For a kid who grew up equating cricket commentary with experience and ex-players, Harsha Bhogle – who, as my dad often tells me, left the IIT-IIM-cushy future to pursue his passion – came as a breath of fresh air. For the longest time, I was under the impression that he was a domestic player who never quite made it to the big league. He observed sharply and intricately with a kind of thirst and eagerness that only came from unfulfilled dreams. He acted as the kind of conciliatory bridge that connected regular cricket enthusiasts like me to the unshaking and unwavering knowledge brought in my ex-greats like Allan Border, Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri.
I’ll reserve my judgment on the latter two Indians for another day, but Bhogle often made up for their complete lack of sophistication and nuance in the box. More often that not, he was quick, and was almost never bogged down by the explosion of expert analysis and condescension afforded by ‘professionals’ to those who dared to venture outside of kin. Bhogle, in short, was a rarity – a non-cricketer who spoke cricket to many other non-cricketers, and a guide who spoke non-cricket to many current and past cricketers.
But as cricket transitioned into shorter, more ‘snackable’ forms and avenues, Mr. Bhogle became a yes-man. He became a diplomatic, ever-smiling and good-natured mic for the BCCI. In short, he did nothing that any of us wouldn’t do – he compromised a bit, and adapted his nature to suit the wham-bam nature of modern cricket. He stopped observing, and started agreeing. He stopped analyzing, and started commenting. In the process, he may have lost a few purist listeners, but he also spread himself wide and unprotected for bloodthirsty administrators looking to expand the Sidhu-isque clan of ‘entertainment reporters.’
Bhogle lay neither here (not the Nasser Hussain variety of wryness, neither the Wasim Akram variety of grammatically incorrect sharpness) nor there (Shastri’s hyperbolic measuring and Ian Bishop’s baritone). In an effort to correct his fast-depleting reputation among the fans that took him to the height he had occupied, he began to overcompensate. I wouldn’t say he was ever wrong to speak about how Bangladesh may have lost the game instead of the Indians winning it at the recent World T20, but this was Bhogle being most un-Bhogle-like to demolish the bitterness of his social media critics. Twitter had made him aware of his recent “suck-up” follies and rumors, and he was, like any other consummate professional, out to make amends. It was to his bad fortune that an ignorant, trigger-happy Indian superstar then decided to make his jingoistic views known on Twitter. And it was to his worse fortune that the passive-aggressive man of Indian cricket – also their captain and leader for a decade now – decided to whine to his mommy and daddy (the board) about “partiality” from the commentary box. Perhaps the Indians had, under Virat Kohli, decided to lash out at all their critics and journalists who had been offering their unabashed views on them, and who softer a target an a non-cricketing legend? They wouldn’t dare go after the senility and silliness of Gavaskar, so they decided to unplug the voice of Indian cricket. While most professional athletes all over the world have learned to accept criticism in their stride with humility and a pinch of salt – and while most have learned to do their job and not worry about people paid to speak about them – the current bunch of Indian cricketing boy-men have a long way to go before they learn the harsh truths of being in the public eye. They play with their hearts on their sleeves, and have forgotten to fall without throwing their sleeves away.
That the BCCI, as expected, acted upon complaints of ‘senior cricketers’ who had a problem with how things are done in the commentary box was sort of a depressing inevitability. It is also a shame. But then again, the board and its players don’t care for shame. They use press conferences to put on sarcastic and bitter shows, and they use interviews to show journalists who the real bosses are. Their dealings with the media lack grace and intuition, and under MS Dhoni, it has only become worse. At least Sourav Ganguly and his generation singled out writers and critics behind closed doors instead of making a public spectacle. Dhoni never had a right to make a scene out of the Aussie journalist who inquired about his retirement. In all fairness, Dhoni should retire soon, because he has only being holding the limited-overs team back – both in talent and foresight. He has served his time, and has done great good for Indian cricket, but which celebrity ever knows when to call it a day?
Taking aim at Harsha Bhogle – despite what we may think of his dwindling powers in the box – only confirms what we have long suspected. Cricketers are a bunch of spoiled children who only serve as public extensions of a board that ‘silences’ doubters and crusaders. If anyone so much as sounds like a naysayer and critic, he/she will be silenced without a shred of dignity. But then again, not many of the Asian commentating community have the cajones of Ian Chappell – who openly rejected BCCI commentating assignments because of the ‘rules and regulations’ laid out by them in reference to what can and cannot be said on air. In a way, perhaps the board is an accurate reflection of the forces ruling the country, or vice versa. As they say, we only get the leaders we deserve – in sport, and in life.