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Superstars head back to classroom

Perhaps Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s battles with the media will soon be a thing of the past. Come August and the Indian cricket board (BCCI) will sit down to brainstorm on how to make life easier for its star cricketers, writes Kadambari Murali Wade.

cricket Updated: Jul 14, 2009 02:01 IST
Kadambari Murali Wade

Perhaps Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s battles with the media will soon be a thing of the past. Come August and the Indian cricket board (BCCI) will sit down to brainstorm on how to make life easier for its star cricketers.

“We’re planning a series of sessions on personality development, dealing with pressure and other things, where we’ll bring in experts to talk to the players and help them,” BCCI chief administrative officer Prof Ratnakar Shetty told the Hindustan Times. “Ravi (Shastri, National Cricket Academy chairman) had also spoken about this and now we’re taking this forward.”

Unlike other major sport and most other cricketing nations, India does not have an organised players’ union that looks after the welfare of its players. So it’s really up to the BCCI to do the job.

Shetty said these sessions will be restricted to international cricketers, but talking to HT from Dubai, Shastri said there would be others put in place for all cricketers, senior and junior, at the NCA.

“Though some of this has already been put in place at the NCA over the last 12 months, it is vital that we look at player development holistically, exactly like it is being done abroad.”

Shastri outlined the following issues — dealing with the media, dealing with the money that suddenly comes to the players, handling the pressure and responsibility of being a star cricketer and balancing the constant travel with the stress of being away from family, and, learning the importance of the history of the game and the need to leave a legacy.

“I saw the need for this when SuperSport and the South Africa board asked me to talk to their players just after the 2003 World Cup, as part of a media training programme,” said Shastri.

South Africa had had a disastrous Cup at home and the players were under tremendous pressure from the public and the media.

“Much like in India, the players were wary of the media. I told them, and I think the Indian players should realise too, the media should be treated as part of the kitbag. There’s no getting away from reporters, so learn to live with them and deal with them properly whatever the situation.”

Like, he said, if someone was asked an opinion on John Buchanan’s latest controversy. “To me, it’s simple. He was giving an opinion and he’s entitled to it. At the same time, we should remember that he’s not an Alex Ferguson who made a Manchester United. He’s a Buchanan who was made by Team Australia.

“Take away the players like McGrath and Warne, give him a team like the Knight Riders and he couldn’t do anything with it. There is no need to have sleepless nights about what he’s written.”

He said even more than the Indian players, perhaps, it was important to train the under-19s, the India A players, even the u-16s. “Only then can personality development become part of a player’s psyche, when you start young.”

This August, they will look into what more can be done. “Rather than do 50 things, we’d like to pick four to five things and do them well, make sure our players benefit.”

How the Aussies did it

Two months ago, Cricket Australia had a session for players. “It dealt with managing the work-family-life balance,” said CA’s Peter Young. “They are on the road for 240 days in a year and it can be very tough on them. All contracted players have to learn about anti-doping, the Anti-Corruption Unit and the Spirit of Cricket. The initial process is backed up by annual training sessions on these. In addition, the team leadership has its own induction process.”

The American way

Begun in 1996, this is a starting point for American football's future stars. Mandatory for all draft picks, the annual rookie symposium gives youngsters ‘a crash course on life’ and helps the transition to the big stage. They are advised on public dealings, the media, etiquette, financial investments, injuries, health insurance, personal relationships, even protected sex --- everything that is needed to deal with being ‘young, rich and famous’.