“I remain the teller of the story, not the story itself.”.
These were Harsha Bhogle’s words as he explained his stance and chose to stay out of controversy in an emotional post on Facebook. The controversy being talked about was Mr. Bhogle’s sudden ouster from the 9th edition of the IPL. Bhogle who has been a familiar face in the commentators’ arena has been involved with the extravaganza that is the Indian Premier League since its inception. Even with this edition he discovered just two days before the tournament that “his services were not required” when the production house covering the event had already booked his tickets and were anticipating his involvement. Bhogle himself said that he has no idea why he has been ousted; he hasn’t been informed of the reasons for the same by the board or any official for that matter. The big man that he is, he still wished the league all the best, even if it continues to be a Shakespearean tragedy to him.
— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) April 9, 2016
Numerous theories are doing the rounds as to why he has been removed. One suggests that it has something to do with Amitabh Bachchan’s tweet after a World T20 match which was retweeted by MS Dhoni himself, the India limited-overs skipper. It was earlier being thought that the tweet was aimed at Sunil Gavaskar but after a clarification by Harsha on his Facebook page the thought process changed. Contrary to Gavaskar, Bhogle doesn’t have a contract with the BCCI, he is on contract with Star, the media-rights holders for cricket played in India. While Star owns the media rights, production is handled by the BCCI – which means the board can decide the roster of commentators on its “world-feed” broadcast which is sent around the cricket-watching globe. Similar “censorship” is extended by BCCI to its other entities viz-a-viz the glamourous and glitzy IPL and other domestic competitions.
T 2184 – With all due respects, it would be really worthy of an Indian commentator to speak more about our players than others all the time.
— Amitabh Bachchan (@SrBachchan) March 23, 2016
Nothing to add https://t.co/8rBel3vw4o
— Mahendra Singh Dhoni (@msdhoni) March 23, 2016
Another line of thought that is being entertained is that Bhogle’s heated exchange with a Vidharba cricket official cost him his job. The argument was about opening a door in the commentary box so as to ease out the workload for bilingual commentators such as Harsha himself during the Nagpur game of the World T20. Nagpur also happens to be the place where current BCCI President Shashank Manohar comes from. It is being construed that a tiff with the board President’s local cricket association worked against Mr. Bhogle.
This isn’t the first instance of a commentator being stuck in the crossfire with the board, especially when it comes to the IPL. Known for having more emotionally expressive and loud commentary, IPL was subject to message control following an ebullient pre-match introduction of Kohli by Danny Morrison and HD Ackerman during the 2013 edition. Both Morrison and Ackerman made references to Kohli as a “possible future captain” of India and “captain-in-waiting.” Both were admonished “quite badly” for discussing what was essentially a “selectors’ decision.” A commentators’ roster for the playoff final was announced earlier than usual and neither man found himself on it. Sanjay Manjerekar and Arun Lal have also found themselves to be the subject of BCCI’s ire in the past. Ian Chappel has denied a commentary stint in India sighting restrictions were he was told he couldn’t talk about Indian selection, DRS or administrative matters. Chappel had said,
“I responded saying I didn’t feel I could do my job properly under those circumstances and therefore declined the offer.”
The status quo is such that the media rights of any domestic event lie with the channel, Sony with IPL and Star with international and domestic commitments, however, it is the BCCI that controls the production. This is in complete contrast to situations in other cricketing countries where the Boards let the Channel handle the events along with the production without any undue interference. ECB and Sky sports are a notable case with Channel 9 and CA being the other. The reason for a difference in the Indian setup was given by former BCCI president when asked why BCCI was getting into production:
“Television production was disorganized. It wasn’t professional. There were lots of freelancers involved; the production house was not coordinating things. We wanted to make it systematic and we wanted the domestic cricket covered professionally so that we can monitor performances, evaluate umpires.”
With the recent incident with BCCI, the board seems to have overflown its bucket of bizarre instances. That such an instance has someone as well respected as Mr. Harsha Bhogle is sad, to say the least. For a lot of us cricket writers, he was a role model growing up. How he could be unbiased while commentating the game and at the same time infusing it with his quick wit was something that drew appreciation from every corner of the cricketing world time and again ever since he set foot in the commentary box during the early 90s.
The hard reality though is that for the next two months we will not be hearing Mr. Bhogle’s voice in the commentary box. There will be no witty remarks, no quick comebacks but what will be presented to us will be a segment of “high-class commentary” by a “bunch of experts” that will put the commercial ads for the promotion of the tournament to shame going by the number of times they’ll mumble something like “Glorious”, “Majestic”, “Spectacular” or another such deluge of adjectives, the sort of commentary, you know, that will make Richie Benaud twitch in his grave.
Once when asked about Sachin not being on the Lords’ honors board, Bhogle quipped, “And whose loss is it, Sachin or the honors board?” Similarly with the current fiasco, whose loss is it? Certainly not Harsha’s, certainly not!