The writes and wrongs of a critic

Amita Malik’s criticism was a goad to better reporting

Written by Sonali Chander | Published: March 11, 2009 1:03 am

I am often asked why I chose sports journalism as a career. My answer has always been the same banal stuff — my army background where sports was a way of life,my employer’s backing,and my father’s influence. I will also add that a certain Amita Malik too played a very significant role.

It’s not something that I would have acknowledged earlier but now I don’t feel embarrassed telling the story. Maybe I feel more secure in my career or perhaps it is because Ms Malik is no more. She is gone and I regret that I never told her this story. Back in 1996,when I was a cub reporter asked to cover the cricket world cup,Ms Malik saw my work and clearly didn’t like it. She wrote in her column in Sunday magazine that she did not approve of girls covering cricket especially if they knew nothing about the game. She said I was so bad that I had called batsmen ‘batters’ and that proved that a certain colleague of mine whose father had played test cricket for India was more suited to cover cricket. It was a review that reduced a fledgling reporter to tears. My boss was extremely supportive,telling me that critics’ jobs are based on trashing reporters and that in fact,he had also been trashed by the same Ms Malik. But I was distraught because she had charged me with an offence I had not committed. My mom was a teacher of English so I was even more embarrassed about this so called offence! 

To Sunday’s credit they published my letter to the editor,where I wrote that Ms Malik was entitled to her opinions but that she should get her facts right. I wrote that being a woman I was well aware of the difference between ‘batter’,as in what is used for cake,and one who bats — and the only similarity is that both should rise to the occasion.

Soon after that I got a bit of a reality check. I called Bishan Singh Bedi on the phone and fixed an appointment with him for an interview. He agreed,I landed up,and was making conversation with him when suddenly he told me that I was mistaken and that he was not the Mr Bedi! It turned out that I had called Mr Bedi,a sports writer,due to a mix up in my phone book. It was embarrassing to say the least,I was hoping to be a cricket reporter and yet I did not recognise a former India captain,so what if he was captain around the time I was born. I might as well have given up on my career. For some unknown reason I plodded on. 

I worked harder on my cricket knowledge. The ultimate proof of that was that when I married my husband,ironically enough,he told me that he picked me because unlike other girls,I recognised even obscure cricketers! Several years passed with Ms Malik making no further references to either my reporting or my anchoring. I went on to cover several important cricket events like the next two World Cups,India’s tour of Pakistan and in due course my employer even thought it fit to make me sports editor.

Then one day,I saw another mention of myself in Ms Malik’s column. This one was so congratulatory that I was sure that she did not remember who I was. Often she would call the office and ask to speak to me telling me that she liked my work and that I was a pioneer for women sports journalists. I would always be polite and respectful,wondering if I should remind her of how she almost cut short my career. Somehow I never did.  In due course she would call quite frequently,sometimes to praise me,sometimes to give me feedback on Navjot Sidhu and sometimes just to chat about how she disliked current trends of cricket coverage. Any overs being cut short by ad breaks always annoyed her greatly.

The phone calls continued but I never ever told her the story. I thought I would write about it and surprise her one day. Sadly I never did and now she’s gone. Wherever she is I just want her to know that this reporter also rose to the occasion like a ‘batter’ or so I would like to think. And for that I have to say ‘thank you Ms Malik’.

The writer is sports editor,New Delhi Television Network

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