also love the recent articles you’ve published on sport journalism, it really does showcase the different leagues encompassed and will hopefully inspire those who are forced to flog out an article strictly to the requirements of a company to have the courage to take that extra step and come out with an original piece. But what do I know of their pressures, I’ve never been in their industry.

Comments are closed.