Tag Archives: Bhogle

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)

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)

On Sledging

In the Monkeygate debate, the need for sledging on the cricket field has been called into question.

Was there a need for Andrew Symonds to pin Harbhajan Singhs’ ear when the Indian said “well bowled” to Australian bowler Brett Lee? Was that an Australian thing to do? Should a player really indulge in sledging at all? These are questions that do need to be asked.

I called in on Jon Faine’s talkback segment on ABC Radio yesterday and repeated my view that all sledging has to be banned. Faine wished me good luck. I added that while mild banter was perhaps ok, ABC’s own contracted commentator, Harsha Bhogle, had said that some of the words that were said on the cricket field would not be heard at his dinner table! Jon Faine reminded me and everyone else that the players weren’t at Harsha Bhogle’s dinner table! They were playing tough, professional, hard cricket!

Fair point.

But does that mean that they should indulge in ugly behaviour and sledge each other on the field?

The Australian Governor-General and the Australian Prime Minister weighed in on the debate yesterday.

Before yesterday’s Prime Minister’s XI match in Canberra against the visiting Sri Lankans, Major-General Michael Jeffery, Australia’s Governor General (someone who seldom gets involved in public controversies), commented that sledging was “totally un-Australian” and should be eradicated.

This is, unfortunately, not a view that is shared by Australian players and media personalities. All of them talk about “lines in the sand”. Who defines the sand? Who writes the rules for appropriate sledges? Where is this “line in the sand”?

Whose line is it anyway?

The Australian Governor-General said that Test players had a responsibility to set an example for juniors, and referred to players questioning umpires’ decisions and failing to walk.

“I think there’s also a need to really take care of the fundamental courtesies and good manners,” he said.

Australian Prime Minister Mr Kevin Rudd echoed these sentiments and made a plea for “greater civility to permeate the veins of the game”.

Sane words, in my view, from two good men.

And on the topic of sane words, here is an excellent article by Harsha Bhogle in The Age (31 Jan 2008). I do wish the Peter Lalors of this world would read it.

In particular, I reproduce this last paragraph from the article:

So why is India so sensitive about what is happening in Australia? Since I was a child, my abiding memory is of visiting journalists and cricketers coming to India and making fun of us. We were a country finding our feet, we were not confident; we seethed within but we accepted. The new generation in India is not as accepting — it is prouder, more confident, more successful. Those bottled up feelings are bubbling through. This is the great dawn of acceptance. It is a phase both countries must understand. This is the storm before the lull. Let’s play cricket. We’re only a small family.

All I can say is that if Harsha Bhogle had read Peter Lalor mocking Harbhajan Singh’s mother and that squeaky-voiced TV reporter, Harsha Bhogle’s abiding memory will be further fuelled. And if this blatant mockery attempt comes from a knowledgeable, self-confessed Indophile — with a Ganesh idol on his mantle-piece, no less — that same God had better rush to Harsha Bhogle’s aid to erase those abiding memories.

Certainly the Lalors of this world are not going to do it; they will just augment it. And fires of mistrust, cultural misunderstandings and anger will continue to burn.

— Mohan