Tag Archives: Harsha Bhogle

BCCI’s criticism-tolerance and the role of critics…

By Mohan Krishnamoorthy (@mohank)

There is much to dislike about the BCCI… there is much to like about Harsha Bhogle

The bully

I am not a fan of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) or of the way it functions. Many journalists, writers and opinion-makers (I will use these terms interchangeably to mean “opinion influencers”) around the world appear convinced that the BCCI is a self-serving organisation that does not have the best interests of either world cricket and/or (sadly) Indian cricket.

This might be an inaccurate view. This might be a view that is highly unfair on BCCI. However, it is a view. And there appears to be a growing number of people in the world who hold this view.

When writers from around the world express their strong anti-BCCI views, they often need to brace themselves for a subsequent attack from a (largely) Indian fan base. This often includes a trivialising — either of them or of their views — by millions of cricket fans from India who think that this criticism of the BCCI is equivalent to a criticism of India. Many of these critics are easily (and lazily) labelled as racist by the chest-thumping flag-bearers. We can only cringe when these critics are attacked mercilessly in the comments section of the anti-BCCI articles they write. India and the BCCI cannot be criticized.

Some of these opinion makers from around the world are possibly wrong (at worst) or ill-informed (at best) in their criticism of the BCCI. Many of them are, in my view, right.

There is much to dislike about the BCCI.

The BCCI, rightly or wrongly, has an image of a ‘world cricket bully that goes around throwing its weight and thumping tables’. Some of this perception is justified. Some of it is about the “old world” worrying that the “new world” will use its new found power tastelessly and wrongfully.

However, perceptions have a way of becoming realities.

My perception is that the BCCI worries about money more than it does, about the state of the game; that the BCCI worries more about the size of its coffers than about how it is perceived by the rest of the cricketing world; that the BCCI concentrates more on the power that comes from the money it generates than it does about using that money to develop the game; that the BCCI thinks about the monetary value of the broadcast contracts it signs more than the quality of the broadcast; that the BCCI thinks more of the size of its audience viewership-base than it does about the audience itself; that the BCCI worries more about the fans that it has today than it does about caring for the sustainability of the game; that the BCCI worries more about today than it does about tomorrow; that the BCCI constantly plays victim than it does leader; that the BCCI craves praise more than it tolerates criticism.

The undeniable fact is that the BCCI is the most powerful member of the international cricket fraternity. It provides the ICC with more than 60% of its revenues. With that comes power. As a prominent and respected Australia-based writer once said (by email): “Of course, it is not BCCI’s fault that they have power at the world cricket table. Nor is to their credit!”

What I would like to see from the BCCI is that they use that power sensibly; that they show exemplary leadership. What I would like to see from them is an open, accountable and transparent organization that shows the world how cricket ought to be run. There were many things wrong about the way the English Cricket Board , in collusion with Cricket Australia, ran the game of cricket in the period leading up to 1990. In the early-90s the BCCI accidentally bumped into a television contract. The world of cricket changed. Irrevocably.

The past wrongs are undeniable. However, the BCCI has an opportunity now to show how the game ought to be run differently; an opportunity that BCCI is, in my view, ruining.

Critics, journalists and opinion-makers

So, it has to be the responsibility of Indian journalists to question, explore, attack, inquire and constantly seek honesty, integrity, accountability and transparency from the BCCI.

However, we also know that most journalists and opinion makers in India will find it hard — no, make that almost impossible — to be critical of (or take a stand against) BCCI. The organisation controls accreditation, passes, access and hence, the privileges that journalists enjoy. There are few independent voices in Indian cricket — voices that do not care about either access or privilege. And without access and privileges, a journalist is as useful to cricket as slurry is to shoes. The BCCI runs cricket in India like a feudal landlord would, his/her land. Access and privilege are traded for good press and praise.

It is impossible for critical views to be aired in an environment like this. Some respectable voices are paid by the BCCI — we know of at least two such cases. Good press can be (and is) purchased. Good press can be purchased for cash; lots of it.

I cannot think of anyone other than Kapil Dev and Bishen Bedi who have, in recent times, criticized the BCCI openly. The former was ‘disenfranchised’ as a result of his ICL involvement. The latter seeks no favors or privileges and has always been his own man. The rest dabble in nothing but banal clichés and platitudes.

Enter Harsha Bhogle

It is impossible for even a respected and learned voice — like Harsha Bhogle (for example) — to be harshly critical of the BCCI. Even if the criticism is accurate, justified and backed up with significant analysis/data, it is almost a foregone conclusion that such critical opinion will be dealt with the same equanimity as a hand would, an irritant mosquito. The hand that feeds just cannot be tarnished. Clarity and objectivity become the loser.

Harsha Bhogle is a respected and responsible commentator. He has contributed strongly and with remarkable integrity, over a 20 year period, as one of the most learned, mature and responsible voices in Indian cricket. He is an inspiration to a generation of aspiring sports journalists, TV anchors and TV commentators in India. One such aspiring young journalist and TV anchor once said to me that his career objective was to be “The next Harsha Bhogle”. He was inspired by this simply-stated, challenging goal.

Today, Bhogle is to commentary what Sachin Tendulkar is to batting. Just as it is impossible to imagine an Indian team without Tendulkar, it is impossible to imagine a commentary box without Bhogle in it. He is the “go to” person when Indian cricket sound-bytes are required by the BBC or the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). And rightly so. His body of work precedes him. His body of work speaks of passion and suggests vast knowledge, tremendous impact and signifcant contribution. He is an honourable man.

A tête-à-tête with Harsha Bhogle

I got into a brief (and somewhat heated) tête-à-tête with Bhogle on Twitter a few days ago (Sunday 13 May 2012). The exchange was captured by Nicole Sobotker.

It was an exchange and not a debate or an argument, for Twitter does not provide the proponents with either the time or space for engaging in genuine understanding — leave alone augmentation — of perspective or context. However, it appeared as though it was an argument. For the sake of this piece, I will call it a debate.

The debate stemmed from an article in the Times of India. In it, Anil Kumble raised questions on India’s dismal overseas Test record in 2011-12. The report, quite alarmingly, stated that the BCCI is “likely to” request the Team India coach to submit a report on the dismal record. So let us get this right. The coach’s report has not been submitted. The report has not been requested. The report may not be requested. It is only “likely” that a report may be asked for.

Bhogle reacted to the above report with surprise. He wrote, “so anil kumble is told duncan fletcher will submit a report after his vacation. this is may, the last of 8 tests lost was in january”.

Extremely valid. But hardly surprising. In the intervening period, we had a few ODIs and immediately after that, the IPL distraction commenced. It distracted BCCI from 0-8. It distracted the players from 0-8. I believe it may have distracted Bhogle too from 0-8.

I responded to Bhogle saying that the article was hardly surprising to me considering that everyone that ought to care (including him) “have been busy with the utterly draining madness called the IPL”.

Bhogle asked if everything he had “said in England and Australia while the Tests were on is (now) forgotten.”

Evidently, yes!

The BCCI, who need to listen, had forgotten, The IPL is their balm. It enables them to forget. It enables cricketers to forget. It enables fans to forget. It enables “serious voices” in the media to forget.

In my view, it is not sufficient for the voice of cricket to make a few noises while the whipping took place in England and Australia, and to assume that the responsibility of the voice was, as a result, over. The noise that was made, then, has clearly had no impact whatsoever. So either Bhogle needs to carry out an introspection and assessment of the impact, weight, carry and strength of his voice or assume that it is not enough to shout once and sit back. In India, and especially with the BCCI, it is necessary to keep shouting till you are heard.

That is only if one wants to see change; if one wants to make a difference; if one wants to use the unenviable position — that one has worked assiduously hard for — to good effect. Bhogle considers himself a “serious voice”.

A serious voice cares about impact; about making a difference; about being more than a ‘caller’ of the game.

Bhogle did write with pain and anguish in January about how India needs to overhaul — not merely tweak — its cricket system. He also made a suggestion of a 12-team Ranji Trophy.

With the BCCI though, it is not enough to declare the pain of a 0-8 whipping once or twice during the whipping. Any commentator would do that. Several did. One who cares and one who has a body of work that is accumulated over a period of 20 years should look beyond the whipping and relentlessly seek change. The fact that nothing happened subsequent to the whipping and the subsequent anguish expressed by Bhogle is a suggestion that Indian cricket does not need or admit even a respectable voice like Bhogle’s!

Then, either through boredom or expectations from his employers or loss of personal passion or an air of defeatism (or a combination of the above), Bhogle himself seems to have moved on from the pain of 8-0 to making somewhat banal observations on fitness comparisons across teams, Kohli’s next big challenge, Tendulkar’s 100th 100 burden (obligatory) and retirement timing of great players. Since that series of observations, Bhogle donned his IPL hat and unleashed on us a series of IPL-related articles: whether the IPL will be the “big ticket”, an IPL-5 wishlist (in which he declares, “the IPL will have to survive and blossom as a cricket tournament”), on why Test cricket is not the only cricket, and whether the switch-hit is kosher.

As Shyam Sundararaman says in this piece on Bhogle, “he rarely takes a stance on issues of not(e).”

I am not sure whether I would agree with that. However, in my exchange with him, Bhogle asked if 10 years or 15 years of service are not good enough. He claimed that it is “easy to throw darts a people without realising they’ve been and are serious voices.”

My point is simple: If after 15 years of service, the pain and anguish expressed by the “serious voice” of Bhogle in January leads us to a situation in May where it is only “likely” that the BCCI will ask for a report from Duncan Fletcher, clearly one of the following three observations are right: (a) Bhogle’s is not a serious voice, (b) the BCCI does not care about Bhogle’s voice or any “serious” voice, however serious it might be, (c) Given that we are dealing with the BCCI, Bhogle needs to be even more serious about his voice for even him to consider it as serious enough.

I am convinced (a) is wrong. Bhogle is the serious voice in Indian cricket. The answer, I suspect, lies somewhere between (b) and (c).

The IPL bandwagon

I do not care if Bhogle or anyone else applauds the IPL. Irrespective of the seriousness (or otherwise of his voice) it is his choice to celebrate it. And he does. It is my choice to scorn the IPL. And I do.

It is, in my view, a decadent chest thump; an entertainment package that makes us forget the 8-nil drubbing. In my view, it has no context or relevance. For example, I have watched almost all games in IPL-1, many games in IPL2 and a few in IPL3. Yet, I can’t remember a single game other than that game in Dharmasala in which M. S. Dhoni hit the winning runs off the last ball. Yet when I mention the numbers 97 or 241, everyone knows what I am talking about.

But, I digress…

A review of Indian cricket

It is Bhogle’s choice to celebrate the IPL. However, if he really cares about Indian cricket and felt the pain of the 0-8 loss, the responsible thing to do would have been to continually hammer for a review of what went wrong; to demand what came of Aakash Chopra’s review of domestic cricket; to demand an Argus style review of Indian cricket.

Within weeks of the second successive Ashes loss in 2010, Australian journalists demanded a review. They were all over Cricket Australia like a rash. Cricket Australia (CA) listened. It went ahead and constituted a review committee with clear and agreed terms of reference. The Argus Review process was initiated. It was a review of Australian cricket and covered everything from domestic competitions, player payments, CA governance, coaching structure, selection committee functioning, etc. It was comprehensive.

Such a review might work for Australia. Something similar may never work in India. That is not the point. The point is that serious voices demanded a review. Serious voices continued to demand a review until it was conducted. The Argus Review recommendations are now being implemented.

Such a review may be impossible — or even unnecessary — in India. With the BCCI what you get is a serious series of ‘closed-door meetings’ held by ‘think-tanks’. And when explanations/clarifications are sought for certain decisions, what you may get is a bullish roadside scrap in which the BCCI official barks, “Boss, you just shut up ok”, “chuppal se horthenga”, “googly dalenga”, “ungli karenga” and a clutch of other obscene profanities.

Monopsony and the market argument

But the BCCI can do bullish. It has the money. It has the power. It has no absolute necessary for accountability — to either the Government or to players or fans. It can unleash a national selector on us who says “boss you just shut up ok”.

The BCCI is a monopoly. Sorry, it is a monopsony.

In an imperfect market, the BCCI is a single buyer — that operates though a license bestowed on it by the ICC — with many sellers (resources). These sellers of resources includes the players, TV companies, and “serious voices” that are somewhat dependent on BCCI ‘handouts’. The landlord may take back what he giveth if the respondents do not queue up appropriately. The dictator can specify what (s)he wants to do because these resources are dependent on the unique buyer of their services. One is either in the queue or not.

Which is why the “market” argument for justifying the IPL is as banal as the IPL itself! If we want to see the BCCI and the IPL operate in perfect market conditions, we need to have the IPL operate alongside the now-defunct ICL (or an equivalent)! Only then will we know whether resources, commentators and fans prefer the IPL over the ICL (or its equivalent)!

The critical role of serious critics

Given the market in which it operates, it is necessary for the BCCI to use its power appropriately — both externally (at the ICC table) as well as internally (in developing the game, its structures, its TV contracts and its resources). I have no hope that this will happen in a cogent, clearly articulated and transparent manner.

In the absence of such hope, what is required is a bevvy of serious voices that ask tough questions. It is insufficient if such questions are asked once and forgotten. These voices need to ask tough questions repeatedly. They need to demand to be at the review table. They need to be at the review table, making changes that will have a long-term impact. They should not be surprised over 5 months of inactivity. They should expect it and seek change; not by applauding the switch hit but by demanding a switch in priorities. They have to explore why the slide commenced with a fatigue-induced handshake at Dominica and whether the craziness of IPL-4 had a role to play in it. They should ask hard questions about the long-term health of the domestic game, for however much they applaud the richness of the IPL, the long-term resources are going to come from domestic cricket.

The “serious voice” must be, simultaneously, a critic, an ombudsman and a watchdog, where there are no explicit requirements for either of these roles. The “serious voice” must make up for the collective failure of the organisation that controls the game. This is a high expectation. It is my expectation of a “serious voice” in Indian cricket. It is an expectation that is, sadly, unmet.

It is my hope that I have not offended Mr Harsha Bhogle or his ilk. He believes his is a serious voice. It is. But we need to hear it. Not once, but repeatedly. We need to hear other voices too. For otherwise we will continue to be surprised if a review is only “likely” to be requested of a coach who presided over an 8-0 drubbing.

— Mohan

Ps: Although this blog post talks specifically about Mr Harsha Bhogle, it is intended as a request to all “serious voices” that care about Indian cricket.

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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)