If you have been active on Cricket Twitter or social media, it has been one of the most maddening weeks. It's as if all the inactivity saved up from last year’s lockdown will now be avenged in a few days time via a mayhem of countless opinions. Via trolls, attacks, and pure craziness.
After extensive debates over the nature of the Ahmedabad deck, and at least mention of the dreaded two words, 'Indian pitches', for at least a million times, the Internet world found its new poster boy in Dale Steyn. It's a crazy digital space. It exists to outrage. It exists to troll. It exists to hate. It exists to censor. It exists to cripple down opinions. It exists to control. As harsh as it sounds and as many good things as social media has done, it has also been this way. To put it bluntly.
Don't believe me? Just ask South African legend Dale Steyn. Well, he's certainly not going to tell you this. Why would he? Hasn't one of his interviews landed him into enough trouble already? And for what? Just for expressing his opinion. Just comparing IPL with leagues like PSL and LPL. Just for sharing his subjective experiences from different leagues. Just for being his brutal honest self. Just for saying what he felt. Just for saying something that might not align with someone else's opinion.
But in this day and age of public discourse, the moment a celebrity says something, a complex process of biological chemical reactions takes place inside the human body and even before it can analyze things by using something important which lies between the two ears, they press the send button on their electronic devices. The opinion is out in the public. Several hundreds of them. All directed at Dale Steyn in this case. It's like a pack of blood thirsty wolves have been left to prey on an individual. His old tweets are brought up. There has been a lot of vitriol, hate and abuse. But that's a standard day on social media. And the standard way of operating. Thinking is secondary. Reactions comes first.
No wonder in the span of a few hours, the Proteas quick had to apologize. Or I should say, he was bullied into apologizing, at the mercy of the internet trolls. He tweeted, "IPL has been nothing short of amazing in my career, as well as other players too. My words were never intended to be degrading, insulting, or comparing any leagues. Social media and words out of context can often do that."
For the nth time, a celebrity on the internet had to backtrack from his words, explain himself, say the most cliche, ‘my words were taken out of context’ and apologize after being hounded by a mob-esque internet, just for a non-conformist opinion. And this is just plainly sad to see as a cricket fan. Speaking for myself, I crave honest opinions and conversation from cricketers who I have grown up watching. To get real insights, to understand them, their psyche, to know what goes behind the scenes, inside their heads. I just can’t get enough. But that’s not how Cricket Twitter or the internet works.
Humans designed robots so that they can programme them and get everything exactly as they want. But forget robots. There are tireless and concrete attempts to turn humans into robots. Why? To only hear what we want to. We want our heroes to echo our opinions. To be conformist.
Didn't we all cherish and love the 'Let me tell a kutti (small) story' series by Ravichandran Ashwin? Yes. Why? Because it helped us get closer to our heroes. To their lives. To the aroma of a victory that India tasted and behind the scenes that Ashwin experienced and in turn wanted us to feel. It was one of the most wholesome experiences for fans and lovers of the game.
But there is a reason why not many cricketers, especially the active ones, express themselves openly. Because, the public, at large, just can't handle anything that challenges their subjective beliefs and standard opinions. We just want cricketers to mirror our thought process. Forget starting a channel, present day cricketers would stop being themselves more than ever, and we know how closed they are already, after the Steyn saga as they realize that the cricket junta can’t fathom interviews if they don't get to hear what they want to listen. And then there is so much cribbing why cricketers don't open up. Why they are so diplomatic. Why they are always giving the most cliche answers. Why do they try to please everyone?
Because very systematically, the internet world, the Cricket Twitter, has made it clear, that it's my way or the highway. You either say what we want to hear or get ready to be hounded by thousands. To be held accountable for tweets that were sent down years ago even when it is well documented and common sense, that humans evolve everyday, forget years. This is how it works.
Those days are not far when the raging internet public that just wants to channelize their own frustrations into abuse for anything that doesn't go their way, starts dictating what a cricketer or a public figure should say to the media or write or tweet on the internet. It can't take raw, honest and spontaneous opinions sans abuse.
So what next? A social media trend with a transcript for what an ‘XYZ’ cricketer should say in a given interview so that one fulfills their fake sense of pride with something? Or wait, let's get a remote control so that we exercise the same power that we have over our TV sets on cricketers too.
The Dale Steyn controversy has again reinforced the ever prevalent message for players - Zip your mouth and keep playing cricket, or else, the internet world will cancel your years of hard work, toil, fame and success for one, just one harmless opinion, tweet or comment that doesn’t match theirs. This is the new world order.