On why I found Harsha Bhogle’s choice strange


Harsha Bhogle is a respected and much-admired journalist and commentator on Indian cricket. He gave up a promising career in advertising to write about cricket, talk about cricket on the radio and call cricket on TV. He hosts TV shows on cricket and is, along with Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri, recognized as one of the significant voices of Indian cricket.

Harsha Bhogle started commenting on cricket when he was just 19 years old. From an early age, he shunned hyperbole and cliche for substance, a studied approach, sharp wit and an articulate demeanor. That approach defined him. After a stint at All India Radio in Hyderabad, he was invited by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in 1991-92 to call the Australia-India series on ABC Radio in Australia. I had just arrived in Australia and was immediately taken by this young, warm and welcoming voice of Indian cricket. Since then, he was a regular in all of India’s tours to the Antipodes. His repartee with Kerry O’Keefe is a significant part of the Australian summer whenever India visited. His banter with Geoff Lawson would always be precise and insightful — quite appropriate, given that Lawson is a qualified optometrist!

I appreciated the poise and equanimity with which he called the hot-potato series in 2008. Tempers were flaring and emotions were high. I am reasonably confident Harsha Bhogle would have been presented with many an opportunity to lose his cool in that hyper-charged environment. But he managed to keep his head above water at all times. He retained his composure and his objectivity as that series progressed. His stock grew.

He has called many Test matches and ODI games. In fact, he has called every single World Cup since 1992 – either for radio or for TV. Harsha Bhogle has also covered all IPL seasons since the 2009 edition of this Twenty20 party. (He was associated with the Mumbai Indians side in the inaugural episode of the IPL.)

He has also written a few books on cricket, including a biography of Mohammad Azharuddin

The point of this short sketch of an impressive career in cricket is to establish that Harsha Bhogle is a respected commentator who has been closely associated with the game for over two decades. In that time he would have seen a substantial amount of “good cricket”. One has come to expect a healthy dollop of balance and objectivity in his articulations. He is as lucid as he is sharp. He also comes across as an intelligent person who thinks carefully about what he writes and says.

I may not always agree with what he says. I do not need to. But I accept that he has a good cricket ‘sense’. After all, he has seen — and called — some exceedingly good cricket. I also accept that he is not given to bursts of emotion-laden hyperbole. It is highly likely that for him that cycle stand in Patiala does not matter; a tracer bullet is a distraction; that sorry comment about statistics and mini-skirts is an inappropriately quoted and abominable irritant.

All of the above is preamble and context to the sense of disbelief I had on reading last week that the one single DVD that Harsha Bhogle will carry with him to an island would be a DVD of India’s triumph in that 2007 World Championship T20 final.

If I had to be abandoned on a deserted island with a DVD of just one match, it would have to be that T20 World Cup final and…one other game that I must have watched around a hundred times, in various instalments over the years—the NatWest Series final in 2002.

Let us be clear about this. Harsha Bhogle says that he will take one DVD containing one match (the WCT20 win by India) and also says that he has watched a replay of the Natwest 2002 Final over a hundred times.

The article that we read was an ‘edited excerpt’ of a conversation. So one does not really know what the full conversation was. More importantly, one does not know what was left out. I am going to assume that the edited excerpt does not deviate significantly from the conversation itself. At the very least, I can make the assumption that the edited excerpt did not destroy either the context or the substance of the many choices Harsha Bhogle makes in this piece. It is a fair assumption to make because Harsha Bhogle has not issued a rejoinder in the week after the piece was published.

Harsha Bhogle makes a few clear choices. He says that he has seen a lot of good cricket. He says that Perth 2008, Leeds 2002, the NatWest ODI Final 2002, Kolkata 2001 and the 2007 World Championship T20 final were excellent, thrilling and substantial; each for a specific reason. He articulates his reasons extremely well and very lucidly.

Yet, he indicates that he would take that T20 Finals win as the only DVD. These boilerplate choices are fraught with danger. In an email exchange with the lovely K. Balakumar (@kbalakumar on Twitter) he said questions like “… Which one song will you take on your trip to moon … are questions asked for an emotional and rhetorical value. And the answer too is mostly emotional.”

I agree that the emotional quotient in the 2007 win was high. It was a win against Pakistan. And that too in a final of a major ICC tournament. Enough said.

But really? Despite the incredibly high emotional quotient, a T20 final is the one DVD that Harsha Bhogle would take with him? After all, here was a man who has seen so much good cricket. Here was a man who was not given to extreme bouts of reckless emotion even during MonkeyGate.

My sense of disbelief at Harsha Bhogle’s choice has nothing to do with forms of the game. It has nothing to do with notions that one form of the game is somehow superior to another form.

Yes, I do like Test cricket. No. I do not think it is ‘superior’ to other forms of cricket (mainly ODI and T20). But I like Test cricket. I like the intensity and the rhythm of Test cricket. I like the balance that Test cricket affords between bat and ball. Test cricket uses a canvass that is broad. On this canvass, it affords, commands and allows the narrative to unfold in a lazy and yet intensely dramatic manner. I like the time flexibility that Test cricket affords. Time seems to be somewhat irrelevant to the unfurling of the Test Cricket narrative. That is what I like about Test cricket.

So far, none of what I have said constitutes a “superiority” based argument of this form of cricket that I love and adore. It is true that my sense of involvement in the T20 and ODI script is far less than it is in Tests. But that is not because of a position that is based on skill-superiority, nor is it based on a position that emanates from an elitist snobbery.

Quite the contrary really.

I do like the intensity of the ODI/T20 drama. But my sense of involvement in these forms is far less than it is in Test cricket. That position emanates more from preference for the Test cricket narrative rather than superiority of the form. And this is precisely why Dominica depressed me. This is why it would not have mattered to me if India had lost either the T20 World Championship in 2007 or even the World Cup in 2011!

Mind you, I celebrated both victories vociferously and loudly because I am a fan of Team India and her players. But I celebrated Kolkata, Leeds, Multan, Mohali and Perth much more than I did the two World Cup victories. I was depressed for days on end after the disaster that Dominica represented to me.

On Harsha Bhogle’s choice, I had a suspended sense of disbelief.

I agree that these deserted-island-choices are often difficult and one must always take the result with a pinch of salt, or even sand (if you will forgive the needless pun).

And of course this is Harsha Bhogle’s choice and not mine! It is his article. Not mine. Nor should I expect that his choice mirrors mine. My problem, therefore, wasn’t his actual choice. It is more to do with how dramatically his choice seems to have diverged from what I would have expected his choice to be. In that sense, again the existence of that unmet expectation gap is my problem, rather than his. That said, I cannot imagine that a man who has watched that much drama would chose the WCT20 as the only DVD he would take.

In a sense, Harsha Bhogle was making a categorical judgement that the World Championship T20 win was better than Kolkata 2001 or Perth 2008 or even Mumbai 2011! Now this exposes a stunning limitation of the boiler-plate — and hence my dislike of these. But my approach to such a severely limiting exercise would be to not participate it such exercises! And if I do, I would justify/explain/rationalize my choice succinctly and adequately.

“Hang on. He did justify. He did rationalize his choice,” you will say.

Yes, he did justify his choice of the WCT20 Final DVD over Kolkata 2001 or Chennai 1999 or Natwest 2002 or Mumbai 2011.

And even if I accepted his DVD choice as one that was shoe-horned by the uselessness of the boilerplate, it is his justification of that choice that I really abhorred.

He says that he would take that DVD with him because “…India won against all odds. I wasn’t expecting anything. There was a sense of discovery about the whole format. No one knew where T20 was going to go. And as it turned out, one magical decision by M.S. Dhoni to throw the ball to Joginder Sharma and one moment of madness by Misbah-ul-Haq changed the future of T20 cricket. For if India hadn’t won that World Cup, T20 would never have become big in India. But it did become big…and the rest is history.”

Harsha Bhogle talks with passion about the many lovely games he has witnessed. In his closing he talks about the India v Pakistan Test match in Chennai in 1999 where the (knowledgeable) Chennai crowd gave Pakistan a rousing reception after Pakistan had beaten India in a close/tight game.

Yet, the only DVD he will take with him on a desert island is that of a T20 game because if India hadn’t won T20 would never have become big in India! Like that is a badge of honour that one should wear proudly on one’s lapel. It is this aspect of Harsha Bhogle’s choice that I find abhorrent.

Let us not forget that it is this very form of the game that causes most cricket fans most concern today! The DVD choice comes at a time when we are all concerned about the proliferation of T20s, the burden that it places on players, the country-versus-club debates that it generates, the immense conflicts of interest inherent in this form of the game in India (where commercial realities are brought into sharp focus maximally). Harsha Bhogle has, himself, agonized painfully over many of the issues listed above. On the club versus country debate, he first went one way and then, after the disaster that England 2011 represented, seemed to go the other way.

This agonizing flip-flop by one the voices of Indian cricket was brought into focus precisely because T20 had “become big in India”.

Yet, that is precisely the reason behind his choice of the DVD!

So Bhogle’s choice did not worry me. It is the justification/rationalization of his choice that stunned me. If I found his DVD choice somewhat shallow it was not because of the format, but because of its justification!

— Mohan (@mohank)

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7 responses to “On why I found Harsha Bhogle’s choice strange

  1. I can’t believe it either, the final was thrilling, it was a fitting end to an amazing out of the blue campaign but I doubt I will choose it over any test wins.

  2. Not my first choice either, but as you point it, Thats is his first choice for watching over & over again. It is a personal preference, so I cant see the reason for debating it

    • Paddy:

      On a deserted-island, that is not just his first choice, but ONLY choice.

      Even so, if you read my post carefully, you will read that I stated clearly that I have no problem with his choice/preference: it is HIS preference, not mine! His choice does not need to mirror mine and if I have an expectation gap, that is my problem! Not his.

      My problem — and perhaps my only problem — is with his rationalization of it. He will take that DVD with him cos if India hadn’t won T20/IPL will not have been introduced to India! Like that is something to be proud of!

      Moreover (ok, I am stretching it a bit here), it is almost similar to an admission that Yoga will not become a craze in India until India wins an International Yoga competition. 😛

  3. Even I felt the same after reading his views. If not Tests, there were so many ODI triumphs. I am surprised he missed out the Desert Storm (and the next one) innings from Sachin.

  4. If anything, I’d rather pick the T20 world cup semifinals against the Aussies. That was by far the best match of the world cup with India coming back from early pressure and mounting on 188. Add the Yuvraj Singh catch to dismiss Micheal Hussey and that sums up the entire mood of the team, the nation and India’s new found enthusiasm due to youngsters who just exploded on the international arena.

  5. For me it will always be Sachin’s “Desert Storm” innings and 1983 world cup finals.

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