Cricketers feel social media glare hits inter-personal dynamic, morale and pressure tactics
Rohit Sharma, Jayawardene and Smriti Mandhana said that social media brings pressure from trolls.
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In a country where cricket occupies an exalted plane, social media is fast becoming unpleasant for players, reckons India opener Rohit Sharma. Speaking at a panel discussion in Mumbai a few days ago, he said how difficult it was for fledgling cricketers to keep a cool head amidst the weight of expectations being heaped on them by armchair commentators on social media.
“When I made my debut a decade ago, the nature of the challenge was much different,” Sharma said. “The focus was on developing your skills, rather than what happens outside the game.”
Sharma highlighted the fact that in earlier times, journalists and commentators acted as a buffer between fans and players – a luxury that players do not enjoy anymore. New media has opened up avenues for enthusiastic fans to have unmoderated tête-à-têtes with their idols. “In earlier times, fans used to read the papers or listen to match commentary,” Sharma said. “Now they can tag players on social media.”
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Former Sri Lanka cricketer Mahela Jayawardene also spoke at the event. “The player-fan dynamic has changed with the internet,” he said. Team selection is a hotly contested topic, as Jayawardene found out in his present role as the coach of a T20 franchise in India. “When the team sheet is released prior to a game, my social media handles are spammed by comments from opinionated fans. If you dwell too much on it, it can affect your judgment,” he said.
Millennial cricketers are struggling to cope with social media pressure. “If I read every comment I receive on my Instagram account, my morale will be affected,” said women’s cricketer Smriti Mandhana. The 22-year-old is an advocate of digital detox, especially when on tour.
Social media can also affect player relations. Retired England star Kevin Pietersen was recently drawn into a Twitter spat with former Australia paceman Mitchel l Johnson. Pietersen ended up blocking his contemporary. “It is a waste of time to engage with people who are out there to discredit you,” he said.