Washington Sundar did something incredible last week. Royal Challengers Bangalore was playing Mumbai Indians in yet another one of those uninhibited scoring carnivals full of towering sixes and high-octane chasing. The match saw a total of 403 runs and 26 sixes. Yet, in that very match, Sundar bowled his quota of four overs and returned with the astounding figure of 1 wicket for 12 runs.
He outwitted absolute heavyweights of the game: Rohit Sharma, Hardik Pandya, Quinton De Kock and Ishan Kishan, the last of whom went on to score 99. Players and pundits gushed about the 20-year-old’s feat (Sundar turns 21 on Monday). Ravi Shastri called it “the best performance in the IPL so far”.
Sundar attended the virtual post-match presser. The questions that were put to him were about: 1. The dimensions of the ground. 2. AB de Villiers as a wicketkeeper 3. Having two wrist spinners in the playing XI 4. Navdeep Saini’s evolution as a bowler 5. Why Shivam Dube did not bowl.
That was it. That was the set. The moderator, part of the IPL media management team, seemed to realise at the end of it all that something was amiss and quickly threw in a question himself, on Sundar’s own bowling performance.
How exactly did this farce come about? The answer is simple; it’s because journalists have been shut out from this season’s IPL. There are no journalists from Indian media houses in the UAE. Teams can decide if they want to do a pre-match presser. Some teams do them, some don’t.
Journalists have to send in their questions ahead of time, and a member of the team’s media team decides which of those questions gets asked, carefully sifting out anything that feels uncomfortable, and then asks them on behalf of the reporters. There is no direct communication.
The post-match presser follows the same routine; questions must be sent in before the presser begins, but journalists never know who will be answering. All reporters can do is ask generic stuff, throw stones in the dark.
This is perfectly aligned with the BCCI’s lack of regard for journalists. When you’ve got social media and you can reach out to people all by yourself and say only exactly what you want to say, then why bother with the nuisance of reportage?
From July, when it was first announced that this season of the IPL would be held in the UAE, till September 18, a day before the first match, there was no communication from the BCCI about how they planned to accommodate the media in the bio-bubble. On September 18, a mail was sent out by the board: ‘The Dream11 Indian Premier League (IPL) 2020 is being held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) behind closed doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Owing to the health and safety concerns, media personnel will not have access to the stadium to cover the games or team practice sessions. Additionally, this year, owing to the circumstances, there will be no new media registrations, barring the UAE media.’
And that was that.
Is that perhaps reasonable, considering that they’re playing in a pandemic? Not really. Cricket was the first major sport to restart play in the pandemic, in July, with the West Indies tour of England. With Covid-19 raging through the UK, there were still journalists in the bio-bubble.
The UEFA Champions League marked the restart of football in Europe in early August. With social distancing and testing protocols in place, journalists were allowed access to games and press conferences; when virtual pressers were held, there was live and unmediated interaction. It’s been the same with all the European leagues underway right now.
Formula 1 restarted races in July, and while pit and paddock access were barred, journalists attended the races and press conferences with protocols in place (and continue to do so). The NBA, like the IPL, is also happening inside a single-venue bio-bubble, in Orlando. They allowed journalists in, applying the same protocols as were being followed by players and match officials — testing and quarantine at venue before the start of the league.
I could go on, but you get the point.