Why would Rishabh Pant, Suryakumar Yadav, Rohit Sharma, Yuzevendra Chahal want the world to see their leg-pulling session?

Who would invite the world to a ferocious leg-pulling session with friends? Of all people, the best cricket players of India.

Recently, those who were constantly screened by dark glasses, handlers, cops and equipped to the limit against any attempt to invade their privacy, opened the doors of their rooms to fans and even others. They let anyone with an internet connection be the fly on the wall when they dropped the guard and talked about anything and everything.

On a non-match day, probably to stave off the boredom of a long tour, Rishabh Pant, Suryakumar Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal and Rohit Sharma hooked up on Insta Live. They had shared rooms, meals and experiences for years, taking liberties, taking no offense and winking when making inside jokes. They were a riot.

Pant and Surya would tag team and tease Chahal. “Why you always butter Rohit” would be their constant mockery. The leggie would contradict Surya and ask him why he is silent when the Indian and Mumbai Indian skipper is around. Rohit would have the rest in cracks with his suggestive question of Chahal’s whereabouts the night before and his tired eyes.

The players realized that they were not quite in their bubble, unseen by the world, and after a while the players began to show restraint. It started with Surya sticking out his tongue when uttering a word that is mostly heard in web series about gangsters in Uttar Pradesh.

Rohit almost blurts out a Chahal anecdote, but stops himself. “I remember a story, but I wouldn’t say it here,” he says. You almost felt like an uninvited guest, an intrusive presence at a private party.

Wasn’t the voyeuristic gaze of millions that curtailed the smooth conversation between Rohit and his merry men? Wouldn’t they be better off having a group chat? Definitely yes.

The social media handlers of these high profile influencers are said to differ. Those in the game of likes, retweets and followers must constantly be on the timeline of the millions who follow them. They have to engage them, make sure they stay invested.

And this is not easy. They have to walk the extra mile, open a few windows, take a look at the overprotected bubbles they live in.

The reason star reality shows top the TRP rankings worldwide is the insatiable drive of the masses to capture the celebrities they admire and adore in their candid avatar. So accustomed to cliché press conference quotes and PR-controlled interviews, fans pick up on anything even remotely real. The realization that the stars are just like us, and even have the same vocabulary, is both endearing and uplifting.

A stray comment caught by the stomp mic or a small private moment during an internet session captured by a fan’s cell phone often becomes viral content.

Earlier this month, an on-field clip, with audio credited to Hardik Pandya, was endlessly forwarded. He sounded exactly like a street cricketer annoyed by a distracted teammate.

In barely a minute, the short video would be dissected and presented as evidence of the apparent leadership intrigue in the Indian locker room. What is said in the heat of battle always has some truth to it. It gives a better picture of the situation and the person and is therefore more reliable.

Pressured by online songs and hits, teams’ social media divisions – national and IPL franchises – have hitherto been entering private spaces. The locker room speeches of Delhi Capitals coach Ricky Ponting, the Rajasthan Royals treasure hunt at the team hotel and the stars of Royal Challengers Bangalore performing team songs are trending during the IPL season.

How it was done before

Even before the social age began to define and dictate the lives of stars, there have been attempts to monetize images from remote areas. Once during the 2006 Champions Trophy, a few of us reporters ventured into the training rooms at Motera Stadium on match night. That was the time when Indian dressing was a simmering pot of contention with the ladle in the hands of then coach Greg Chappell.

Unusually, the coach gathered the team – which included Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly – not far from the border rope. His tongue stroking could easily reach the keen ears of the media group.

With the loud and bitter coach talk appearing in the papers the next day, Dravid, the skipper at the time, is said to be critical of the ‘ground report’. A few years later, Chappell’s harsh conversation with the seniors would be featured in a documentary. The coach was aware that a video team had followed him throughout the tournament. It’s not hard to guess that the coach wanted to be closer to the camera and louder than usual for the sound recorder. Everything for the success of the documentary behind the scenes.

Today’s stars don’t have to endure this pain. Documentaries take too much time and are too long. In the digital age, Insta Live or Twitter Q&A announcements are all the stars need to reach their followers and get the message they want.

But why do these cricket superstars, who get ample proof of their popularity and fame when they step out, need this virtual acknowledgment of their stardom? Because it pays to be a social media influencer.

The number of followers determines your brand value and image. Crossing the million-follower mark is just as important as hitting a cricket milestone or breaking a record. Virat Kohli, it has been widely reported in the media, comes close to Rs 2.5 crore for a social media post.

There are more benefits. It keeps the celebrities in circulation, helps them convey their likes, points of view and agenda. A social media influencer who makes the right noises has a great chance at a political career. There are plenty of cricketers who have followed this path and others aspire to it. Look for provocative messages and you know a cricketer is slowly getting ready for a second turn in public life.

Living your life as content, compromising your privacy, being in a glass house every now and then has its perks.

Please send feedback to sandydwivedi@gmail.com.

Sandeep Dwivedic

National Sports Editor

The Indian Express.

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