Couch Talk Episode 39 (play)
Guest: Harsha Bhogle
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The Couch Talk.
Episode 39 – with guest Harsha Bhogle
Welcome to the show, Harsha!
Harsha Bhogle – Hi Subash, how are you?
SJ– Doing quite well! You were trained as a Chemical Engineer, and a Management graduate. You also have a degree in French. You’re a motivational speaker. But, how did this cricket commentary career come about?
HB: I’ve been doing this for too long now, Subash. I’m almost an antique, part of the woodwork now. I had started when I was 19, and was living in Hyderabad. It was a great place to start. You could get a break sometime. Everyone knew every one else. There was a bright kid who was willing to hang in there all day, waiting for a chance to somewhere, and then someone gave you a break. It started like this, and I did a few games till TWI came in in 1993 and gave me the opportunity to work on the Hero Cup. I’ve done some work before that in Sharjah, where I was recommended and I had also done some cricket commentary in Australia, where I had to send my cassettes. Luckily, my father had recorded some of the interviews and commentaries that I had done during the Duleep Trophy game. So, I sent that by Registered Post, we couldn’t afford the courier charges, to Australia. They allowed me to do a game, and then they allowed me to do the rest of the season in 1991/92. And within the broadcasting fraternity the word spread. The BBC World Service started using me a little bit. And then, when TWI came to India and were looking for an Indian commentator, for someone who had the basic broadcasting discipline already. So, that helped. It also helped that there wasn’t a lot of cricket commentators then. So, it was possible to get a break for a young kid.
SJ– That is one of the main questions from a lot of people. This question is from Saurabh Malhotra. Is there a scope for the next common man who loves cricket, trained in media journalism to come through? Currently, the arena is dominated by ex-cricketers.
HB- I think Saurabh is a very prolific tweeter, isn’t he? But, to answer your question, no, the door’s been shut. I just squeezed in before the door got shut. Actually, it is difficult for me to put it up front because if I state my views up front people would say, “Yeah he is saying that because he is not a cricketer.” But I strongly believe there are two aspects to broadcasting. There is the language, and there is the game. And both should be measured equally. But in increasingly these days, they tend to put a very low value on communication and a very high value on bio-data. And as a result, you are getting people based on the bio-data rather than on the communication skills. I can understand a Nasser Hussain, or a Shane Warne, or Michael Atherton. Atherton, in fact is extremely good with turn of phrase. Nasser Hussain is very professional, he states his view up front, the communication and language comes easy to him. Both of them have been to university, are educated. Where communication is fairly equal, then the person who has experience out there in the middle has far more compelling case. But far too often in the subcontinent, we notice that it is the bio-data rather than the communication skill that lets you in. I feel very, very sorry for young kids today who are never going to get a break. You can become a news reporter, you can become a television anchor on a news channel, but for some reason, the world community has shut the door on bright young kids in the area of cricket commentary.
SJ– If you were to scan any of the social media networking sites, it is quite obvious that the fans are completely unsatisfied with the quality of commentary coming from ex-cricketers, especially those coming from the sub-continent. And there are of course there are commentators from abroad also whose quality of work people are not happy with. So, what are these television networks thinking ? wouldn’t they be serving the fans by actually having someone that is passionate about the sport, is good with the language and is communicating well with not only the co-commentators, but also with the fans?
HB – I have no idea Subash, because if you realise, I am in a vulnerable position I can’t bring the topic up, because I’m the only one and I’ll be seen to be saying that I’ll look after guys like me. So, because I’m the only one, I’ve to tread very defensively on this ground. All I tell the people is that in such a vast country, a country where there are many bright kids, some very high quality newscasters, excellent sport anchors, there must be 5000 people better than us waiting for a break. I can’t go too hard on them, as I said I’m in a fairly vulnerable position on that.
SJ– I’m sure that when you grew up, when your cricket commentating career was being formed, you probably had your idols whom you looked up to and you wanted to emulate while you were in the box, Do you feel aggrieved that the quality of commentary, especially on TV has dropped significantly?
HB– I didn’t have too many broadcasting idols, to be honest. I admired Anand Setalvad on radio. The first time I heard Tony Cozier, I said “Wow, this is The Man.” Just the other day I was watching a very little part of the West Indies vs Australia series, and there was Tony again, and I said “Brilliant!”. Look at the respect that someone like Tony has garnered in the world of cricket from every body. They tell that there Must be another Tony Cozier somewhere. But, does the net Tony Cozier get an opportunity? That is my grouch with people, that if there are bright young kids out there, you have to give them a go. But, it is not happening, and to be honest about it, I don’t see this happening. I’m waiting for a producer who is willing to look beyond. But, as I said, one thing is absolutely clear, and one thing I had learnt from being in broadcasting – there isn’t a substitute for experience out there in the middle. Between two equally good communicators, I can completely understand why someone [that has been] in the middle is[chosen]. I can understand Shane Warne, for example. And I just enjoy listening to Warne, when Rahul Dravid is talking cricket, (Kumar) Sangakkara is talking cricket, also Sourav Ganguly. I had a fascinating conversation with Ganguly a couple of days ago in Calcutta, and I enjoy listening to them. If there is that kind of pedigree, yes. Primarily, television is a communication medium. And you have to be able to communicate to the audience.
SJ– Is it because cricket is seen as more of a cerebral game? Because, I live in the United States and I watch all the sports on TV. And they always have this one guy who comes from a journalism background, who is trained to be speaking on television or radio. And then you have another guy sitting next to him – the colour commentator who comes from his experience of having played the sport on the field. That tandem works perfectly. I don’t understand why TV producers would compromise on that!
HB – It still works beautifully on radio. I spent one and a half month in Australia doing radio commentary for test matches and it was the most beautiful broadcasting in my life. I absolutely enjoyed it. There were two or three of us doing ball by ball, there was Kerry O’Keefe, who is a legend, there is Henry Lawson, who is excellent, and people like Damien Fleming and others who are a welcome addition to the commentary box. And it is always one plus one. A caller and a summarizer. I believe the caller and summarizer route works very well. In television, what happens is that because of the Benauds and the Chappells who are very good commentators, who are able to do both roles, the line between the caller and the summarizer has blurred somewhat with people are playing both roles. It is very good broadcasters like those who have blurred this line and done with good reason.
SJ – I’m assuming you prefer radio commentary?
HB – Anybody would. I mean, I don’t want to tell people that I don’t like television commentary, it’s a different challenge. But, for a broadcaster, radio is an easier medium to broadcast on. Television is a more challenging medium. Radio is far more fun- chatting with a group of friends, and everyone does that after dinner- you sit and chat and talk, and that is what radio is. It has its own discipline and you can never get by in broadcasting without very strong discipline to watch your view. You can’t miss a ball, for example. You can’t miss telling people what happened on that ball. You have to keep telling them scores. You have to put the match in context. But in-between all that, there is a lot of time for story telling, for narration. And you become the eyes and ears of the person who is not at the ground. And that is such an honour, you can never forget that. On television, you are not the eyes and ears, because they are watching everything. So, it’s a completely different format. So, radio is a more fun format, and television is a more challenging format.
SJ – You’ve played cricket at the university level at Osmania (University, Hyderabad). And you have followed cricket for so long. When you are doing commentary on TV, you have to talk about the other aspects of sport. Have you ever felt disadvantaged that you are not a former international or Ranji player when you are sitting alongside, say, Ian Chappell or Sunil Gavaskar?
HB– No, Subash, I have not, because I’ve always been very aware of what my role in that box is. I will not comment on the batsman’s technique. I will not comment on the batsman’s suitability to the position while playing the ball. What I can do is, if I suspect he is not quite correct in the way he is playing, I’ll say “it doesn’t seem right, does it?” I will always get a person who has played that shot, been in that situation before to talk about it. Because, the moment I step on somebody else’s turf, then I am playing the game in an “away” situation. Where, for me, the home situation is to be able to build the atmosphere, to be able to read through the numbers, to be able to keep it lively, to be able to keep it ‘chatty’. More than anything else, to be the representative of the common man. Finally, the common man has to be represented. The entire telecast is aimed only at the viewer, and the viewer is not a test player. The viewer is a simply guy, the viewer is a housewife, the viewer is a working woman, the viewer is a retired pensioner. So, I try and play the role of a communicator to that person, and I facilitate the other people talking about the nuances of the game that is not my area of strength.
SJ– Sana Kazmi, from Pakistan, she asks you –
HB: I must tell you, I have exchanged couple of tweets with Sana. She can be quite sharp.
SJ: She is. She asks you,“Has there been anything rude or terrible said to you when you were coming up as a commentator by an ex-player? What is the worst thing being a non-cricketer commentator?
HB– I was very lucky that in my early years of broadcasting, I met some wonderful people. I met people like Michael Holding. Can you imagine that? And not once did Michael Holding give me the impression that he was Michael Holding and I was only Harsha. You remember with gratitude people like these in your early years. Yes, in my later years, people have said things to me, they have done things to unsettle me. But, overall, I am so blessed to be doing what I am doing, that why would I want to remember those things?
SJ – We were talking about the aam aadmi – the common man -not getting a shot. Siddhartha Vaidyanathan says that it is certainly out on TV, perhaps on radio too, unless FM radio channels are given the rights for ball-by-ball commentary, or, should these amateurs be approaching internet as the platform, similar to what we have with Test Match Sofa?
HB– Siddhartha is a great example of someone who has a wonderful way with words and understanding of sports, and he has emerged as one of the finest young writers on cricket. If he is able to speak with the same felicity with which he writes, he will be a prime candidate for a good ball-by-ball commentator on cricket. That is why I keep saying that the medium for everybody is radio, and not Television. On the subcontinent, radio almost bequeaths its strength, radio almost bows before Television and says “Thou art the greatest and I am your humble servant and I will never compete with thee.” You hear BBC, BBC Test Match Special, to ABC Grandstand… Radio does something where television cannot do. Which is to be friendly, chatty, and not have breaks and keep telling the odd anecdotes. I mean Kerry O’Keefe. There is a 9 minute clip on youtube, it only on audio, just talking about a chilli. But, if you look into that clip, not one ball has been missed in it. now, similarly, if radio stations in India or overseas were allowed to do ball-by-ball commentary, I’m not even talking about spoofs or irreverent stations that are there only to take the mickey out of people, but solid, serious ball by ball commentary, I’ll be the happiest person in the world. But, radio in India has abstained from the responsibility, there is very little we can do. But, overseas, yes. And I see the internet as a wonderful media from that point of view. We have already seen some of the sharpest, finest, most informed writing, is coming from people who are sifting through numbers and are coming up with compelling articles on the internet. What I read on the internet is better than what I read on the mass media. So, maybe, as the internet grows, as the bandwidth grows, as media like Twitter and Facebook and blogs grow even more, maybe someone can set up their own station. I don’t know what the legality is, but I’m sure that they should be allowed to do it, because radio does not allow you to contribute that much to the overall revenue in the first place.
SJ– What is your take on the fan experience? You have done on radio and TV, and obviously the TV has a lot more interruptions. Not only for the commentators, especially for the fans – there are the ‘L’-shaped ads. Like one of the earlier guests on the show said, it is as if there is a cricket match among the barrage of commercials. What is your take on that? Doesn’t the cricket fan, not just India fan, but fans everywhere deserve a better deal than this?
HB– There are two sides to the arguments, and I will present both of them to you, and leave the judgement call on you. One thing is that all sport has to make money. Just like all pharmaceutical companies have to make money, just like all infrastructural companies have to make money, and all governments have to make money, sport also has to make money. And, money in sport comes from three areas. It comes from gates,which is increasingly becoming a smaller share of the pie. It comes from the sponsorship – the shirts people wear, the ads that bring revenue and services to the ground. And, it comes from the television rights. More and more, the lion’s share of the revenue comes from the television rights. For example, the moment SKY bought the rights at a huge price in England, it allowed the counties to spend much more money on developing cricket and building up infrastructure. But, television money that comes in can be put to some very good use. I can understand why cricket boards want to maximise revenue. But, what happens is, if you only maximise revenue at the cost of quality, it means that you are putting a very high price on the rights. Television companies are not in the business of losing money. So, the moment television companies buy the rights at that price, the Champions League and the IPL rights are over a billion dollars. The World Cup rights are over a billion dollars. The moment you have committed that much of money, you have to get it back. Otherwise, television networks don’t exist. And, the only way you can get it back is through advertising. And that us why, in India there is such a lot of advertising. Because, without advertising, nobody will ever recover the amount of money spent on rights.
I believe there is a way out. And that is, while making the bid document in which the Indian television is in the process doing that, you say that no more than a certain advertising should be allowed on screen and the board should be happy to receive a slightly smaller amount because that will benefit the viewer, as I have been saying for years , who is the major stakeholder in the game. If boards and TV networks are willing to take a small cut in profit, if there is a virtual legislation that you cannot have more than certain amount of advertising, then viewer experience will increase. But, if the rights amounts are so high, then the television companies have no option but to bombard you with advertising.
People are absolutely right (with the complaint). I watch television sometimes, and I always an alternate channel going. I watch news, and watch something else, because there is a barrage of advertising. But, this is the reason that there is a lot of advertising. It’s a chicken and egg thing.
SJ– yes, people that have forked up their money, want returns on it. I completely understand that. Fill up whatever you want between the overs. In IPL, they have had the Strategic Time Out, or in American television, they have TV timeouts. Whatever you want to do. But, between ball 1 and 6, I have a pure bond with what’s going on in the field. As a fan, I have that pure bond. I don’t want an ‘L’-shaped ad coming and intruding my experience of cricket. That is where we are losing out as fans, losing out on the pure experience of cricket.
HB– I could not agree more. I will go one step further. I do a lot of commentary and I see what happens between overs. Sometimes, the nicest, most romantic, beautiful moments occur between the overs. And that is what viewers don’t get to see with such a lot of advertising. One other factor which is, if watching in India becomes a paid channel, like saying “OK, I will pay so much to watch cricket. And, because I’m paying so much money, you will not put advertisement on it.” This is what some people are discovering with HD in India. People are having HD compatible TV sets, they are receiving telecast in high definition, are paying more money for HD. At least, as of now, they’re getting cricket with no commercials at all on it. If people are willing that kind of money, they should be entitled to cricket with no commercials on it, and that will be the ultimate test to all those who complain about the amount of commercials. Are you willing to pay what people in England or the USA are paying for pay-television to be able to watch an ad-free telecast? I think that option must exist all times in India. India -and the entire world – must always put out an ad-free telecast for people who are willing to pay extra amount for an ad-free telecast. Then, you have the choice of what you want to do.
SJ– Fair! Kartikeya has a question for you – How do you see the recent “scandal” with respect to your commentary colleagues, Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri, and their contracts being managed by BCCI? It was also reported that there was a similar deal with you, but it fell through. What is your opinion on it?
HB– In countries like Australia and England, they give out the television rights, in Australia to Channel 9, Fox Television, in the UK to BBC and SKY – Channel 4 for a while, it’s only SKY now – and once they give out the television rights, the producer of the telecast then becomes the channels which sold the rights. In India the BCCI is the producer. The BCCI has opted to become the producer, and that is the reality in India at the moment. If the BCCI is the producer of the telecast, and gives it out to the channel to put it on air, then the BCCI will contract commentators. Now, I have not been told yet, the contract never came into being. I have not been told what to say and what not to say yet. I don’t know if people who are on that contract are told to say this or don’t say this. So, I can’t comment on what they are told to say or not to say. But, I’ve not been told yet.
SJ – Fair enough but should that even exist?
HB– That’s a question that the BCCI should decide, whether they want to be the producers of the contract. I believe they must be independent. But, that is a call that the BCCI should take. I think that is a call that is financially viable for them, that is why it is the call that they have taken. I believe, from the point of view of the viewer it should be independent, but India, the news channels make up for it all, anyway.
SJ- The bond between a commentator and the fan, in my opinion, and lot of other cricket viewers, is weakening. It’s weakest since, ever. You have commentators plugging “Kamaal catches” and “Maximums” and all that stuff. What we are getting, is it what is actually happening? It’s been accused by many fans, that a lot of the commentators – not saying all of them – are just one step away from being cheerleaders for their respective countries and teams. So, the bond of trust between the fan that’s listening to the action being described by the commentator, is he actually getting the real truth?
HB– All fans are entitled to ask that. I was quite surprised that for all the criticism that came to India’s way, I saw the “Gatorade Boys” called for the drinks in Australia this year. I think you will find, going back to what I was talking about generating revenues for rights holders. If they find that they are falling short on revenue, they will find newer and newer ways of generating revenue. Therefore branding during a cricket match, during a telecast will increase.
At what position do you draw the line? When the “DLF Maximum” came in, we found that some people were game and some people didn’t like it, and it was very apparent who were game and who didn’t like it. But, I still believe that branding a section of telecast is not the best way. A line has to be drawn where commentators do not become sales people. And, I remember being given a sheet of paper once, I called up someone in the IPL and said “Look, I’m not a salesperson and i cannot read out product specifications. I cannot made brand promises on air.” And to be fair to them, they promptly called back and said “if you are not supposed to do that, we will not allow that.” Because we are not brand spokesmen. So, it is OK to say, in their view. And that is the contract we signed. Either you say “i will not do commentating”, or you say “I’m OK to say a ‘DLF Maximum’ or ‘MRF Blimp’ or ‘Karbonn Kamaal Catch’”. But then, if you are told to say “Karbonn mobile is the finest phone in the world and it is better than a Nokia phone”, then, that is where you have draw the line.
But I agree, but I generally believe that it comes down to the revenue considerations. Everyone wants revenue at the sake of viewer experience, you will get this and you will get more of this.
SJ– In all this, the fans are the ones who are continuing to get shafted…
HB– Fans in India are the least complaining fans in the world. Ian Chappell told me once, that every time a fan or a cricketer complained, remind them that the ultimate power belongs to the fans. Because, there are two buttons on a remote control that nobody else has the control over – the mute button and the red button that switches it off. The ultimate power belongs to the fans. If the fans start to exercise their power, then they will start to get what they want.
SJ– You mean to say that if you are an Indian fan and you want to watch cricket, you will have to get shafted?
HB– That is not what I’m saying. I’m saying that this is the reality at the moment. You have the power of either muting it, or you have the power of not watching. But till such time as we put revenue first, we will get to see more of this. I’m not defending it, I’m just saying that this is where the world will go and I’ll further say that this is not happening only in India, it will happen everywhere in the world. It already started happening. I’ve never seen drinks break being branded in Australia, and I saw it this time already.
SJ– That’s a pretty depressing thought to have, as a fan.
HB– It is. We got a lot of criticism for the IPL from England and Australia for the ‘DLF Maximum’. And all of a sudden, the moment the revenue opportunity emerged, they are bringing out the Gatorade Boys, bringing out the drinks. All I’m saying is that, in India because the revenue opportunities are so many and the market was so huge, and the people are exploiting that. The moment the revenue opportunity comes up somewhere else, I’d love to see a broadcast executive look at revenue opportunity in the eye and say “No, I will not do it.” This is the reality of today. Whether you like it or not, that is the reality. It is like saying “These are the kind of political candidates you have.”
SJ- OK. I suppose fans have to sacrifice watching cricket, especially matches in India or matches featuring India, for any sort of change to happen, then?
HB– Possibly. But, I don’t know. I’m an eternal optimist. This might change too. If fans support builds up, this might change too. When Shah Rukh Khan said “Korbo Lorbo Jeetbo re” on prime television, and all the stadium was singing it, that was on television too. And to a lot of people that actually added to the general entertainment that the IPL is providing.
SJ– You’ve been in this business for 20 years. When you look back, do you see a change, in how you commentated on the game? Or, do you go home everyday and play the recording from the day and see and say “Oh, I should have said this there, and that over there”? Do you do any auto-corrections?
HB– No, but I have people who let you know. You must listen to the people you trust. And, ideally, that is the producer’s job, you know. A good producer will tell you “You are going a little slow.” Or “You are going fast again.” Or “please drop your volume a little bit, you are going a bit high.” Good producers do that. A lot of the new producers coming up in India are in awe of the commentators. I keep telling them that it is your show. But, sometimes they are at awe at the commentators. And, Sanjay Manjrekar, who worked on SKY, he had a different experience there because the producer was still the boss. And I believe, in every telecast, it is not the commentator who is the boss, but it is the producer who is the boss. the producer must decide the content. The producer must say “Hang on you guys, we have had enough on this topic, let us move on.” And that is what will make a good telecast.
In my case, if I had a good producer, I would listen to a good producer. My best broadcasting work was with a good producer. But, sometimes, I will listen to the telecast. Sometimes, my wife would tell me “Listen, just be a little careful.” Sometimes you will get this tweet – I do follow everything I get on twitter – and suddenly one of them will strike a chord. It might be said very rudely, but it will strike a chord, which makes you go “Shit, that’s right!” I try and keep that in mind.
SJ– You’ve had the opportunity to share the commentary box with the legends of the game. (HB – Legends of the playing game and the legends of the broadcasting, both!) And commentary is a lot of give and take, there is ebb and flow, between the commentators. The chemistry between them. Who are the ones you were most comfortable doing commentary with, and the most enjoyable ones?
HB– I don’t normally cop out of a situation, I don’t like doing that. i was once asked this question, and I answered it very honestly, and there was somebody who didn’t like a very innocent answer. So, I decided that day that life is too short to allow things like that. So, with your permission, i would like to cop out on this.
If someone said “I don’t like working with Harsha” for a very valid reason, that is OK. Like,”I don’t like working with Harsha… he talks to much, he doesn’t give me an opportunity”, I’m OK with that, but not everyone is. There are some people I love working with, almost all of them. But, I did explain what kind of people I liked working with, and some have completely misconstrued that and I’m not going down that line again. It was a very forgettable experience, and I am not going down that path.
SJ– Fair enough. You are the guest. I ask the question, and if you can’t answer, I can’t put a gun to your head and make you answer it!
HB – (laughing) I’ve never had someone come hard at me in such a pleasant manner before! I like to be happy with everyone else. But, not everyone is.
SJ – You did ABC Grandstand in the 1992 tour and now you did it in 2011/12. Minal wants to know what your favourite moments were from these two stints. Also, another listener, Rastapopulous, wants you to know that he absolutely enjoyed your stint in the recent Australia-India series as well.
HB– I first did ABC in 1991/92. Because of a problem with flights and foreign exchange in India, I only saw what it is to travel abroad in 1991. But with getting foreign exchanges and clearances and whatever, I actually landed in Brisbane, I had a bus at 8:15 am for a 11 o’clock start for the game. I literally had a shower and went straight to the ground. And the style on ABC was completely different from the style anything that I have ever done before. For example, there was a scorer. The scorer only gives you little things on what you ask the scorer, and you did the commentary off the score board. But I’ve never done that before. And I’ve never done that before. At Gabba the scoreboard was far away, the numbers were a bit small. I was wide-eyed watching Jim Maxwell doing commentary off the scoreboard, and that, I could never be able to do.
But, throughout the 1991/92 series, the support I got from the ABC team as a young broadcaster, feeling his day around, was mind blowing, which is why, till today, I’m completely grateful to the ABC team we crewed up with. And that is why I go there every four years to do commentary with ABC because I believe I owe them a debt, it’s been 20 years now. I just enjoy going back there. Their style has not changed, it is as chatty as ever. You are entitled and allowed your point of view without anyone asking you not to say certain things. This extraordinary amount of freedom, you are allowed your sense of humour, you are allowed your space. It’s very, very professional. I remember something Kerry O’Keefe talked to me about “Skippy, the Kangaroo”. And I said “Kerry, I grew up in a television era where Doordarshan was the single channel and I will never know what ‘Skippy, the Kangaroo’ is”. I said “Can I ask you what ‘Jungle Jungle pata chala hai, Chaddi pehan ke phool khila hai’?” He said “No.” I said this on air. And we were laughing it off. And, while we were talking about “Skippy, the Kangaroo”, the sound engineer quickly played out the sound track from “Skippy, the Kangaroo”. That is how good the sound engineer is, quickly pulled it out from somewhere and played it out. And the Kerry O’Keefe starts, humming along the sound track of “Skippy, the Kangaroo” without missing a ball. I think that is what makes working with ABC such a great pleasure. I enjoyed it in 1991 and I enjoyed it just as much in 2011.
SJ– You mentioned the freedom to express you opinion and views and thoughts. Some questions have come in, asking – Do you feel that being an Indian commentator and having the passionate fan base that there is, the BCCI on one side and everything else on the other side, do you feel that you do not have the same kind of freedom to express your opinions? Some folks want to know –this might be be damning, I’m sorry to say -but why is Harsha Bhogle “a fence sitter”? Why wouldn’t he take a stance in a situation?
HB– I will tell you why. I’m sometimes accused of doing the opposite, to take a stance on something. I took a very hard stance on sledging, for example. And somebody said “c’mon, that is a very hard stance.” I took a very hard stance on fitness of players and Indian domestic cricket, on the Indian domestic cricket having 27 teams. I often wonder if I’m repeating the same things again and again. I take very hard stances on those. But, what people want form me is to be somebody that I’m not. People want me to get up and take names. I like to use the language as delicately as I can. But, people very often want me to say things that they want to say. But, it cannot be. Everybody is different. You can’t tell Amitabh Bachchan to speak like Salman Khan. I’m not saying I’m this or someone else is that. it is just that we are different people. I take a very strong stance in my writing. I don’t always take as strong a stance in broadcasting. Because that has not been my role. My role is a facilitator in a broadcast, so I don’t see myself playing that role on broadcasting.
When it comes to writing, it is my line, my point of view. I’m a singles player while writing; I’m a doubles player in broadcasting. So, when I’m singles player, my point of view in writing is much stronger than when I’m talking, and that is for a reason.
HB– It’s a new generation, which is a very irreverent generation. They are happy to call things as they are, but they cannot accept everything. I’m not that kind of person. Hrishikesh Mukherjee cannot make a Quentin Tarantino film, right? If you want Quentin Tarantino film, you watch Quentin Tarantino film. If you want Hrishikesh Mukherjee film, you see a Hrishikesh Mukherjee. We all are made in a certain way. I’m in this game, I feel blessed when I get up every day that I’m in this game. I’ve a great sense of gratitude to this sport for allowing me to live the life it has given me, and enjoy the game enormously. I enjoy watching Shakib-al-Hasan and I said nice things of him. I enjoy watching Umar Gul and Mohammed Hafeez and Younis Khan and I enjoy watching some of the Australian and West Indies players. But, if you want me to take an “us and them” stance in the commentary box, then it is not me. Because I don’t like an “us and them” stance. I believe that a job is not to influence mind strongly but to convey the beauty of the game.
SJ– I completely get your point, and to address to your analogy, I don’t think there is one person anywhere who wants Amitabh Bachchan to be talking like Salman Khan.
HB – (inaudible)
SJ– When you are sitting along with these ex-cricketers, for example, Ian Chappell. For every thing that happens on the field, he has a story, from his youth, his playing days, as a player and captain and al that. what are some of your favourite anecdotes that you may have heard on air or off it?
HB – I think Ian Chappell is one of the best story tellers in cricket, because he also has a way of telling the story. He’ll pause suddenly if something happens, and then he will re-start the story. And, that is why, when you are working with Ian Chappell, sometimes you find that you may not speak a word at all in the entire over, because he is telling the story. He will pause during the action and he will continue the story. There are some great stories.
Geoff Boycott used to be a good colleague to work with, because he gave it as hard as he took. He was willing to take it. we would give him a hard time sometimes, and he gave us a very hard time sometimes. But, that’s OK because we got along fairly well. I think Chappelli is the best story teller among all the television commentators. There are some extraordinarily good story tellers on radio. Radio gives you the time, it gives you the space. Radio commentary is a bit like hockey. It is flowing game. Whereas, television commentary is more like cricket, a stop-start game. So, as a television broadcaster, your opportunity to tell a story are very limited. As a radio broadcaster, you can tell many more stories. Kerry O’Keeffe would tell some unbelievable stories on radio.
SJ– Any favourite memories to share?
HB– Too many! Virtually one for every single time I go on! Can you imagine the opportunity to see extraordinary cricketing events happen in front of you, having the opportunity to tell people what is happening and to get paid for it? It must be, in a very positive way, unfair, isn’t it? Often we say that unfair thing is something that hurt us. What more can you want in life to see an entire Tendulkar’s career in front of you. Tendulkar did his first test match in 1989. My career really started with covering the England tour in Mid-day in 1990. I had done 3 tests on All India Radio and Doordarshan and all that before, that is separate. But, to see an entire career blossom and flower in front of you is something else. To know and watch extraordinary people like VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly, and see their whole unscripted career evolve in front of you is brilliant. I’ve seen Virat Kohli as a kid and suddenly I’m seeing him make some of his 12 international hundreds. To see the growth and the development, you must be blessed to see it in your profession.
SJ– Certainly. You had written a very poignant column after Rahul Dravid announced his retirement. I was just going to ask you that, your career has basically run parallel to Tendulkar’s. Two of the finest craftsmen the game has seen. Any memories on or off the field?
HB– Ah, so many! With Tendulkar, even more so. I saw Tendulkar’s first 7 test hundreds, I think. I don’t think his first One Day hundred came about five years later in 1994. And I saw his first One Day hundred too. You got to know these people because your career is running parallel with them, you get to travel with them a great deal. Even though I try not to get too personal with these people, because it may start affecting the way I do my broadcast, you still get to know them very well. You get to know their family people, you meet their wives, you say “Hello” to them, smile with them, they share a talk with you. And, it has happened with Dravid, Sourav, Anil and to a great extent with Sachin. I saw his first major, major hundred at Perth. That is when they stopped saying that he is a young prodigy and started saying that he is going to be one of the greats. Right off the back of my head, I could look at 10 great Tendulkar hundreds that I have seen. And how many people have had the privilege to see that? Ravi might have seen a lot more cricket than I have in the last 10 or 12 years. I have had the option of seeing so many.
I saw Rahul Dravid’s hundred in 2002. I saw Rahul Dravid turn a corner in England last year. You can’t get a more romantic story than Rahul Dravid with a final flourish in England. I know that in Australia he was struggling, but, three hundreds in England! To see a standing ovation when he was going back after carrying his bat, and a standing ovation seven and a half minutes later to open the batting all over again. To get Tendulkar get standing ovation everywhere he goes… we talk about Indian crowds, but this year, in England and Australia, I saw some extraordinarily good manners from the crowd to the visiting team. The English fans were excellent to the likes of Dravid and Tendulkar. And Australians always are in love with Tendulkar. When Dravid walks back, he got a standing ovation. These are the things that I’ve enjoyed watching as much as the action on the field. I saw the standing ovation in Chennai for the Pakistan team. It doesn’t get better than that. to actually have your own words in describing the emergence of the standing ovation, as the Pakistan team ran around – there were different sections of crowd standing up – it was like respectable Mexican wave starting to happen.
SJ – What are some of the most cherished moments, from the commentary box, when you would say “I wish I were in the stands.” ?
HB– In India, not even once. Because, in India, the commentary box is more comfortable than the stands. There have been moments like the one when India won the World Cup in 2011, I was in a studio in Delhi. I would have given anything to be at the stadium in Bombay at the stadium in Wankhede, where it was happening. But, you don’t get everything. I was in a studio, doing the build up show and the wrap-out show and everything else for a match of the World Cup. That was one moment that I definitely wanted to be on air, calling it. I would’ve loved being in the stands when Yuvraj was hitting six 6s, or when India won that nail biting finish, I was in the studio while all that was happening. There are those moments when you would much rather be in the stands and behave irrationally. When you are behind a microphone or in front of a camera, you always have to have a rational side to you.
HB – One last question – Shrikant remembers that you wanted to set-up a site, which would become a repository of all your written work that you have done. What has come of that, whether you are keen on that project?
HB– I am, but you know, Subash, there are some people who are able to say “No” to things but while that gene was being given around, I wasn’t there. I’ve not been able to say “no”, and as a result, I’m doing far too many things to be able to set up a blog where I can put in every single article that I’ve written. I don’t think I’ll ever find them, because, some of my old laptops and old computers that I had given away, i don’t know if I will be able to retrieve. Some of them had back-ups, but I am completely challenged technologically. I only just got a touch phone, and suddenly, I’m struggling with the touch phone. Because, wherever I hold it, it activates something. So, if I hold it in my fingers on the front, it seems to activate all kind of things. If I hold it to the sides, the camera comes on. I’m technologically challenged. I don’t know if I will be able to do that, but one day, I will. I will try to get all my video blogs, for example, there are 89 episodes of that, I’ll transport all that to one place on some day.
SJ – It is hard to believe that you are technologically challenged!
HB – Very. Very, very. Very!
SJ – On that note, Harsha, It was an absolute pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much for coming on the show.
HB – No worries. No worries. And all those who think I’m too mild, ask them to go and watch a Quentin Tarantino film!
SJ – I will, I certainly will. Thanks a lot!
HB – Thanks, Subash! Take care.
SJ – Bye!
Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman