Indian cricket fans who watched the England-India Test series in 2011 on television would probably have made efforts to forget the on-field action because of the dismal performance of MS Dhoni’s team, but would remember the spat between Ravi Shastri and Nasser Hussain live on air.
Shastri ignited the fire when, during a post-session analysis show during one of the Tests, he went on a rant about how the Board of Control for Cricket in India was right about not approving the use of the Decision Review System, how jealous the English media and pundits are about the IPL and the fact that India were world champions.
The following day, Hussain questioned Shastri about his comments while the two were live on air for ESPN Star, which held the broadcast rights for the series in the Indian sub-continent. Assuming Shastri had taken a personal dig at him, Hussain said loudly live on air, “I am paid to voice my opinion.”
The tiff between the two added some spark to what was otherwise a drab one-sided series, which England won 4-0. Hussain, who was contracted with UK broadcaster Sky Sports, was one of the guest commentators on ESPN Star, whose commentary team also included the likes of Harsha Bhogle and Sunil Gavaskar, along with Shastri.
Lack of Indian voices
Seven years later, India are back in England playing a five-Test series. This time, however, cricket fans in India are likely not to be treated to such an entertaining on-air spat. Because this time, there is no Indian commentary team for the English language broadcast for the series.
While Indian broadcasters and pundits such as Bhogle, Sanjay Manjrekar and Sourav Ganguly are present in the UK, their role is limited to doing the pre- and post-session analysis shows for Sony Sports, which holds England cricket broadcast rights for the Indian subcontinent.
Cricket fans in India are instead getting to listen to the commentary panel of Sky Sports, which includes distinguished international broadcasters such as Nasser Hussain, Michael Atherton and Michael Holding. While the Sky panel brings its own quality and style to commentary, the lack of an Indian voice, apart from Harbhajan Singh, who has only recently taken up the mic, sticks out.
The Sky Sports panel is excellent in breaking down and adding insights about England’s game and their cricketers, but the same is lacking for team India. Harbhajan tries his best to bring in an Indian perspective but, if his stint on air during the Edgbaston Test is anything to go by, it will be a while before he can even hope to match up to his fellow panellists.
During India’s tour of South Africa earlier this year, Sony had provided a mix of Indian and world commentary feeds. The broadcaster switched between South African broadcaster SuperSport’s world feed, which included commentators such as Mike Haysman, Kepler Wessels, and Michael Holding, and its own commentary feed with the likes of Bhogle and Manjrekar sitting in a studio in Mumbai and talking over SuperSport’s visuals, which did not make for a particularly good combination.
When Scroll.in asked Sony why none of their Indian commentators are not doing any actual live commentary during play despite being present at the ground in England, Prasana Krishnan, head of sports content, sent the following response: “We pride ourselves on offering our viewers the best possible experience. Currently for the Test matches of the tour, we are using the English feed from ECB which has commentary from leading English and Indian cricket experts. We have received positive feedback from our viewers who enjoy different expert opinions over the course of a series.”
Krishnan chose not to specify why Sony had picked Sky’s world feed over one featuring its contracted experts who are in England. According to a broadcasting official who requested anonymity as they are not authorised to speak with the media, Sony’s decision could have to do with costs related to setting up a live commentary broadcast from the UK.
Funnily enough, Sony did have their own Indian commentary feed during the limited-overs leg of the England tour last month but chose not to continue with it for the Test matches. According to another official in the know, but who also requested anonymity, the broadcaster had received feedback following the limited-overs series that Indian viewers preferred listening to Sky Sports’ commentators rather than their Indian counterparts.
Even if that is the case, Sony could perhaps have worked out a deal with Sky to have more Indian voices in its panel, or they could have had their own Indian panel and asked Sky if they can borrow a couple of their commentators for a guest appearance from time-to-time.
It would have been entertaining to hear Ganguly’s spontaneous reactions on air to some of Virat Kohli’s captaincy decisions during the Edgbaston Test, or Gavaskar’s reaction to India’s top-order failure, or Manjrekar trying to defend Mumbai lad Ajinkya Rahane despite his poor form.
Instead, cricket fans in India have been completely robbed of an Indian perspective during live action for a five-Test series which is shaping up to be a humdinger, apart from an inexperienced Harbhajan.