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April 19, 2000


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Harsha da jawab nahin!

Avinash Subramanium

The recently concluded one-day series in South Africa between the two best teams in world cricket confirmed a lot of things. It confirmed why McGrath, give or take an occasional malfunction, is the world's only human 'bowling robot.' Why the South Africans might be better off burdening Shaun Pollock with a little less than the captaincy. (The analysis I'll leave for another time.) And why Harsha Bhogle is arguably one of the best commentators in the world today. Most will agree that thanks to the amount of cricket being played around the world (not that I'm complaining), the last eight months has seen us thoroughly exposed to some of the best and the worst of aspects of the game. (Including commentary.) For me, one of the really satisfying things to come out of it all has been the continued emergence of Harsha as perhaps the only consistent Indian performer in world cricket. (Not to mention, my second favourite cricketer in the world succeeding my favourite cricketer in the world as captain.)

Speaking of the last eight months, first, we had the privilege of learning everything from the Australians - on the field, off the cricket field, in the stands, in the boardrooms and from Richie Benaud & Co. at Channel 9. (Sometimes more from them than from anyone else.) Unfortunately, we seemed to learn little from our travails Down Under. And it took us less than a fortnight to forget that commentary had moved on to 'conversation' some aeons ago. To forget Channel 9 was as much about great commentary as all that amazing camera technology. To forget how bad some of our 'panel members' were at holding the attention of a notoriously demanding and spoilt viewer. What's worse, catastrophic and unforgivable is that a few of the panellists even forgot we were viewers. As a result, we had the misfortune of being subjected to some of the best images in world cricket ruined by earfuls of banality. (And just to prove the trip Down Under has still not taught us a thing, the preposterous/criminal/pointlessly huge scores during the Ranji semi-final matches tell an equally infuriating tale of their own. *#@%&*#$!…) Meanwhile, the hardcore 'cricket-heads' among us also had a chance to get our fix from the games in Sharjah, West Indies, Pakistan and now South Africa. All in all, we've seen and heard much that should make us want to encourage…or as one strangely disaffected fan put it in one of the many hate-mails I get, lick Harsha's boots. (Actually, he, the fan, used a less printable item.)

"Harsha! Harsha! Harsha! Bhala tumhare Harsha mein kya hain jo doosro mein nahin?"

I'll tell you hamare Harsha mein kya hain? Harsha lets people talk. (If only some of our famous cricketer-turned-commentators would learn the virtues of shutting up most of the time.) He possesses the skill to marry his love for cricket with his professional, academic and thinking abilities. He at least tries not to use the same words to describe a '…ball travelling like a tracer bullet to the boundary.' (Now how many times have we heard 'ghisssssa-pitta' hand-me-downs like that. Enough to make me want to replace them, the words with more unprintable outbursts of frustration.) And while I don't know Harsha personally, he does come across as a genuinely friendly person. (Maybe he realises, more acutely than the others, that 'friendliness' is a bare necessity to connect with us common 'non-cricketer types' who contribute just as much to the game.) Also, even though he probably knows the answers to every one of the tactical questions he puts to his panellists he never gives the impression he does. Harsha, more than quite a few of the others we've seen/heard, always looks to be in that highly endearing 'learning mode.' (How he manages it in the face of some of the ignorance on display, I don't know.) Besides, and this is something few of our commentators seem to be able to fully grasp, he shows a great understanding of the power of television.

Everyone agrees television has great power to change things but few seem to use it as well to bring about positive improvements. And I use the term 'positive improvements' with a deliberate emphasis on 'positive.' By which I mean, just as television can do a lot of good by contributing the raw material that goes into the upper-storeys of young cricketers, it can also do untold damage by contributing the raw material that goes into the upper-storeys of young cricketers. (How clever, no? Not!) And you and I know exactly what I'm getting at.

Is it more useful for a young Indian cricketer to know how Indian cricket is being left behind by modern training techniques or is it more useful for them to know how even the Indian media is being left behind? (Incidentally, the first was a question put by Harsha to an eminent panellist and the second was the 'eminent' panellist's response.) Isn't it a lot more fascinating and enlightening to know more about the mind that ticks inside the head of the temperamental genius that is Cairns than simply being told he's come a long way? (We know he's come a long way, we can see it.) Do we know the difference between a mentor and a coach? (Is there a difference? Read Harsha's article here.) Do we understand the thinking behind John Buchanan being made coach of Australia? What makes Steve Waugh such a good captain? What makes a good captain? And a million other questions we'd love answered. Who will tell us all these things? And why should we look for alternative sources for lessons on life, cricket and both when we can have friends on the other side of the boob-tube chatting about it? Friends who can teach us about life through cricket using a catalyst we all enjoy. Cricket.

But for that, one's going to need more like Harsha, the Tonys (Cozier and Greig), Ian and Harsha. (The last one's for patriotism.) Till then…well, there's always that little 'red' button

Avinash Subramanium

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