"Welcome to the wonderful city of XXXXXX for another wonderful day of cricket. The brilliant XXXX is going to take on the terrific XXXX in a contest that promises a lot of excitement. The pitch is great. We have a great commentary panel. We will share a few laughs with Super V. And through all this, we promise there will be no criticism involved."
We'd like to think that we are watching just a game of cricket. But in reality, it is so much more. For the BCCI, it is an opportunity to show how great Indian cricket is. For Star, it is time to please the BCCI. To put it this way, the entire show can best be described as "The Great Indian Cricket Commercial."
Now, once in a while, there comes an anomaly. Someone like a certain Sanjay Manjrekar, Michael Holding or Harsha Bhogle comes along. They do not follow the norm. They like to speak their mind, for good or for bad. It gives them a thrill.
Are cricket commentators routinely censored? Perhaps not, but over the years quite a few commentators have been pulled up for rubbing players and boards the wrong way.
Does censorship actually exist in commentary? Here are some instances which have bought this issue to the forefront:
Manjrekar and Bhogle seeking acceptance of their credentials:
There are times a difference in opinions between two persons highlight what they have in common. This was the case on display as the argument between Sanjay Manjrekar and Harsha Bhogle suggested that, among other things, they were seeking an acceptance of their credentials.
Bhogle said that the post-mortem of the game between India and Bangladesh with a pink ball over a day and night match should include feedback from players about the visibility of the ball.
"Don't agree?" said Manjrekar. According to him, visibility was not the issue, the texture of the ball was. And followed it up with discriminatory words which caused the whole controversy.
"You need to ask [players], Harsha. For those of us who have played the game. We get a fair idea about what's happening out there" Manjrekar said.
In response, Bhogle kept it classy.
"Having played the game, you have a very good idea of what the conditions are" he said. "But it [playing experience] cannot be a limitation to learning. It has to be an aid to learning."
Manjrekar has been a victim of online trolls for sometime now. The social media mob is often scratching about Manjrekar's playing career, at times unfairly so. BCCI acted quickly to axe the former Mumbai batsman from the commentary panel.
The case is very different for Bhogle though. The masses have accepted him. He has been the voice of Indian cricket for the past three decades. But the journey has not been an easy one for him too. Read on.
A Hard Knock to digest for Manjrekar:
Once made to eat his words for labelling a young Virat Kohli as unfit for test cricket. He was heavily trolled during the World Cup last year when he called Ravindra Jadeja "a bits and pieces player".
With social media going viral with that comment, Jadeja responded on Twitter with an unprecedented rant. He wrote "still I have played twice the number of matches you [Manjrekar] have played and I am still playing. Learn to respect ppl who have achieved. I have heard enough of your verbal diarrhoea".
Once again, Manjrekar was the wounded party.
For the record, Manjrekar didn't make the comment on Twitter or during commentary, but in an audio interview to a news agency.
Speculation is that the BCCI didn't keep Manjrekar on this year's commentary panel, despite a written appeal, because some players were unhappy with him.
Displeased colleagues are an occupational hazard, as Manjrekar wrote in 'Imperfect', his autobiography. I must say, he has an apt title for the book. To his credit, he is clear he wants to commentate without an agenda. He does not chase friendship with players. In fact, in 2009, Manjrekar lost it with one of his close friends. Sachin Tendulkar, by calling him the elephant in the room whose poor form at that time was not being addressed.
Bhogle has been a victim himself:
Firing an employee is an employer's right but for commentators, the reasons are often not based on their annual appraisals. This was evident after Bhogle's contract was terminated from the IPL 2016 commentary panel.
What did not help his case though was a tweet from Amitabh Bachchan after India's one-run win over Bangladesh. "With all respects, it would be really worthy for an Indian commentator to speak more about our players than others all the time" wrote Bachchan.
MS Dhoni retweeted it, commenting "Nothing to add". Bhogle was not the players' favourite back then.
It took a whole long paragraph for Bhogle to explain it to the Bollywood superstar that while a Hindi-centric commentary was exclusively meant for that. The English one has to incorporate a much wider viewpoint.
On Holding's criticism of the umpires during WC 2019:
And then there is an exceptional case of Michael Holding, who on being told by the ICC to come down soft on the criticism of umpiring at the World Cup 2019. He came up with a stinging reply, "If those umpires were FIFA officials, they would have been told to pack their bags and head home.
They would not have been given another World Cup game to officiate. As a former cricketer, I think cricket should be held to a higher standard. Is the objective to protect the umpires when they do a bad job?" Holding wrote in reply, details of which came out in the Times Of India.
He added: "I am sorry, but I'm not going to be a part of that. Please let me know if I should be heading back to my home in Newmarket instead of heading to Cardiff because I don't agree with what is being suggested here and happy not being part of it".
Holding continued to be part of the commentary team.
The way forward:
In all senses, I believe that there should be no restriction imposed on commentators. It is important because how else can you be yourself when you are on air. And I don't think there should be any kind of censorship, even in the smallest of forms, on the opinion of the experts. There are different personalities in the commentary box and it should be celebrated rather than censored.
That being said, I also feel there is a certain way of saying what you want to say. You can always say what you want, get your point across, without being insensitive to the situation. In the words of American Harvey Sacks, 'everyone has to lie'. There is a way of saying things which are not so in your face -- offensive -- and you get your point across.
We need more personalities like Sanjay Manjrekar in the Commentary Panel. Although his choice of words can be disrespectful at times. He has a different perspective on things and puts his views forward on topics on which others refrain from commenting upon.