You don’t have to lay an egg to know if it is good or bad’. Harsha Bhogle should probably have resorted to that classic retort when Sanjay Manjrekar, in a television discussion during the pink-ball Test, came up with a cheap slight.
The egg analogy, possibly apocryphal, is ascribed to the doyen of cricket journalism, the late Neville Cardus, when Aussie great, all-rounder Keith Miller, confronted him about his (Cardus) not having played the game, yet having the gall to criticise him (Miller).
No doubt this tack of attack on the level of cricket played by one of the protagonists is as old as the game itself. Strangely, this snobbishness is peculiar to cricket: The first division player looks down on the third division cricketer; the first-class cricketer tilts his nose upwards at the first division player; the Test cricketer scorns the first-class player; the 100-Test cricketer is dismissive of a 40-Test player and so on.
This snobbishness is weirdly ingrained into the Indian cricket eco-system and thus when former Test cricket Manjrekar pulled out the age-old jibe, ‘I’ve played better cricket than you’ at Bhogle who was a college player at best, he was just being true to type.
It was extremely silly of Manjrekar to lose his shirt over a discussion, especially as Bhogle was doing his job of probing and prising out the expert’s views to the novel concept of pink-ball cricket.
Bhogle, during the ‘discussion’, referred to a few incidents wherein Bangladeshi batsmen were seen getting hit on the helmet and wondered if there might have been issues with sighting the pink ball against a white sight screen. He wondered whether the post-mortem of the match ought to delve on the sighting of the ball and if the players needed to be asked about it.
Manjrekar rudely shot back that he did not think that was necessary as slip fielders were taking fine catches and therefore he was sure that visibility was not an issue at all. "The texture of the ball is the issue," he said with finality.
But when Bhogle kept harping on the need to get reactions of cricketers who were out there in the middle and actually dealing with the vagaries of the pink ball, Manjrekar, perhaps thinking that his expert view was being belittled as being far less crucial than that of the players grappling with the pink-ball, immediately taunted Bhogle with, "You need to ask, perhaps. For us, those who have played the game, we have a fair idea of what’s happening out there."
This was not the first time that television commentators were having a go at each other and sullying a perfectly good experience of the game, especially for young, impressionable viewers across the length and breadth of the country. Sometime back another commentator was sidelined after a racist comment on his colleague.
On another occasion, Aussie commentator Dean Jones was banned when he referred to the bearded Hashim Amla as ‘terrorist’. He thought the mic was switched off when he made the comment.
Manjrekar, though is an old hand in riling players and TV audiences alike. He copped a lot of criticism when he suggested Sachin Tendulkar was past his best and needed to quit when the legend was still scoring heavily. His comments on Mahendra Singh Dhoni too rubbed many cricket followers the wrong way.
But the most public takedown of the former cricketer was when Ravindra Jadeja was so incensed by Manjrekar’s comments that he slammed him on Twitter, writing that he had played twice the number of matches that Manjrekar had and that he had better learn to respect people who had achieved. "I have heard enough of your verbal diarrhoea @sanjaymanjrekar," he tweeted.
Still i have played twice the number of matches you have played and i m still playing. Learn to respect ppl who have achieved.i have heard enough of your verbal diarrhoea.@sanjaymanjrekar
— Ravindrasinh jadeja (@imjadeja) July 3, 2019
Bhogle too has not had things all his way. He was taken off the commentary panel for a couple of years and is making a comeback of sorts.
There is a view that commentators need to just describe the game rather than infuse large dollops of their comments, prejudiced or otherwise. But that is not the universal view; why have experts who have played the game if they cannot inject their views into the match is another argument?
Non-experts like Bhogle, Allan Wilkins and others are there to skillfully draw out the experts’ knowledge and comments and not offer their own take instead, is the common understanding of their role.
Meanwhile, maestro Sunil Gavaskar too got into a bit of a fracas when he, in a discussion with Murali Karthik, stated that concussion injury should be treated on par with breaking a leg or arm or pulling a hamstring. "When no replacements are allowed for those injuries, why allow concussion replacements?" he asked after two Bangladesh batsmen were hit on the helmet and replaced in the pink-ball Test.
Surely Gavaskar could not grasp that a concussion injury could turn into a matter of life and death (as seen in the tragic case of Aussie opening batsman Phil Hughes) and that it deserved to be treated differently from, say, a muscle pull.
The game has evolved, as it should if it is to grow, and concussion injuries are taken seriously enough to make amendments to the laws of the game. Why, Aussie master batsman Steve Smith was replaced in the recently concluded Ashes Test after he was struck on the head by England speedster Jofra Archer.
It was equally insensitive of Gavaskar's fellow commentator Karthik to remark that players were taking advantage of the rule to walk off at the first sign of trouble.
Maybe television commentary is going the way of Indian television news, where drama, shouting over each other, bizarre discussions, and entertainment are passing off as ‘news’ in a bid to garner more eye balls.
Cricket on the field is already becoming increasingly more than just a game between 22 players. Maybe some drama, controversy and outlandish comments are another way to keep television audience hooked and involved!
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