The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ringing belles stump the world
Mandira Bedi

I asked him what I was interested to know as a curious fan... Questions that felt natural to me, but I knew no male interviewer had asked an athlete things like this, at least not on camera. It was unheard of to talk about feelings rather than game strategy and statistics. It was not standard procedure, but it felt right... I had gotten a sports star to remove his armour and the fans ate it up.”

The year: 1974. The interviewer: Phyllis George, on her first assignment for CBS Sports, USA. The interviewee: Basketball star, Boston Celtic center Dave Cowens. The moment: A defining one in sports broadcasting.

If Prof. Henry Higgins had had his way and a woman would have been more like a man, Phyllis George would never have opened up a bold and beautiful world for sports fans glued to the small screen. Miss America 1971 was the true telecast trendsetter, barging into one of the last male bastions, hurdling resistance (‘Oh god! they sent a girl’), ridicule (‘You don’t know nothing about nothing’) and ribaldry (‘You need b**** to talk about balls’), and emerging as the first sex symbol of sports coverage with the hugely popular NFL Today, which she co-hosted for years.

“The producers realised something new and distinctive was happening... I went for the heart, and athletes gave heart back, opening up a new opportunity for sports broadcasting,” Phyllis wrote in her autobiography, ‘Never Say Never...’

Cut to 2003. Never say never could well be the mantra for Mandira Bedi, the six-serial actress who has emerged as the heroine of the World Cup in Sony-struck India. The Shanti who is causing quite an ashanti in cricket-crazy households, with wives suspicious of husbands who would never pad up till the first ball was bowled, now fastening their seat-belts two hours before match time for an Extraaa Innings, and cricket purists constantly carping about the game’s final fall from grace.

But if a ticket to stardom depends on how much you are talked and written about, Mandira is surely the Feb-March forerunner, second only to the Sachins and Souravs.

“For us, the family was the target, with the woman as one of the key factors. In Mandira, we found a presenter whose appeal would cut across all boundaries, from the elite to the janta, from the housewife to the teenage guy,” says Sneha Rajani of Sony, the channel that gave the first spice-girls spin to cricket telecast in last September’s Champions Trophy, but was stumped by Ruby Bhatia’s complete lack of cricket funda (she asked Tony Greig how the wicket could be damp, when the stumps looked dry!).

Mandira, while admitting she is “not crazy about Test cricket”, has been “a keen follower” of the shorter-smarter version of the game, “just like any other normal young Indian woman”. And so, what she brings to the cricket-talk table is a “no-holds-barred bias for Team India”, a “lay cricket fan’s curiosity and emotions”, and, by the looks of it, lots of viewing pleasure.

“I am not a cricket expert (Mandira’s says more on S5) and I am not meant to be one. I am the Voice of India, of fans in general and of women in particular,” says Mandira, whose wardrobe has attracted more attention than Ashish Nehra’s away-swinger. The girl who finds Daniel Vettori “the cutest cricketer” around, doesn’t mind the hoopla, but hopes that doesn’t mean she’ll go down as “that babe in noodle-straps”.

Mandira might or might not, but Kirsty Gallacher will surely go down as “that babe in anything or nothing”. The Sky Sports football presenter for 90 Minutes and much more (with ITV and BBC programmes, sports columns in The Sun and Kirsty’s Home Video show under her 23-inch belt), is something of a national obsession in the UK. The “most beautiful woman on TV” has been competing with the Britney Spears for tabloid and web space, inspiring fan clubs and soft-porn sites, joining hands for charity with the Dennis Bergkamps and Darren Goughs, breasting several Internet-poll tapes for the ‘sexiest women of the world’ ahead of Angelina Jolie and Halle Berry...

On STAR, but not starry and more in the serious journo mould is Sonali Chander, a by-now familiar — and far from unpleasant — face of Indian cricket telecast.

Combining a passion for sport with a Prannoy Roy-inspired poise in front of the camera, Sonali admits to the “thrill” of “a certain recognition and instant feedback” that “live TV” brings, but is quick to brush off any talk of ‘stardom’.

“It’s just a job that is great fun because I love watching sport... You could say it’s every man’s dream job that a woman has got and why not' Why should sport presentation be a male preserve'” demands Sonali, who continues to be “amused” by how surprised people are when a woman starts talking serious sport on TV.

“But I must say the novelty factor is fading fast,” adds the Turning Point presenter who was the lone girl covering the 1996 World Cup, but in South Africa is “happy to see” most Indian channels choosing a man-woman mike mix.

Neither Mandira nor Sonali — and nor for that matter Kirsty — had seen what a television looked like by the time Phyllis George was busy clearing their path to it. “As a pioneer, I enjoyed the challenge of being the first female sportscaster... It was a wonderful opportunity for me and it was important to be there for women as well. It makes me very proud to see so many women out there now doing such a great job as sportscasters. But there need to be more,” says The Original.

If Mandira’s makeover — “If and when given the chance to present cricket again, I’ll drop everything else and grab it”— and Sonali’s steadfastness — “I’ll continue to cover and present sport as this is the only thing I know and like” — are anything to go by, and with the number of maidens gearing up to bowl viewers over adding up by the tourney, those still convinced that all this does is make the idiot box even more idiotic, can as well reach for the remote and surf on.

Kirsty Gallacher
Channel 4

Kirsty Gallacher
Channel 4

Britain’s favourite tube babe. Born on January 20, 1976, the London School of Fashion graduate has fashioned a whole small-screen lifestyle with a variety of sports and general programmes. Britain loves to watch every move the daughter of former Ryder Cup captain Bernard Gallacher makes... to anything she does not. This Liverpool fan has sparked a new trend of TV dressing, where less is more and gravity is god (as far as necklines go). She’s right up there on the stardom stakes.



Phyllis George
CBS News

Phyllis George
CBS News
The Pioneer, period. The moment the 21-year-old Texan stooped, with a smile, to scoop up the Miss America ’71 tiara that had slipped soon after being placed on her dark brown hair, a star was born. Three years later, she was on CBS doing what no woman had done — co-hosting sports shows. Having started out as a high school cheerleader, this trailblazer carved out an amazing showbiz career over three decades, anchoring shows and authoring books,
starring in Hollywood movies...



Sonali Chander
star news

Sonali Chander
Star news
HThe Turning Point in mainstream sportscasting on
Indian telly. Born in March 1974, the daughter of an armyman and a schoolteacher joined NDTV when just 21. After three years of varied news reporting, this keen golfer and cricket-watcher switched fulltime to sport and hasn’t been beaten ever since. A Rahul Dravid fan (for the commitment that he shows), she would like “more girls to be more sporty” so that they can take up sports and sportcasing as a career option.
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