Harsha Bhogle’s absence from the commentary box is set to continue as India move on from the Test series to play two Twenty20 games against the West Indies and then come back home for a series against New Zealand. According to reports, Bhogle’s name is not among those contracted by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) for the upcoming series T20 series against West Indies to be played in the US.
Nor will he be a part of the upcoming home series against the Kiwis, involving three tests and five ODIs. Although Bhogle has a contract with the Star Network, the broadcaster for these two series, he has apparently not been called up for either of them.
Several Indian players had allegedly made their displeasure about Bhogle known to the BCCI. Most recently, Virat Kohli had refused to be interviewed by him.
Bhogle’s fall-out with the BCCI and senior players is believed to have cost him his IPL gig with Sony ESPN, a move which several Twitter users had protested against. The 55-year old Bhogle stated that he had been taken off the IPL commentary team without any explanation. Cricket lovers consider him one of the most cultured and balanced voices in the commentary box.
Of course, it is this every balance that has made him unpopular with some. In an atmosphere increasingly surcharged with "nationalist" sentiments, players as well as celebrities questioned why some commentators – meaning Bhogle – weren't singing the praises of Indian cricketers more vociferously.
India's current ODI and T20 MS Dhoni had retweeted Amitabh Bachchan's complaint.
The BCCI has shown a tendency in recent times to silence voices of dissent and independent opinion. In Bhogle’s case, a man who was carrying out his job – which is a journalist’s job and not a cheerleader – while trying to be neutral got the axe. The contracts that BCCI shells out to commentators also include an injunction stating that commentators couldn’t criticise the BCCI or its policies. This essentially bars any on-air discussion about issues such as the Decision Review System (DRS) or even team selection.
As absurd as it may seem, the BCCI jas also mooted the possibility of a commentary academy, where aspiring commentators could “hone” their skills. There is more than a faint suspicion that such an arrangement wouldn’t allow the graduates to express any opinion against the beloved board.
Cricket journalism has suffered to a great extent as MS Dhoni had first lashed out at a reporter covering the T20 World Cup for asking if he was satisfied with a narrow one-run victory over Bangladesh.
Dhoni hadn’t stopped there, pulling up and mocking another Australian journalist who had asked Dhoni if he had any plans to retire.
It’s not just the players but the big bully, the BCCI itself, which has showed that it is unwilling to deal with scenarios where it may have to display some accountability to the media. For a long time, cricket websites, including the world’s largest and most well-known, ESPN Cricinfo, had not received accreditation from the BCCI.
Objectivity and a fair analysis of the game are under severe threat now due to these sanctions imposed by the wealthy cricketing body. Although the Justice Lodha Commissioner had slammed the BCCI on the issue of “objective commentary”, it is highly unlikely to change the overtly jingoistic nature of on-air commentary that the board demands.
But Harsha Bhogle, for one, will not give in to such demands.