‘Interviewing’ Sehwag

Hey, had you guys read this piece in the New Yorker’s blog?

It came apropos, in a way. I had just finished re-reading two books on tennis that take a match-eye view of the sport: L Jon Wertheim’s Strokes of Genius [sample here for those new to this book; and here’s a treasure trove of Wertheim’s classic writing for Sports Illustrated] on the 2008 Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, aka ‘the greatest tennis match ever played‘ [another excerpt], and Peter Bodo’s The Clay Ran Red.

One thing about books is how reading one inevitably prompts you to read, or in my case re-read, another, related book — thus, those two books and a brief conversation about Genius with a friend on Twitter led me back to my fairly shopworn copy of Marshall Jon Fisher’s A Terrible Splendorwhich then prompted a re-visit to John McPhee’s Levels of the Game [sample chapter], which had first appeared as a two-part essay in the New Yorker [You’ll see links in the blog post linked to at the start here].

Besides being among the finest examples of sports journalism imaginable, those books share another commonality: they look at a sport through the prism of a singular rivalry: Rafa/Fedex, Ashe/Graebner, Don Budge/Gottfriend von Cramm… [In this, the construct differs from Johnette Howard’s The Rivals, where the focus is on the rivalry between Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, with the sport forming a broader canvas against which this story plays out [Sample Chapter].

Tennis with its gladiatorial, one on one action uniquely lends itself to rivalries unlike say cricket — and yet, I sometimes wish a quality journalist had attempted to interpret the sport through the prism of the clash of individual practitioners [Shane Warne versus Sachin Tendulkar down the years, anyone?].

Actually, I’d argue that in comparison with the great books on tennis and even team games like soccer, cricket just has not produced any outstanding literature down the years. You are left either with (auto)biographies of varying quality, or ‘tour diaries’ and such. Wonder why. [And while on that, two of the finest writers on cricket/sports are in the final stages of publishing their books this year. I don’t know what their books are going to be about, yet — but, can’t wait.]

So anyway, to continue this ramble, here’s the money quote from the blog post cited above:

Williams plays with a certain stern aloofness, a level of evenness that has no doubt helped her as she has won seven major championships. This is also how she talks to reporters, and as I sat listening to her and to other players answer questions one after the other, I thought about the theory that their individual styles of parrying with the media matched closely with their individual styles of play. John McPhee made a similar point when he wrote in this magazine,

A person’s tennis game begins with his nature and background and comes out through his motor mechanisms into shot patterns and characteristics of play. If he is deliberate, he is a deliberate tennis player; and if he is flamboyant, his game probably is, too.

Is that true? Can we, based on how a player behaves and how he talks, gain pointers to how he will likely play his game? Here’s a little thought experiment, in the form of an “interview” with Viru Sehwag. [Note that this interview never happened — I’m merely reversing the process, looking at what he has said at various times on Twitter, and framing probable questions that could have elicited those responses.]:

So — you don’t really like giving long interviews, do you?

Successful people always have 2 things on their lips…smile and silence..!

Right. Anyway. Of late, your career seems to be cyclical: you get into awesome form, then injury intervenes, you are off the map for a bit, then you come back and have to build up to that form all over again. After a point, doesn’t this get hard? Wouldn’t you far rather have an uninterrupted run at the top of your game?

Hard times r like washing machine,they twist,turn n knock us around,but in the end we come out cleaner,brighter n better than before

Smooth roads nvr make u gud drivers. Problem free life nve makes u strong person. So nvr ask life, WHY ME?Instead challenge it & say TRY ME!

Your mates say you are not a good one for taking advice — you’ll listen, but do your own thing anyway. Surely there is someone you listen to?

Listen2our elders advice nt bcoz thy r always right but bcoz thy’ve more xperiences of being wrong.how true but v still dn’t want2understand

So what is the best advice you ever got?

“If we play with energy poise and unselfishness, we will be playing the game the right way.”

Cricket right now is in turmoil, with corruption allegations surfacing all over again just when we thought that was a thing of the past. Your thoughts?

sea is common to all,some take pearls,some take fisheset n some out with wet legs. World is common to us.We take what we look for.

People say,”Find good people & leave bad ones.”But it should be,”Find the good in people & ignore the bad in them.”No one is perfect.

But surely all these controversies are unwanted obstacles at a time when cricket — especially traditional cricket — is struggling for survival?

Obstacles r those frightful things u see when u take ur eye off frm ur goal.

To change the topic: you missed what would have been a great century thanks to Suraj Randiv’s no-ball. Reactions?

Right effort has to do with unselfishness and working to benefit the team.

Yeah, well, with the benefit of time and distance you can be philosophical, but at the time you must have been desperately unhappy?

If u wait for happy moments,u will wait forever. But if u start believing that u r happy,u will be happy forever.

Oh come on — you’ve always been scrupulously fair in your on-field dealings so when someone cheats you out of a landmark for sheer cussedness you must have felt pissed off big time? You are human, no?

expecting from the world to be good to u coz u r good to them..is just like expecting from the lion not to eat u coz u r a vegetarian..!!

The depth of ur Personality will b revealed by the way u respond to situations u dislike…

Okay, but still — do you think such needless gamesmanship is justified?

In our real life,v know very well,what is right,true n justified. Problem is,v can’t follow it from our side,but v expect it from others.

So you never got angry at the time?

Remember, even iron becomes weak when its hot. Stay cool & u will always be strong.

Time and again, you play sublime cricket — and then your mates stuff up, give their wickets away. It is almost as if there is one set of bowlers bowling to you, and another, far better, set to them. It’s almost supernatural, the way you make it all look easy.

champions r not supernatural,they just fight one more second whn everyone else quits,sometimes one second of effort gives u the victory.

Every time we see you bat, we are left with one thought: if only you had batted longer! Have you ever thought of curbing, or at least tempering, your natural game so you can maximize the time you spend at the crease?

fight with ur strength,not with others weakness bcoz true success lies in ur efforts not in others defeat.

And so on. Here — go make up your own interviews [the media does it anyway, vide this PTI story at the height of the Suraj Randiv fracas, so why not you?]; there’s tons of good material on Viru’s Twitter stream.

By way of bonus, here’s another way of doing this — an ‘interview’ with Kanye West. Brilliant! And, tangentially related, here’s a favorite writer, Susan Orlean, on why a crowded city is just one big Twitter stream.

And just for fun — there is a weekend coming up, and I don’t intend to log on and give you guys company — here’s some related reading matter: A Chandrahas Choudhary classic, where he sat with Viru and had him talk through a seminal knock; and here’s Hash on watching Viru bat.

Enjoy your weekend; see you Monday.

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17 thoughts on “‘Interviewing’ Sehwag

  1. Just wanted to start a thread on what defines greatness in tennis (sorry, didnt find any other place to put this out here)…. I just wonder why shouldnt Nadal be discussed in that list of greatness, esp. since he has won not only on all 4 surfaces but (so called and for some strange reason not considered that imp.) Davis cup, Olympic gold and Master’s cup. Try winning davis cup in a hostile country, try winning Olympic which came just before US Open in the middle of a brutal season on a surface he hadnt played that much before… If this is not great and merely “consistency” alone given the weightage that it is today, then something is amiss….

    FedEx is right now talked as the greatest ever. Sure. By after this, why not Nadal also ?

  2. I missed reading that..but the link to the sample chapter of rivals leads us back to this page…Also I recently read Pete Sampras book written with Peter Bodo..while Bodo is an admirable writer ..I was a little disappointed maybe because my expectations were high on account of Agassi’s supreme autobiography …this book is more of a chronicle of his career and does not tell us about Pete the person or those around him..also the details about his matches are less detailed than what was in Agassi’s book…however he is surprisingly candid about his coaches and how they helped/harmed his game..a decent read but not as good as Agassi

    • I agree about the Sampras bio — bland, tame, not worth the price of admission. Comparing that or any book to Agassi’s is a touch unfair, though. Took unblinkin, fuck-you honesty to make the admissions AA did; and it took a Moehringer to do the story justice.

    • Thanks mate. Rivals is among my favorite sports books — had linked to it in the post above, apparently you missed it 🙂

  3. Gotta love Sehwag’s simple outlook which actually hides an intelligent mind which has thought everything through.

    On an unrelated matter Prem, I notice that Dhoni has received the Khel Ratna but Dravid has not. Do you and others agree with me that this is an absolute disgrace??

    • Oh yes it is. It is also typical of how these awards are distributed, like so much candy. The current teacher’s favorite gets one, is the operative rule.

      • I have always found it ironic that the creators of much of the incompetency in India are able to decide on the supposed excellence of others. The implication that in 5-6 years, Dhoni has achieved more than Dravid and Kumble have achieved in 14 and 18-year careers, is frankly insulting and ludicrous.

  4. “Shane Warne versus Sachin Tendulkar down the years, anyone?” No Doubt Was a good contest but even in this case the title unfair to McGrath and Sidhu ( just to name a few) who played more than a supporting role in helping Warne and SRT respectively.

  5. Speaking of Sports Journalism, what is your take on Mike Wise’s debacle (of Washington post) on Twitter. He intentionally made up a small story and put that up on twitter. In no time, host of bloggers and Sports Journalists from other internet media houses picked up that so called “breaking news” (about the duration of suspension by NFL of Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger) and ran with it without verifying the “Source”. Mike Wise intenetionally made up this story because he wanted to see how many bottom feeders or aggregators (also known as professional sports bloggers) would go with it. But since he publically lied and tainted his name and by proxy, that of Washington Post, he was handed a one month suspension.

    In the last 10 years or so we have seen this tremendous revolution in covering sports and sportsman more so off the field than on the field. And there is no consensus on how much information is enough information and what counts as breaking news. So there is a lot of garbage out there to sort through for us normal sports loving fans which is not an easy task! And that is why we find our favorites like you, Rohith Brijnath, few at SI (Especially Dr. Z or Paul Zimmerman who no longer writes due to a stroke he suffered), Washington post (like Mike Wise, Bosewell, Sally Jenkins and Blogger Dan Steinburg and Yahoo (but none at ESPN or cricinfo!!). In my opinion, Paul Zimmerman is or was one of the best of for his transprency, persona, credibility and writing style.
    I was wondering what is your take on all this and what are the tenets of ethics for sports journalists, if any, these days. Obviosuly trust,believability and credibility comes to mind. But credibility is such a delicate commodity for a sports journalist. You are as good or bad as your last columm or post.
    Thanks
    Kiran
    Kiran

    • Portmanteau question, this, will try and answer in seriatim:

      1. Wise manufacturing a story and putting it out there for a specific purpose is not, in isolation, too much of a problem [yeah, we could debate the ethics, but if Wise had prepped his editors ahead of time about what he was doing and why, it is kind of nebulous in and of itself]. The real problem is the larger issue of credibility: Over this last decade or so we’ve had huge issues with reporters [think Jason Blair] manufacturing stories. Wise’s act plugs into that larger narrative, and creates in the mind of the reader this question: Right, this time Wise said he was manufacturing a story, but how many other stories did he and/or WashPost manufacture that they didn’t tell us about? Point being it adversely impacts on credibility of the paper, and of the media as a whole. Put it this way — if a reporter came to me suggesting a stunt like this, I’d nix it at once.

      2. What you say of sports journalism is IMHO true for all journalism — the same problems exist, to an even greater degree, in news, finance, pretty much any field you care to name. The solution lies with the media itself — it needs an industry-wide awareness of declining credibility, an equally pervasive desire to set standards and maintain them, and a zero tolerance attitude towards peers, individual and collective, that fail to meet such standards [one of the unwritten tenets I do not agree with is that the media will not question/criticize its own. We are fine writing about malfeasance in all aspects of public life, but will not write about corruption/malpractice in the media itself, and that I think is wrong].

      Absent such an industry-wide standard, the only option left is for individual journalists to set their own standards. You can chase the sensational byline, or you can build your own individual credibility, even if it means not joining the feeding frenzies sparked by the latest scandal. All the journalists you mentioned above, like Brijnath, Sally, Zimmerman etc resonate with the reader because firstly, they eschew the hysterical, second they clearly do not pursue any agenda other than honest coverage of sport, and third, that they over time painstakingly build a record for constructive, high quality journalism.

      One example: Rohit’s been writing for decades now. During this period, time and again younger journos have emerged, hit the headlines, garnered fan followings — and faded. It is natural, when a new ‘star’ emerges, to feel somewhat threatened, to wonder whether it is time for personal reinvention. What the journos you mentioned above have in common is the ability to stick to doing what they do well, without worrying about finding space on the crowded marquee. That alone gives these guys a longevity the johnnies-come-lately do not have.

      And yes — for the individual writer, credibility is the single most important aspect. Takes years of quality work to build; takes one moment of carelessness to destroy, sometimes irrevocably. Can drive you to mental paralysis, if you start thinking about it each time you sit down to write. 😦

  6. prem:

    “Shane Warne versus Sachin Tendulkar down the years, anyone?”

    surely, if worded correctly, that would read:

    “the puppeteers behind shane warne versus the puppeteers behind sachin tendulkar down the years, anyone?”

    no?

    – s.b.

  7. As this post has a lot about Tennis,my take was on the Viral video where Fedex knocked a can off the head and then he has been coy whether it was staged or real.Then you have him playing twice in 2 years the shot where he has played between his legs with his back to the net and my take was if he can play those amazing shots between his legs without injuring the balls,he can surely knock off a can from somebody’s head with a well directed serve.

    • Um. Thing though is, if you are playing a shot between your legs, you don’t need to land it with pinpoint accuracy — just keep the ball and racket clear of the family jewels, and if possible get the ball over the net, and you’ve performed prodigies. Hitting a service, and knocking a can off a guy’s head with it, is a whole other ball game — your margin of error is measured in millimeters, and there is more at stake than a ‘let’ or ‘fault’ call, no? At 100+ mph, you misjudge your serve you could put the guy’s eye out. 🙂

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