Manjrekar-Bhogle episode: Not quite commentary

Manjrekar-Bhogle episode: Not quite commentary


Sanjay Manjrekar's condescending remark at commentator Harsha Bhogle reflects cricketers' superior feeling

Does only a good cricketer make a good commentator? This question, often asked in the past, came up again during India’s first-ever pink-ball Test against Bangladesh in Kolkata.

The man in focus was Sanjay Manjrekar, who has of late become a controversy’s child. On the third day of the second and final Test which India eventually won by an innings and 46 runs, Manjrekar, sharing the commentary box with the seasoned Harsha Bhogle, kicked up a row with one of his comments. 

The D/N Test was preceded by massive hype and as it neared its end, Bhogle suggested that players need to be asked if they found it hard to spot the ball, considering the fact that visibility of the pink sphere was one of the talking points in the build-up and during the course of the Test that lasted less than seven sessions. Manjrekar, however, insisted ball-sighting was not a problem. But when Bhogle said he would ask all that he needs to clarify in the post-mortem, the former India batsman resorted to cheap talk.  

In a condescending note, Manjrekar said, “You need to ask Harsha; for us who have played the game, we get a fair idea of what’s happening out there. I say this with some authority because in 10-15 years of first-class cricket, that’s what we did with a ball very similar in texture to this one.” 

Neither Manjrekar’s tone nor his justification went down well with the audience who demanded an apology to Bhogle, one of the most loved commentators despite not having played the game at the first-class level. Going by Manjrekar’s argument, it appeared, only those who have played the game turn out to be better analysts. While there is no doubt that playing the game at the highest level definitely helps you analyse it better than someone who hasn’t, it has also been proven that the immense stress and focus on international experience is overrated.

Just as great cricketers don’t necessarily make good captains (Sachin Tendulkar) or even coaches (Greg Chappell), the experience of playing first-class cricket need not be the only prerequisite to be good analyst.       

If Manjrekar’s logic were to be applied, then we may not have seen someone like Mike Brearley, with moderate record as a player, lead England successfully or broadcaster Tony Cozier, with no cricketing background, become the voice of West Indies cricket.      

The art of coaching, which requires great understanding of the game just like commentary, has been mastered by those with little or no history of playing at the highest level. John Buchanan’s record of seven first-class and one List A game is thoroughly uninspiring. That didn’t stop him from turning the Australian national side into an “invincible” one in the early 2000s.

Buchanan, in combination with captain Ricky Ponting, tasted huge success in Tests, Ashes in particular, and the Kangaroos went on to annex the 2003 World Cup. 

On the flip side, Chappell, one of Australia’s finest batsmen, endured a tumultuous stint as the Indian coach and was eliminated from the job after just two years (2005-2007). He was equally disastrous as Australia’s coach. The extent of unrest in the Indian side under Chappell was seen during the 2007 World Cup in which the men-in-blue, with a balanced squad notwithstanding, crashed out in the preliminary stage. 

In a country like India, cricket is watched by people from all socio-economic backgrounds. “Everybody is a cricket expert in India,” is a cliched statement. In such an atmosphere, for a commentator, simplicity in terms of explaining the nuances of the game can be one of the strong tools to connect with the masses.

Bhogle, who began his career as a journalist, has always been a passionate follower of cricket. He is a good mix of eloquent insights and witty one-liners. Bhogle’s longevity is a proof that he has delivered just what the viewers wanted. His strength lies in capturing the mood of the game more than focusing too much on the technical aspects as it can get boring at times. Bhogle’s presence in the commentary box makes for a fine balance between pure technical analysis and the romance of the game. He is a bridge that helps connect the common fan with the cricketer-expert. 

His rise to the top hasn’t been devoid of obstacles. Some of the current cricketers from the national team had questioned his credentials and his non-pandering style. A sustained but silent campaign against Bhogle resulted in him losing his place in the commentary box in 2016.  

In 2005, addressing students at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad -- his alma mater -- Bhogle had thrown light on the attitude of Indian cricketers. “I was willing to do what it took to succeed, initially in my career. A lot of people weren’t willing because they were cricketers. And so, it helped me a lot. 

“My first three-four years in the industry were entirely because of the arrogance of Indian cricket. So I kept hoping that Indian cricket stays arrogant because it helped me to do well,” he had said. 

The arrogance Bhogle spoke of was evident in Manjrekar’s argument. For someone who hasn’t played with pink ball ever, the Mumbaikar was making an ambitious statement. The fact that Virat Kohli’s men agreed to play a Day/Night Test four years after it was introduced showed players’ reservations towards pink ball. And a complete postmortem, as suggested by Bhogle, wasn’t out of place. 

Bhogle handled the edgy on-air situation with great maturity but without conceding an inch.

“Having played cricket should never be a limitation or a ceiling to learning,” he noted.

Manjrekar has been a habitual offender. During the 2019 World Cup, all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja lashed out at Manjrekar for describing him as a ‘bits and pieces player.’ Fittingly, the Saurashtrian slammed a fighting 77 that took India close to victory in the 2019 World Cup semifinal against New Zealand.   

A commentator has all the right to make his opinion. But crossing the line of sensitivity is sure to invite trouble. Commentators must promote a happy co-existence as entitled opinions leave a bad taste.

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