When Sachin Tendulkar launched his autobiography, the event was heartwarming. The Fab Four was all on stage reminiscing, laughing and generally having a good time. A whole generation would have given an arm and a leg to be on that stage with them. Harsha Bhogle was on that stage hosting the evening.
n what was an ultimate testament to the nation's blooming Silicon Valley dreams, Sundar Pichai was appointed CEO of Google. And when Sundar visited India, the media lapped it up. A freewheeling chat with Sundar was gold dust for Indian media, and they had to choose someone to do it. Harsha was the man again.
If he is the chosen one to host two such disparate but equally momentous events, the guy must be doing something right as a presenter and a host. He must have a way with words that few others do. And he must be doing something objectively right in his job.
But right now, Harsha Bhogle is in the center of an unwarranted controversy. We will not be hearing him call the play this season of the IPL. Multiple reasons are making the rounds, none of them conclusive, but each equally outrageous. Harsha himself claims not to know the reason. Most accounts point to his ‘un-Indian’ commentary as the reason. If true, it is a case of misplaced nationalism and mismanaged egos. And if it was not so despicable, it would actually be funny that the BCCI can be so childish in this regard.
The controversial piece of commentary came in the closing stages of the India-Bangladesh encounter in the World T20. Bangladesh lost a game they had no business losing. They pulled a South Africa on themselves reminiscent of that epic semifinal of the 1999 world cup - the enduring narrative of that match to date focuses on Lance Klusener and Alan Donald, not on Steve Waugh or the Aussies. Dhoni’s men in this case, as the Aussies back then, showed incredible pluck and calm nerves to hang in there and grab the opportunity when it presented itself. But, it was the headless display by the opposition that defined both passages of play and hence was the talking point. Harsha was in a patently-neutral role as a commentator on the international feed for the match, and he was doing a great job balancing the perspectives of the fans of various nationalities tuning in. To reward him for a job well done, Amitabh Bachchan, no less, tweeted his criticism. And MSD retweeted. Censure doesn’t come any bigger in India than when the biggest film icon and the reigning cricket superstar are cross with you.
The implicit assertion with Amitabh’s criticism is that he somehow does not love Indian cricket enough. And hence does not speak about it enough. Nothing could be farther from the truth. No sports pundit is born one. The journey to becoming a nuanced and unbiased observer of a sport often begins with fanatically supporting one team. When the radios at the Bhogle household always blared on with cricket commentary or when Bhogle Senior took Harsha to watch Test matches on all five days, he wasn’t a pundit. He was a fan of the Indian cricket team feasting on the likes of GR Vishwanaths and Kapil Devs. And that love for the Indian team is clearly evident when you see him speaking about the Indian team outside the commentary box. You have to see just one of his many video blogs from India's disastrous tours of England and Australia in 2014 to note how much a bad performance from the team hurts him. In the cricketing world, Harsha is a global citizen. But deep within, he still is a fan of the Indian cricket team. There is genuine joy when he speaks about the progress Kohli and Rahane have achieved over the last few years. His crime though, it seems, is that he takes joy in the way the Mustafizurs and Jason Roys of the world have developed as well.
Harsha should not have to justify why he spoke positively of the rapidly improving Bangladesh team. The fact that he is having to is a sorry state of affairs.
Commentary, by definition is insight and not data. And he gives us just that. From lack of imagination or vocabulary or both, most of his peers are still hungover from the radio days. While they are busy describing what’s happening on the field, he sometimes ventures beyond into a rarefied zone. He describes what’s happening … inside you. When Sunil Gavaskar describes Sachin’s straight drive, you can see how much he understands the game. When Harsha describes Sachin’s straight drive, you can feel how much he loves the game. And that often mirrors how much you love the game and how much you love your team.
He is not without flaws. His commentary usually is emotionally persuasive and tailored to be liked. He often also plays moderator within the commentary team trying to get the views of everyone without giving his own as often. His curiosity to pick the brains of his fellow commentators comes in the way of him giving his opinions sometimes. But in all good and bad about him, one thing clearly shines through. And that is his love for the game. That is what draws the fans close to him, and that is the reason for this uproar.
In what is increasingly noise, he comes across as the voice. Amidst all the hyperbole that has become the norm, he chimes in unnoticeable, and yet holds his own. I am not really sure what the social media will end up achieving, but I am sure of one thing – that this IPL will be much poorer without Mr. Bhogle.
I will end with a Harsha gem which perfectly sums up the situation. When Boycott said of Sachin: “Sachin may be a great batsman but he never got his name at the Lord's honor board.” Harsha quips – “So whose loss is it, Sachin's or the honor board's”. Right, whose loss is it, IPL?
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