This year in the Indian Premier League, a lot of cricket fans are missing one voice – Harsha Bhogle. Bhogle has been associated with commentary on Indian cricket since the 1992 World Cup and has been an ever-present and effervescent presence. While some members of the audience may not always have been a fan of this genial man from Hyderabad, yet not many would dare question his immense knowledge and experience. This is why a lot of people have been extremely shocked that the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) has opted to terminate his services before the ongoing season of IPL.
Not the first one or only one
Incidentally, the 54-year-old is not the only commentator to have faced the BCCI axe. Sunil Gavaskar has also been let go by the board and this IPL is possibly the last tournament he is appearing as a broadcaster. Before the tournament, Bhogle had incidentally been given the roster of matches that he was supposed to cover. He also took part in the player’s auction staged in February. Incidentally, Bhogle was not aware that his contract was being terminated. Gavaskar was ousted because he was deemed to be expensive at nearly INR 10 lakh per match.
Controversy with Amitabh Bachchan
During the recent nerve-racking game against Bangladesh in Bangalore in the World T20 tournament, Amitabh Bachchan had tweeted that he would be really happy if “an Indian commentator” could talk about Indian cricketers instead of focusing on their opponents at every conceivable opportunity. The legendary actor did not mention any commentator as such but since Bhogle was on air at that time, many assumed that he may have been the one. This tweet was also retweeted by MS Dhoni with the words “Nothing to add”. According to many, this incident could have played a part in Bhogle getting sacked.
Reaction of Bhogle
As may be expected, Bhogle was completely taken by surprise at the sudden ouster. In fact, Sony Network, the production house that broadcasts the IPL, had featured him in the promos and also booked his flight tickets. Bhogle himself has said that he is still in dark about the reason as to why he was let go. He says that all he knows is that it is a decision taken by the top brass of BCCI. Following the ouster, Bhogle had tweeted about his disappointment at not being able to work for what was his favourite tournament. However, the gentleman that he is, he wished it all the success.
Reaction and opinions of BCCI
As may be expected in such circumstances, Anurag Thakur – the Secretary of BCCI – and Rajeev Shukla – the Chairman of IPL – had refused to comment on the issue. However, a senior officer had said on the condition of anonymity that the main issues could have been factors like negative feedback, inputs from cricketers, and reactions on social media. If that is indeed the case, then one can jolly well judge from MSD’s comments how Bhogle was perceived by a section of Indian cricketers. Incidentally, during the test series against South Africa, Virat Kohli had expressed his angst at some ex-cricketers and commentators for criticizing the team and not being supportive enough. With every passing day it seems that some Indian cricketers – especially in leadership positions – expect nothing but unflinching and unconditional support.
The Nagpur incident
One other incident that took place during the World T20 in Nagpur – involving Bhogle and an official of the Vidarbha Cricket Association – may have led to Bhogle being ousted in such an unceremonious manner. Bhogle has himself said that during the game in Nagpur the commentary boxes for Hindi and English speakers were separated by the president’s enclosure, where the doors were always shut. So, Bhogle and other commentators, who had to speak in both languages, had to run up and down on several flights of stairs. Since the deadline was tight this distance had to be covered in quick time, which often left Bhogle panting even when he went on air.
As per board officials, it was during this time that the said exchange occurred. It was only when the news of this exchange reached Shashank Manohar, the BCCI President – who is incidentally from Nagpur as well – that the BCCI top brass may have felt like terminating his contract. While, as Bhogle has said he does not know the exact reason for his ouster, he has said that even if the Nagpur incident was the main reason no one in the BCCI management had heard what he had to say regarding the matter.
Support on Twitter
Harsha Bhogle already has around 3.66 million followers on Twitter and ever since the news of his ouster came to the fore there have been plenty of his followers expressing their vocal support for the commentator. There have even been suggestions that people like Navjot Singh Sidhu should be dropped in favour of Bhogle. He has also received support from the likes of Rishi Kapoor, Ayushmann Khurrana, and Ravindra Jadeja.
This incident for sure shows what is expected from Indian commentators by their employers, the cricketers, and even powerful celebrities who fervently support the national team. They cannot rub these individuals the wrong way. From a neutral perspective it can be said that BCCI has opted to remove Bhogle because it did not want to court controversy. Not many might know but Bhogle had recently been in an exchange with Scottish captain Preston Mommsen and other members of the Scotland cricket team such as Matt Machan over what was perceived to be a comment questioning Associate countries’ hunger for the game. On top of that, the recent incidents only added fuel to the fire. So, in that sense BCCI may have been right in its decision. However, the way in which it handled the entire manner smacked of an authoritative approach that is unwilling to consider any other variable than what it deems fit. May be, the whole episode could have been handled in a more graceful way.