When you think of press conferences in cricket, the image is usually of a slightly bored-looking cricketer addressing a room full of reporters, spouting one cliché after another and assuring all those assembled that 'no team could be taken lightly' and his side was 'working hard' and the magic formula for victory was to put the ball in the all-important 'right areas'.
Cricketers, and especially national captains who are the ones who attend press conferences most frequently, aren't unintelligent people by any stretch. And yet, press conferences result in tedium because most follow the 'better safe than sorry' route, and what's 'safe' is also often dull.
It seems reasonable that, given a chance, most cricketers would jump at the opportunity to skip press conferences, if they found legitimate cause. That is exactly the kind of opportunity Alastair Cook got in Rajkot, the venue of the first India-England One-Day International. How he handled the situation, though, was more interesting than the tragicomic sequence of events.
On Thursday (January 10), the eve of the match, Cook came for the mandatory pre-match press conference, only to find that there wasn't a working microphone that he could use to answer questions. This in a hall where one was sorely needed, what with the acoustics ensuring that even the scraping of a chair echoed. Halfway through his press conference, there was an almighty scraping because the media contingent saw Mahendra Singh Dhoni waiting for his turn, and rushed in a body to photograph him.
Cook gamely carried on, but when a few moments later, the speakers came alive – seemingly on their own – with what seemed like a news bulletin in Gujarati, even he was flummoxed. He still didn't end the press conference, believing like most people present that it was a temporary disturbance and allowing himself a wry smile. When it became clear that the voice, mellifluous at least if unintelligible to the majority, would continue to emanate, he had no choice but to leave.
You'd have thought that an incident like that would be enough to ensure that the England captain stayed away from that press conference room, given the slightest excuse.
The next day, barely had Dhoni begun his post-match press conference when the room went pitch dark as the electricity was shut down. The Saurashtra Cricket Association (SCA) had wanted to celebrate the international debut of their new ground with a laser show, and that necessitated a complete blackout.
Most people assembled thought that was the end of any media interaction with any player. However, soon after Dhoni left, there was another scramble and there stood Cook and James Tredwell, the man of the match. Both men stood patiently and answered queries over the racket of a fireworks show that served as the evening's grand finale.
In the grand scheme of things, a press conference may not be that important to anyone other than the reporters covering it. Most fans are likely to be equable if they don't read the captain's quotes in the next day's newspaper. In the internet age, some form of quotes are bound to make their way to their eyes, if they are curious enough. More than half of the 28,000-strong stadium at Rajkot had stayed back after a match India had narrowly lost, merely to see the laser show and fireworks, a number that was possibly more than some of the crowds that attended full matches when India were beating England 5-0 in 2011.
Clearly, the after-match entertainment was fairly popular, and if the SCA's intention was to give the paying public what they wanted, they might have even gotten it right in scheduling the show and not caring about press conferences.
Given what had happened on match eve, followed by the darkness within and noise without on match day, Cook too could have likely gotten away with not attending the press conference at all. If the England and Wales Cricket Board had contractual obligations of their own with British journalists covering the series, Cook could have easily spoken to them later at the team hotel or on the chartered flight the journalists shared with the players when they left Rajkot the next day.
That he didn't do any of that showed, in a small way, the measure of the man.
Invariably, teams that have had success in India over the past decade have learned to embrace the country as it is. There is no doubt that the many dollars, and opportunities for future dollars, on offer have eased that. But even then, the acceptance has often been a grudging one, of the give-me-my-bucks-and-I'm-out-of-here variety.
He could possibly be a great actor, but with Cook, you sense that it's different. He's not made public proclamations the way a Steve Waugh, for example, did. But he has come across as someone who has a quiet confidence about him and an openness to his surroundings.
The late Raj Singh Dungarpur once told John Wright, during his early days as India coach, that if he was patient, India would be patient with him. Wright called it "great advice" but said he didn't always succeed in putting it into practice.
Cook, it would seem, has learned that lesson of patience, and from the time his team landed for the Test series, has been amply rewarded for it.