Daily Archives: 21 March 2011

My problem is not with Navjot Sidhu…

For some time now I have been quite substantially irritated by Navjot Singh Sidhu’s cricket ‘commentary’ on TV.

He does appear in non-cricket TV shows too. Whenever he guffaws his way to silliness in the many reality TV comedy shows that he appears in as judge — and he does — I do not reach a heightened state of paroxysm. I just switch to another channel. I do. I have a choice.

I do not have the luxury of such a choice with my cricket viewing. And for that, I do not blame Navjot Sidhu. I lay the blame squarely on the broadcaster, ESPN-Star Sports.

Avirook Sen wrote a brilliant piece in DNA on Navjot Sidhu’s ‘commentary’. I do not intend repeating what he has articulated exceedingly well. I wish to comment, instead, on the broadcaster’s responsibilities in thrusting Navjot Sidhu down my throat.

My cricket viewing commences with the pre-match analysis, the pitch report, expert’s views on team composition, the toss, the respective team captains’ reading of the pitch and their comments on team composition. My viewing experience then moves through the game and into the mid-point review of the game situation and ends with the end-game analysis. In the above, I am talking of cricket’s ODI and T20 formats — topical now because of the ongoing ICC Cricket World Cup 2011. I suspect there are many like me in India that suffer the need to be continually engaged with the game. It is also quite likely that not every cricket fan is like me and that I am in a substantial minority.

When I watch the game, I need the match commentary. I cannot watch a match with Kishore Kumar, Sanjay Subrahmanyan, Lata Mangeshkar, A. R. Rahman or Pink Floyd singing in the background. I know I am at fault here. To me, watching a cricket match on TV is akin to a religious experience. I have to have the frills, the bells and the whistles that adorn a match. It is, to me, almost as important as the match itself. I cannot hit the mute button on my TV. I need the crowd noise. I need the commentary. I also need the commentary that tells me the things that I cannot see; that opens my eyes to that which is not obvious; that explores possibilities through anecdotes and personal experiences of the commentators. I need additional insights that can be derived from listening to perspectives from experts who have either played the game or who understand the game differently, if not better, than me.

Over the years, this need in me has been appropriately satiated by radio and TV commentators who have made cricket the game it is for me. I have listened to Henry Blofeld, Brian Johnston, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Alan McGilvray, Geoffrey Boycott, Richie Benaud, Tony Cozier, Ian Chappell, David Gower… and more recently, Nasser Hussain, Mike Atherton, Kerry O’Keefe, Geoff Lawson, et al.

I am now pained, grated, numbed and tortured by Navjot Sidhu.

Is Navjot Singh Sidhu the best that India can produce in terms of commentary?

I do not wish to explore and expose Navjot Sidhu’s limitations — and I can fill many pages writing just about his limitations. He has many! To ridicule these limitations in a medium like this would be inappropriate. I am confident that he has a constituency which loves his studio clowning. It is likely, too, that he has an incredibly astute marketing brain. He may have struck a personal brand formula — a USP — whereby he only allows himself to operate in that branding space which a few (perhaps even many) of his constituents find attractive. If that is the case, more power to him.

So, the aim of my post is not to expose Navjot Sidhu’s limitations or to question why he has developed in the way he has, so as to please his fans and constituents.

Having said that, I wish someone would tell him that it is not necessary to start every sentence of his with “Goodness Gracious Me” or “Good Lord”! Further, I wish his producers will request him to stop using phrases like “my friend” or “you knowwwweee” in every sentence. I either know or I do not know. If he is not stating the obvious, it is likely that I might not “knowwwweee”! The alternative, of course, is that I already “knowwwweee”. In which case, he states nothing more than the obvious!

And therein lies my main problem with Navjot Sidhu. The man appears incapable of rising above the obvious. If he is capable, I must grant that he is incredibly intelligent at masking and hiding his own intelligence from us. And because he is only able to state the obvious, it is likely that he masks the resulting shallowness by doing two things incredibly well: (a) he shuts up everyone by shouting over every thing that breathes in the studio, and (b) he peels off an unrelated string of hackneyed banalities that the world refers to as “Sidhuisms”!

Instead of composing his thoughts and addressing questions in a considered manner, he launches immediately into answers (even if the question is not directed at him), that draw on trite nothingness. In a match involving Sri Lanka, he launched into an analysis on a bowler and mid-way through the sentence, forgot which bowler he was talking about! He clicked his fingers and asked everyone in the studio, “What’s his name… Karuppusekara?”, and had to be told, “No. Kulasekara” by the enormously patient, gentle and sedulous anchor!

A direct contrast to Navjot Sidhu is the surprisingly calm, informative and erudite Sourav Ganguly. Yes, he might be boring in the studio. He may not send the TRPs soaring. He may not get the heartbeats thumping. But he is a studious man. He has studied the game and enters the studio like a diligent kid might, an exam! He knows what he has to talk about and prepares meticulously for it. When he entered the studio prior to the India v West Indies game, he must have known that he would have to talk about R. Ashwin. He had done his homework. He knew that R. Ashwin bowled well and grabbed a 5-wicket haul at Chennai in the Ranji Trophy match in November 2010 between Delhi and TN. He does his homework and comes across as a zealous professional who is quietly forthright. He speaks calmly and adds to our collective body of knowledge.

When Sourav Ganguly said what he did about Ashwin’s bowling, Sidhu immediately pounced on this nugget of information and bellowed, “My friend, you knowwwweee, this man sitting next to me was once referred to as the Prince of Kolkata, but now, my friend, you knowwwweee, he is the King of Kolkataaaaaaaaaah”! The resulting frown on Sourav Ganguly’s face was larger than the frowns he threw in the direction of opposition players who sledged him!

But as I said before, the aim of my piece is not to paint a picture of Sidhu’s limitations or the many ways in which he irritates me. Many of you might say that I have a choice. I can switch off or mute the commentary.

But that’s my problem! I cannot. And I do not have a choice of another channel that shows me my cricket in the way I wish to see it!

Enter, the broadcaster.

The broadcaster has a responsibility here. And that responsibility cannot be just to increase TRPs, for if that were the case, the broadcaster could fill the screen with obscene pictures of scantily clad men and women in the pre-game show; that might send TRPs soaring!

It is the broadcaster’s duty, I believe, to stamp their identity on a program. Just like Test Match Special, or ABC’s “Summer of Cricket”, or Channel-9’s “Wide World of Sports” — brands with a strong identity and commitment to their listeners/viewers — ESPN-Star Sports has a responsibility to build and develop a brand: preferably one that speaks quality.

If, however, their marketing indicates that thumping tables, studio shouting and “Sidhuisms” sell and that “mindless banter and vociferous raillery” is the brand that they wish to project, then that is fine too. The broadcaster should get a few more people in there that shout in a raucous and disorderly manner. They could throw in a few cleavages too. They would thereby announce to the die-hard cricket fan that s/he need not bother rocking up to the pre-match show! I can live with that.

Instead, they try and lure the cricket fan like me by having scholarly commentators like Harsha Bhogle, Ian Chappell, Dermott Reeve, Sourav Ganguly, Pat Symcox, Simon Hughes, Nasser Hussain in the studio. The broadcaster takes a bet both ways, drags me in and assaults me by thrusting on me a madman who leaps into my living room with a machete!

So, my problem is not really with Navjot Sidhu. He is what he is and he has become who he is!

My issue is with the broadcaster who lures me with the scholastics of Harsha Bhogle and Sourav Ganguly, only to leave me at the mercy of a lunatic who shouts and numbs my senses!

Hence I plead with the broadcaster: Please have two parallel programs. After all, you have several channels on which you can pipe parallel pre-show programs. Please have one for people like me who are boring and old and one more for the more interesting people of this world who need their testosterone levels (re)charged by a sword brandishing man who thumps tables and shouts!

– Mohan (@mohank on Twitter)