The second Test between India and Sri Lanka at the SSC ground in Colombo that begins on Thursday (August 2) will mark the 100th Test that R Kaushik, executive editor of Wisden India, will cover as a reporter. In a storied career that brought a first Test ‘cap’ in 1994, the landmark 100th brought a t-shirt. At the end of his customary pre-match press conference, Virat Kohli presented Kaushik with an Indian team t-shirt signed by all the members. Kohli spoke glowingly of Kaushik’s understanding of the game, his focus on cricket and how the Indian captain always enjoyed answering the reporter’s questions because he had never sought the headline-grabbing ‘spicy’ quote but was only intent on questions about the game.
Kaushik holds the unique distinction of having watched India win a Test in each of the ten Test-playing nations. [Afghanistan and Ireland of course, haven’t yet hosted Test cricket] He has covered every World Cup from 1996 onwards, and four of the six World T20s. He has always been an advocate of reporting facts above innuendo, analysis over headline-grabbing, and led by example. He has also always maintained his belief that reporters are there “to report on news, not make news” as reiterated during a chat to commemorate the 100th Test, his journey, the moment Kohli handed over the memento and else.
Virat Kohli presented you with a memento from him and the Indian team for your 100th Test. Were you expecting that?
I can’t say I was expecting anything, though I did know that members of the team management were aware that it was my 100th Test as a reporter. When Gaurav Saxena, the media manager, made the announcement and I was wending my way through the flock of journalists at the press conference to get to the front, it was quite humbling. We are here to report on news, not make news, so in that sense it was also a little embarrassing. I thought Virat was extremely sweet in what he said. You are here to do a job and sometimes that requires you to be critical of issues, but it is very gratifying to see that the players also understand that not all criticism need be personal.
The player-media relationship has changed significantly from when you covered your first Test in 1994. What’s your take on how it has progressed, and where it is headed?
Over the years, as is inevitable, the number of cricket reporters has increased tremendously. What this has done — coupled with the fact that sometimes we lose a little bit of perspective in trying to be first, if not always necessarily right — is that the players are justifiably wary of the media. From the days when only a handful of reporters travelled with the Indian team, now there are dozens of reporters, each looking for an angle, each looking for a story, to keep themselves relevant. Sometimes, the lines get blurred. Given the various constraints from both the players’ point of view and the media’s, it is impossible to share the same kind of wider rapport that journalists and the players once enjoyed. But that doesn’t mean there are no non-need based relationships either.
Most journalists were fans to start with. How easy, or difficult, is it to leave the fan behind when reporting on the game? Does developing a personal equation with the players make it easier or tougher?
You start off as a fan of individuals, who then get you hooked to the sport. A lot of the legends that you have grown up idolising are retired by the time you start your professional career, so in that sense there is a safety net! But yes, once you get close to players, sometimes it can be difficult to be objective in your assessment. Most often, the players understand that you can’t blindly overlook issues, but there have been instances where people have called up and said, “I thought you were a friend, how could you write like this about me?” But so long as you know you are solid in your reasons for a particular point of view, that’s all that matters, eventually.
If you look back at your journey, how has reporting itself changed for the better or worse?
Cricket is still the same game of bat and ball, but it has changed beyond imagination with DRS, with pink-ball cricket, the T20 game. Live television is a wonderful boon for cricket lovers, but it has made the job of the reporter, especially the newspaper reporter, far more demanding. While there is still plenty of scope for a ‘proper’ match report, the general belief is that people have already watched the match on TV, so there is no need to describe what happened on the field of play. The onus therefore is on analysis, which is a great test of your understanding of the nuances of the game. You are often forced to think out of the box and look beyond the obvious, which is great in a lot of ways. But there is, and will always be, room for match reports, no matter what. That is my sincere belief.
Your favourite Test, or series, that you have covered? Why was it your favourite?
There have been several dramatic tours that one has been fortunate to witness first-hand, and top of that list will be the tour to Pakistan in 2004. Several of us were extremely apprehensive about what to expect during India’s first full tour across the border for 15 years, and more so when we had to collect our visa-stamped passports at the proverbial last minute and make a dash to the Delhi airport to catch our flight. But all fears were allayed from the moment we stepped foot in Lahore. The atmosphere was brilliant, the cricket was top-class – at least from an Indian point of view! – and it was quite a moment when Virender Sehwag made India’s first Test triple hundred. The players were chilled out, the relationship between the team and the vast travelling media contingent was brilliant, and India won both the Test and the One-Day International series. Fan moment, perhaps, and well worth the 15-year wait.