Every time I hear the name ‘Harsha Bhogle’, the image of a man holding a mike with a cheeky smile hits me. I have always tried imitating your voice though I have badly failed at it. Your inimitable sense of humour, lovely free flowing language, sharp analysis of the game and the way you narrate the story between the bat and the ball has inspired a generation of this country to be a cricket broadcaster like you.
I always believe that commentators add ebullience to the game. Vikram Sathaye in a crisp stand-up comedy routine rightly pointed out the impact commentators have on their audience. “Half of Tendulkar’s achievement is due to Tony Grieg.” They were profound and funny at the same time. Similarly, your commentary has created the image of ‘Dravid’s’ or ‘Laxman’s’ that we have in our mind.
Harsha, you have been ousted from the IPL commentary this season, sadly, because the malaise and the prejudice that rules the administration of cricket in this country only seeks for yes-men. Though you have abided by the BCCI injunction that commentators should refrain from any criticism on air, you have been vocal off-field many a time.
I still remember when you questioned ‘why only former cricketers are commentators?’ during a live IPL match. “A lot of kids come to me and say that I want to be a commentator but I say that there isn’t any space for you; it’s quite tough.” In 2013, when the BCCI, in act of imperialistic arrogance, first threatened to withdraw from a scheduled tour to South Africa and then agreed to a curtailed tour, allegedly because Cricket South Africa had the temerity to appoint Haroon Lorgat as its head, you wrote a remarkable column that blamed the South Africans for failing to develop “parallel revenue streams” and allowing themselves to become financially dependent on the BCCI.
The three reasons floating for your expulsion are absolutely grim. As I said earlier and as I say now, a commentator must be objective; he is a representative of the sport not merely the nation he belongs to. I don’t know whether the BCCI has tried to appease the ego of a putative president, who allegedly loves investing in Panama and thinks that a commentator should speak only about his nation. When the ‘pseudo nationalists’ wanted to hear the jingoistic hyperbole of India’s triumph you chose to analyse the game and here you went wrong for them. These days being a cricket bhakt is not enough. You have paid the price of not screaming nationalistic slogans from the commentary box.
The second reason being speculated for your termination is the verbal altercation you had with a Vidharba Cricket Association official as you wanted them to keep the door of a VIP box open for the ease of movement of the commentators. Even if this incident has triggered your expulsion, you have rightly alleged that no one heard your part of the story. As the Hindi and English commentary boxes in Nagpur were separated by the president’s enclosure, you had to rush through several flights of stairs after every stint and at times you panted as you went on air just because of that closed door.
The third reason cited is that an unnamed but ‘senior’ player had asked for your expulsion. This only proves that even constructive criticism is intolerable for our players.
There has been no official word from the BCCI explaining your expulsion. Actually, you have been fired for no fault even without the pretense of due process; without the courtesy of an explanation for being objective and neutral. The BCCI only seeks for yes-men. The moment you dissent, you are banished.
Leaving you out of the IPL demeans a self-made Indian who has always made us proud. In a response to Geoffrey Boycott when Tendulkar’s name was excluded from the Lord’s Hall of Fame, you rightly said, “It is a loss of Lord’s, not Tendulkar.” Similarly, your absence is a loss to IPL, a loss of cricket lovers’, not particularly yours. Harsha, you are a true brand ambassador of cricket, a mixture of prose, poetry, cricket and witty one-liners. Your voice always remains etched in every cricket lover’s memory. The BCCI has ended your contract for IPL but the contract of love will never end between us. You have always been the storyteller but now we are going to tell your story to the world. We will be as classy as you are.
Hoping to see you soon (on air!)
An ardent admirer of your voice