I used to work at a tech company with a senior architect who had 20-plus years of industry experience. Almost everyone in the company deferred to his authority. Once, over a casual lunch, he revealed to me that he had only studied till the eighth grade. I was shocked for a moment at the discovery, but not surprised. The tech industry is full of self-taught geeks that hold more sway in their companies than Ivy Leaguers and IITians.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean to suggest that all those years and dollars spent in getting a top-quality education from the best schools weren’t worth it. It’s just that as professionals, we don’t care where you came from; we are only concerned with what you can deliver.
The spat between Sanjay Manjrekar and Harsha Bhogle during a commentary stint in the recently-concluded pink-ball Test between India and Bangladesh reminded me of my former colleague. When Bhogle and Manjrekar had a difference of opinion, Manjrekar tried to shut Bhogle down by reminding everyone that he had played over a decade of first-class cricket, while Bhogle had played none. Had Sanjay worked in the same company as this self-taught techie, he would have complained to the HR department about having to tolerate the opinions of someone who hasn’t studied the subjects he studied in university.
It also highlighted the hegemony of past cricketers in media duties. In his book Democracy XI, Rajdeep Sardesai noted that cricket is the last standing meritocracy in India. While that may be true for cricketers who step on the field, the commentary box is starting to look like a monopoly of past cricketers.
Analysis isn’t exclusive to ex-players
If you look at the history of sports punditry, analysis has never been the exclusive domain of those who have played elite sport. Bill James, whose works inspired the famed Moneyball revolution in baseball, never played any professional sport at any level. Tony Cozier, dubbed as the voice of West Indies cricket, was revered among fans and cricketers alike. Michael Holding once said as a schoolboy, he knew if Tony Cozier wrote well about him, he had a chance of playing for the West Indies.
Closer home, the words of Rajan Bala were once so powerful that they inspired Navjot Sidhu to completely transform his game from what Bala once called a “strokeless wonder” to “sixer Sidhu”. It is said that Bala’s technical nous was so respected that even Sachin Tendulkar once approached him for tips. Somewhat ironically, in the light of what transpired a few days back in the commentary box, Manjrekar released Bala’s last book on cricket and spoke highly of the veteran writer’s contribution to the game.
T20 leagues have brought in corporate governance into the sport and provided a level playing ground for analysts without a background in professional cricket. Journalists like Jarrod Kimber and Hassan Cheema have held important positions in the backroom staff of T20 league teams. Mike Hesson, who had a successful stint as New Zealand’s head coach and who was recently appointed the head coach of Royal Challengers Bangalore, hasn’t played a single first-class game. Hesson, in fact, took up coaching at the ripe age of 22.
Manjrekar’s lack of civility
Manjrekar drew flak from fans earlier this year when he questioned Ravindra Jadeja’s ability as an ODI cricketer. Jadeja himself posted a tweet calling out Manjrekar’s lack of credentials. Manjrekar, though, was well within his rights to make that judgement. That’s what he is paid to do. You can disagree with his opinion, but can’t fault him for bringing out flaws in cricketers, especially when it is based on facts.
At the same time, Manjrekar has no right to question the credentials of those who are sitting next to him in the commentary box. Anyone with a microphone in hand has the same authority to make a judgement irrespective of his background. Manjrekar’s observations about the visibility of the pink ball might well be accurate, but that’s beside the point. What enraged cricket fans was not the validity of Manjrekar’s argument but the sense of entitlement in his assumptions.
While disagreeing with your co-commentator is fine, questioning his credentials is borderline bullying and shows a basic lack of civility on Manjrekar’s part. If you extend Manjrekar’s argument, he should never utter a word when fast-bowling is being discussed in the commentary box. The next time he is sitting with Wasim Akram and analysing Mitchell Starc’s approach to the crease, Akram should be well within his rights to ask Manjrekar to zip up and let him speak.
Of late, cricket commentators have been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Earlier this year, Kerry O’Keefe made fun of a rookie Mayank Agarwal’s first-class record. During India-Pakistan games, some commentators, especially in the Hindi commentary box, reduce their comments on the game to tasteless war cries.
Spare the commentary box
The Manjrekar vs Bhogle tiff should act as an inflexion point for the BCCI and other cricket boards to restore some sanity to the commentary box. In earlier days, when the temperature rose on the field, the soothing poetry of Sushil Doshi’s words and the pleasant baritone of Anant Setalvad used to calm things down. Not anymore, as commentators themselves add fuel to the fire.
When players get banned for poor behaviour on the field, why should commentators be spared? Men and women speaking over each other and making personal comments is the territory of newsroom debates; let the commentary box be spared.
Rajesh Tiwary tweets @cricBC and is known for his blend of cricket insights and irreverent humour. A self-confessed cricket geek, he prides himself in remembering every frame of grainy Television cricket coverage of the ’90s.