|From cricket to controversies — a candid Harsha Bhogle was in the house. With Rita Bhimani at The Conclave. Pictures: Anindya Shankar Ray
“I did not make things happen. Things happened to me. I have always tried my best with everything I do. There are better writers, better television presenters, better-looking people than me. I try very hard...” — Harsha Bhogle at The Red Sofa last Thursday
No wonder, Gautam Bhimani (television presenter), while introducing him, shared this anecdote. “First time I did this (introduced Harsha), I started to make notes and ran out of paper!... A product of French and psychology professors, a chemical engineer from Osmania University who before that went to Hyderabad Public School and went on to IIM-Ahmedabad. Various other facets... went into advertising, sports management in a sense, an author, motivational speaker, once voted sexiest voice in Australia by ABC Radio. And if you happen to visit his Wikipedia page, the profile picture is of him walking the ramp for Manish Malhotra! Incidentally, in the middle of all this, there was time to do something in the world of cricket...very little!” concluded Gautam.
Harsha: There was a reason they called it the sexiest voice... they wanted to use the word sexy and couldn’t find anything else!
First on air
Rita Bhimani: You started when you were just 19...
Harsha: I was pushed. I was a kid, having fun, with no idea of what I was good at and wasn’t. My father said, “Go to All India Radio and say that you want to be a commentator.” That was an era when if your father said something, you would reply, “Okay.” That time has passed. All India Radio was kind to me. They did not throw me out.
Going to IIM-A
Harsha:The first year was the most terrifying year of my life. I found everyone was better than me at everything! I couldn’t do accounts and there were chartered accountants. I had never balanced a balance sheet in my life, all these bright kids who came from the IITs would do mathematics for breakfast! I wasn’t bad at mathematics but I wasn’t in their class. I knew about cricket better than anyone in that community.... I did not do well. I passed. It is the truth.
Ghost-writer to commentator
Rita: Harsha once said, “Hello! I am Harsha Bhogle. Many of you may not have heard of me but you will hear more of me in the years to come!”
Harsha: Did I say that?! How cocky! If my sons said that, I would ask them to word it differently. I have met people who have been kind to me for no reason. People helped me. Surajit Sen (great voice used for commentary and news reading attached to both AIR and Doordarshan) gave me an international (ODI) to do. I did not know anybody in Delhi. This was the time when you had to know people in Delhi (to get assignments). Suddenly, I got a telegram at my institute that I was doing a game in Jamshedpur. Gujarat Mail to Mumbai, Mumbai to my uncle’s place, next morning Gitanjali Express to Tatanagar. After the game, run. I got off at the station in Calcutta and then took a taxi to Calcutta airport, which finished my savings completely. I sat the whole night at Calcutta airport because I had nowhere to stay. But I was struggling to do what? Broadcast a game at 23!
Rita: You became the first Indian commentator to be invited by ABC to do the cricket series in 1980-81...
Harsha: I had sent them a fax. They said, “Look, we have very high standards. So, we will have to hear your commentary.” My father did everything that I couldn’t do for my son. He had recorded some of my commentary on a cassette. I thought I would courier it to Sydney, until I discovered the cost! I put rubber bands on it and put it inside several envelopes and mailed it by registered post. And it reached! They said they will give me one Test match... but won’t pay!
I might sound old-fashioned but we had fortnightly video magazines those days. I would open the Yellow Pages, hire a cameraman and do all the feature stories and send the tape back. I wrote ghost columns for Richie Richardson, Allan Border, Mohammed Azharuddin. And not being very well-versed in ghost-writing columns, I wanted to talk to them too (to make the columns more accurate). That I am told is out of fashion these days! Now, I sometimes read bylines and I think there is not a chance in hell that this man has even spoken to the cricketer!
ABC was kind to me. They put me on to BBC. Then I came down here for Hero Cup, which was my first proper telecast in 1993. Australia changed my life every time I have been there. Nobody in Australia has ever asked me how much cricket I have played. And that includes people like Norman ’Neill and Ian Chappell. They just accept you for who you are. If they don’t like you, they would say, “That was crap man!”
Not faced Dale Steyn, but...
Rita: Nowadays they only want cricketers to commentate...
Harsha: I think they are wrong because there are a lot of talented kids out there. There is a feeling that batting average speaks. I think there are several aspects to broadcasting. There is a reason why it is called broadcasting and not ‘narrow-casting’ because it must go out to everybody. It requires an extraordinary love for the game... to know and communicate the game.
When it comes to knowing the game, people from my kind of background will always be the second best. I have not faced Dale Steyn but I know what it is to win and lose. I should also be able to tell that story. For that you need a storyteller.
Sometimes cricketers can end up being mathematics teachers, knowing everything, but not being able to relate to the person out there and I think there are a lot people who can exist on the cusp, know the game and be able to communicate.
It was wonderful sitting in a commentary box with Shane Warne but you must know who you are talking to and sometimes because you are very good at what you do, you cannot understand why people don’t understand simpler things.
I am a fossil in that sense because I am the last person of my kind you will ever see in a commentary box. The moment you are saying, “How much do you know?” you are limiting the world. I have been asked that so many times!
Talk about tendulkar
Harsha: There are only two people involved in this. One person decides whether he wants to continue playing or not and no force on earth can stop him from doing that. There is another set of people who decide whether he is good enough to be in the 11 or not. Will the selectors take that call? If they don’t, they are being untrue to themselves.
This is a debate that speaks very poorly of all of us. I have seen Sachin insecure, bleed and in pain and none of these are divine qualities. Don’t call him God. If you leave him alone, he will make you more runs.
A different game
Rita: What is IPL doing to cricket?
Harsha: IPL isn’t doing anything to cricket. It is a different game. If you had to make 10 in four balls to win a game before 40,000 people, that’s not easy. It is a different skill. Anil Kumble once told me that in Twenty20, you don’t bowl a four-over spell. You bowl one ball! We look down upon a (Manvinder) Bisla because he cannot get a Ranji trophy team but very few people can do what Bisla does for KKR. He does it better than (Jacques) Kallis!