Let’s get some facts out of the way at the outset. Shane Warne is a legend of the game who some experts rate the best of all time. His career highs and occasional lows are well documented. Few players of the modern era have imposed themselves on the game, stamping their presence on proceedings so emphatically.
Off the field the blond maverick has attracted more attention with his antics than your average filmstar. He’s nicknamed Hollywood, plays in multi-million dollar poker tournaments and generally oozes cool in whatever he does.
HarshaBhogle couldn’t be more different. His career path has been less than glamourous. After doing what many South Indian youngsters aspire for – collecting an MBA from the prestigious IIM Ahmedabad – he then decided do something unconventional.
Years of infrequent stints with All India Radio, usually for modest return, opened the door for live television commentary with the advent of cable television. Solid, dependable, predictable … these are some of the words you’d use to describe Bhogle and his television work. But cool? I don’t think he’s going to be accused of that anytime soon.
What then do Bhogle and Warne have in common? If this was a question on one of those quizzes Bhogle so adroitly hosts, the answer would be the obvious one. Both gents fought back the growing effects of age with a modern hair solution that caused middle-aged, balding pates to turn back time. The effect was unnerving to say the least, but even that’s not why this blog is repeatedly putting the names Warne and Bhogle together.
It was the launch of Bhogle’s book – Out of the Box – that set off a train of thought. At the function, on the dais were a former Test cricketer who has made a double-hundred on foreign soil, a journalist who now owns a television channel, an administrator who has set new standards in how the game can be monetised and the author himself.
In the crowd were the great and good, not just cricketers, but from the media, from big business and from the rest of the sporting fraternity. As the debate warmed up, so did the contestants, each trying to get his point in. Through it all Bhogle did what he does best, calling the action as he saw it without ever trying to bring himself into the foreground.
How often is it that you see something like this in Indian cricket, when a member of the media is the centrepiece of an event and yet has the stature and composure to stay in the background and let the others get on with it?
I’m not going to attempt to review the book, for it’s not really a book but a collection of columns and whatever the Indian media’s faults are we haven’t sunk to the stage where we critique each others’ work in our own columns.
But what does all this have to do with Warne?
Well, when Warne became the spinner he was, it was automatically assumed that his charisma and skill would inspire a generation of Aussie kids to take up the art. As the recent Ashes has shown, the opposite has happened and the Australian spin cupboard is bare. In the world of live television commentary – in some ways the pinnacle someone can hope to reach in the media aspect of the game – Bhogle is the one non-cricketer. In a world where your opinion is often judged on the basis of how many Tests you played, here is a man who has somehow carved a niche for himself. When he did so, the hope was that it would lead to more professionals (basically non-cricketers) getting breaks like the ones Bhogle got. Once again, the trend has been the opposite of what you initially expect, and it’s now next to impossible for the layperson to become a cricket commentator.
And in this Messrs Warne and Bhogle are one. They made a complicated and tricky art appear easy, prompting many imitations, but no true successors.