| Ruby tries to execute a shot in a Calcutta hotel. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
Calcutta, March 9: How does it feel to be Mandira Bedi' Stumped, at best; clean bowled, at worst. And this comes straight from the first woman of Indian cricket on television.
Remember Ruby Bhatia, sharing the microphone with (and often snatching it from) sporting greats and infusing hardcore analysis with her brand of wacky humour. The face has changed (with Mandira ‘off-shoulder’ Bedi padding up for Extraaa Innings), but the glam ball on Set Max rolls on.
Yet, the original masala item on the Indian cricket-viewers’ menu is not sure whether ‘woo them with a woman’ is a winning formula.
“People in this country watch their cricket too seriously. I have failed. Unlike me, Mandira is a cricket lover, but she too is failing. Hats off to Sony for bringing women on board, but perhaps they should try a woman cricketer,” says Ruby, in the city to attend a wedding.
Looking back on her innings at the ICC Champions Trophy in Colombo, the anchor plays it dead straight: “I don’t know anything about cricket. My brief from Sony was just to be my bubbly self. But people assumed I was there as a commentator. That’s why they did not accept me.”
It’s the media which was “harsh”, raising a war cry ‘What is Ruby Bhatia doing to the country' Bring her back’, she regrets. “I was shocked. Who am I to do anything to the country' Woh politician log kuchh nahin kar rahein hain' It’s only Ruby Bhatia doing all the damage!” she hits out.
Ruby feels the concept of combining the two big passions in the country — cricket and Bollywood — was great.
“I was representing the uninitiated, especially women who did not take an interest in the game. When the men are glued to the TV sets, the women feel left out. So the idea was to give them someone who could unify the family, you know, make peace between husband and wife.”
The Canada-born anchor, who says she missed the cricket boat as the game was not played in her native country, feels she had a good time taking a “crash course in cricket from the experts”. But there were moments of confusion, too. “I asked Tony Greig what a wicket is. He said it was the three sticks. Then he said the wicket looked damp. I looked at the sticks and they didn’t look damp to me.” The pitch reports too were taxing, with so many men “craning over one centimetre of ground” and becoming excited over “two blades of grass here and a brown patch there”.
Another hassle was managing a live show on something she knew little about with faulty earpieces. “I wonder how Mandira is managing. I would often be absolutely at a loss as to who said what. Charu (Sharma, her fellow anchor) was such a saviour,” she laughs. Charu continues to farm the strike whenever Mandira’s on visibly sticky turf.
Handling technical glitches, too, was part of Ruby’s brief. “I am announcing ‘Now Maria will be talking to Wasim Akram’. A message comes in the earphone ‘The tapes are not working’. So I freeze my grin and add slowly ‘…in some time.’” This is where she feels she scores over Mandira. “I am an anchor. I have the gift of the gab. She is an actress,” points out the celeb ex-VJ.
Ruby’s “most human” cricket interview was with McGrath (“Neil McGrath… The Australian bowler… Was it Glenn' Then who’s Neil' The producer'”) after his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer.
As a professional, Ruby is “disappointed” at being left out of the World Cup coverage team just when she had started to pick up the cricket ropes. “But personally I am relieved at not having to be away from home for two months and miss out on all the work here,” she sums up, looking forward to her maiden film role in the Hrithik Roshan, Kareena Kapoor-starrer Main Prem ki Diwani Hoon where she plays her “own self”, while Mandira Bedi is busy playing someone she is definitely not.