Harsha Bhogle, aka the ‘voice of Indian cricket’, on his unconventional route to the top, his controversial sacking by the BCCI and why there’ll never be another commentator like him. Originally from Wisden Cricket Monthly.
Interview: Adam Collins
You can judge the mood of the nation on the way the Indian cricket team has played. I used to say that if Tendulkar played well then India sleeps well. That was a slight exaggeration but if India have done well then everybody is happy: in public life, in finance, spiritual leaders. That is how inbuilt the game is.
My mother tells me that I would talk to her about cricket when I was four years old. My turning point came when I was picked for the school team. I’m not sure if I was good enough but I held all my catches so I got selected. Then, one thing led to another and I played senior division for my college at university and was playing against Ranji Trophy cricketers. So I played enough to understand the pain, the joy, the disappointment, the happiness – all those emotions that come with the game.
No calculation would have said my decision to go freelance in 1990 was right. But I thought, ‘What is the worst that can happen?’ I went to India’s management school and worked in advertising for a couple of years so I knew that if it didn’t work out I could get a gig. For many years the only thing my parents were worried about was that I didn’t have a salary.
I was a curiosity on India’s tour of Australia in 1991/92. I would get questions asking where I had studied English – when I said ‘India’ and that I never went abroad until I was 29, they couldn’t believe it. I learned that my approach worked really well with the Aussies who I found to be inherently very friendly people. The image that the Australian players like to portray is completely different to the image of Aussie people who I know. I have never once been abused there.
There was an under 19 Test and my father said to me, ‘Don’t you think an under 19 match should have an under 19 commentator?’. So I took two buses in the heat and went there and this amused producer heard my request. They gave me an audition and a year after that they threw me in on All India Radio. I learned by making mistakes, on instinct, because we didn’t have teachers or gurus. Exactly the same thing happened in television.
My best years in broadcasting were 2000-06. They coincided with the peak years of a wonderful set of players who didn’t ask why I was saying what I was saying on air. They were people I could trust – Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman, Tendulkar, Kumble – and are still people I can call up; they are still friends. Then, the coming of the IPL was something I had been dreaming of for a long time. Before the IPL, 15 or 20 people made a proper living from the game in India. The IPL has changed Indian cricket and the lives of so many.
The years 2015 and 2016 were a very unhappy phase in my life. I could see there were many winds blowing and people were starting to assert what you could and couldn’t say [on air]. Not formally on paper, but when 2016 happened [the year the BCCI terminated Bhogle’s commentary contract] I was taken aback. Two-and-a-half years later, nobody has looked me in the eye and said, ‘This is the reason we didn’t want you’. But it was the biggest learning phase of my life; it became such a big story. Sometimes when you are not around you are more valuable than when you are. So, professionally, it ended up being valuable for me, even if it gave me a period of stress.
Then these young guys asked me to come and work with them on Cricbuzz. In the same spirit as when I became a freelancer, I thought, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ Suddenly, digital grew me into a world that I didn’t know existed and it just changed my life. What I thought was a setback in 2016 became the biggest boost to my career.
I am the last of my type – there will never be another me. It is impossible. Because people are not giving those who haven’t played international cricket a break. I was very lucky to come in at the time that I did.
Increasingly, the hectic schedule is taking a toll on me. But I couldn’t dream of a life without cricket.
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