Harsha Bhogle might be the most envied man in the cricket broadcast industry. In a workplace whose gateway seems to be inscribed with the words ‘former players only’, he has creditably made a name for himself despite not having played international cricket. But whatever crack of serendipity he slipped through, that gateway seems well and truly shut now. And this trend seems to be the norm in other countries as well, especially in television.
There are a few other exceptions though, and Johannesburg based Natalie Germanos is one of them. The 36-year old freelance broadcaster was in Vadodara to commentate on the India-Australia women’s series for the BCCI. Germanos has worked in the broadcasting industry for more than a decade, primarily as a radio commentator for the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC). Despite never playing professional cricket, she has also commentated for SABC TV, Test Match Special, as well as two Olympics. While she focuses mainly on cricket, she also calls netball, tennis and football.
Firstpost caught up with Germanos on her first visit to India, to discuss about the dying breed that is broadcasters without a sporting background, the process of broadcast, and much more. Excerpts:
You’re sitting next to Anjum Chopra, Mel Jones, Rohan Gvaskar and L. Sivaramakrishnan. You’re the only one in this box who has not played high-level cricket, but rather had a pure broadcasting career. How did that happen?
It was something I always wanted to do as a kid. I wanted to play of course, but to me there was no real future in it at the time, I couldn’t really find a way forward. I thought maybe I should try something completely different and go into the media side of it.
So how did you go about achieving this plan?
I studied journalism, a Sports Communication degree, and majored in broadcast journalism basically. Then I was fortunate enough to be doing some fitness training in Johannesburg, and the fitness trainer knew somebody from South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), our public broadcaster in South Africa. He gave me the number and said, ‘phone this guy, you never know, you might get a contact’. I called the producer, and they said, ‘Oh perfect timing, we’re looking for a woman, there is a Women’s World Cup. This was 2005 in South Africa.
Initially I went just to see them during the men’s games. They said we need a CV, a demo-tape, all those things. But before I could even get that together they said, ‘you’re contract’s ready, please come, we need you for the Women’s World Cup’. That was 2005 and I’ve never looked back.
When you first made the call to the producer, were you nervous?
I was. It was nerve racking, because it was something that I really wanted to do, and this was the path that I was looking to follow. It wasn’t just like, ‘oh well this could be fun’. This was genuinely what I wanted to do. So when I first phoned the producer, I though anything can happen here, he could say no thanks, he could not answer and I’ll never hear from him. I was lucky, it was just great timing.
Describe your first time on air for us...
I don’t even remember what I said for those 10 minutes! It was on radio, with Neil Manthorp, who’s one of our most experienced broadcasters, and I’m so grateful for that. I was so nervous, I think my tongue was swollen in my mouth, it was numb. You could tell me I spoke about the clouds being purple, I would have believed you, because I just don’t remember.
Cricketers train for games, and have processes they follow during games. Do broadcasters? What’s your process like?
I like doing research. It takes me quite a few hours for me to get my research done. On the day of the game, I’m not necessarily superstitious, but I do have certain things that I like to repeat. For example, the first day of a Test match, I always wear red, something red; socks, shirt, pant, anything else. It’s my favourite colour, and it became a thing.
I also like to walk out on to the pitch before the game starts, have a look at the pitch obviously, walk around the ground by myself, just to get my head into the game. Drawing up my scorecard is also part of my process, it gets my head in the game.
How do you mean, scorecard?
I have my own scorebook. None of it is printed, so I draw lines, I draw an old fashioned scorecard. I literally have the batting, bowling, columns for runs, balls, sixes, overs. On radio you need it; you have to refer to it all the time, since you don’t have graphics. But for me it’s also about keeping records, a few notes. That gets my head in the game.
Do you see more players without cricketing background like yourself coming into broadcasting?
I think it’s really tough, because there’s a lot more ex-players now becoming commentators. In the past there were a lot of broadcasters, and they weren’t actually any ex-players getting good positions. Now it is about ex-players getting opportunities more often than not, more than just broadcasters.
On radio though they are more inclined to allow broadcasters come in as the lead and ex-players as the analyst. There’s actually very few leads on radio around the world that have played Test cricket. Jonathan Agnew (England) is one of them, and he stands out as a fantastic broadcaster as well, but he’s one of the few. But I think once given the opportunity, journalists or broadcasters can still do the work of analysts or commentators. Sometimes there is a fixation of having past players as commentators, but it doesn’t make them good commentators and it doesn’t make them bad commentators either. But you need to have that mix in the commentary team .
You’ve had a formal schooling in broadcasting. Did that prepare you well, or was it more on-the job learning?
A bit of both. I learnt a lot at Varsity; how to put a production together, what happens behind the scenes, the story of it. But also, we did little actual commentary, so I didn’t realise until I was on-air how many technicalities there are. It’s not just a case of picking up a mike and talking, there are different times on TV: when you do talk, when you don’t talk, when you talk to pictures, how you talk to pictures. Radio is completely different set of rules, talking in present tense, talking as the bowler runs up. You describe the action, then the reaction after that. There’s a lot of little technical things which you don’t pick up if you’re just listening to it.
You’re a freelancer, and when you’re working with other freelancers in a commentary team, how hard is it to not think of them as competition?
Yes, being a freelancer I suppose there is that insecurity. I think we talk about cricket being a team game, and commentary is also a team. You’re only as strong as the weakest person on the team, and if you’ve got one weak commentator, it can bring down the whole team. Because no one is going to tune in to listen to just one commentator. No one’s going to tune in just for you, they tune in for the entire commentary team. There’s so many other options now, they can go online, there’s TV, radio. So you can’t just have one strong commentator, you have to work as a team and help each other. If you have that insecurity, it can come through and can sometimes bring your own standards down as well.