It’s not easy being a fan of Sanjay Manjrekar, the commentator.
Growing up watching cricket in the era where broadcast boomed, fans in India were privileged to listen to some of the modern day greats commentate on cricket. Richie Benaud, Tony Greig, Bill Lawry... these are, to name a few, some of the greatest names to have lent their voice to describe our beloved sport. But it’s not often that you hear Indian names in a discussion of commentators par excellence when it comes to English language broadcast. Perhaps with the exception of Harsha Bhogle and, to a lesser extent but certainly popular enough, Ravi Shastri, no Indian is likely to feature in the list of most beloved voices in the game.
Certainly not Manjrekar.
But Ravindra Jadeja’s jibe at the former India international, arguably, the most divisive name when it comes to broadcasters, is not something to be celebrated.
Out of nowhere on Wednesday, the Indian all-rounder tweeted from his official account, a pretty strong criticism of Manjrekar’s commentary.
This was, now widely assumed, seemingly a retort to Manjrekar referring to Jadeja as a ‘bits and pieces’ cricketer.
You only have to look at the replies to Jadeja’s tweet (posted a second time after correcting a typo, as if to reiterate that the sentiment was 100% serious and not just a miscalculated rant). There were a plethora of thank you messages to Jadeja for coming hard at a man who’s likability has been on a bit of a downward spiral.
And this is not the first time that Manjrekar is being accused of ‘verbal diarrhoea’ by an active cricketer. Kieron Pollard used the same description when he had a go at the Mumbaikar during IPL... which turned out to be a bizarre accusation because Manjrekar did not exactly say what Pollard thought he did.
The point to take from these two episodes, though, is that Manjrekar can often push the boundaries when it comes to critiquing players. As a cricketer he had a reputation of being someone obsessed with technique and being a hard-core student of the game. He has carried that obsession over to commentary as well, and is increasingly evident these days if it was not the case in his earlier broadcasting years.
It is something he admits on air too, as he did in the game between India and Bangladesh: “forgive me for this obsession with KL Rahul’s batting today...,” he said as he went about analysing how the Indian opener was struggling to find the gaps in the field. He was reiterating a point he had made on Twitter earlier, as well as briefly mentioning it during an earlier stint.
Now, the problem many have with Manjrekar is an alleged bias (yes, yes...we know) towards Mumbai (or Mumbai Indians) cricketers and his tendency to overly praise them. For that reason alone he has become something of a villain among CSK fans. The hatred towards Manjrekar hit new heights this IPL season when MI trumped CSK four times on their way to the title.
One of the popular Tamil commentators, known for his sharp tongue, recently said on air that more people tune in to their regional broadcast because they cannot bear Manjrekar’s commentary. It’s an incredible thing to say when both of them are employed by the same broadcaster.
Now the CSK-Jadeja connection cannot be overlooked in this latest episode either. As much as players insist that they ignore what’s been said on social media, it’s humanly impossible to be totally immune from it. Perhaps Jadeja was aware of the hatred from his franchise fans towards Manjrekar and that was pushed to the next level when he saw the remarks about his position in the squad.
Tackle the criticism
Did Manjrekar cross a line? It’s debatable. He is an analyst, a broadcaster with some strong opinions, even if he can go overboard sometimes. In this writer’s opinion, he is a much better writer than he is a commentator because he gets to elaborate on his point of view in written form than he could on air. His problem is also that he doesn’t have a filter for his thoughts and you get the feeling when you listen to him that he says the first thing that pops up in his head and has a tendency to ramble: a bit like Phoebe Buffay in F.R.I.E.N.D.S.
Does that mean Jadeja is right? He is justified in feeling hurt by the remarks and even deciding to air his displeasure at it. It is, after all, a personal criticism. But to mock Manjrekar for playing fewer matches than he did and not being as successful is problematic.
Did Tony Greig lose the right to comment on players who played more than 44 ODIs because he himself played only 22? Bizarre, right? Analysts and pundits do not need to have decorated careers to make remarks about the current crop of cricketers. This line of thinking is the same as Virat Kohli questioning journalists who have never played international cricket; or MS Dhoni (allegedly) taking a jibe at Harsha Bhogle for talking about India’s opponents too when that is, quite literally, the job he gets paid to do; or fans (and even a former cricketer in Gautam Gambhir) questioning the selectors’ reputation as players.
These are criticisms based on attacking the person themselves rather than the remarks they made. So who is allowed to question or critique or analyse the current players then? Only those who have played more matches than the player in question?
Jadeja might be right in feeling that Manjrekar’s remarks were uncalled for. There is a reason for Manjrekar not being the most likeable commentator out there at the moment: most of the criticism against him is, perhaps, deserved.
But to celebrate Jadeja’s remarks for just criticising a person that most people love to hate is to miss a bigger point: cricketers should not be living in their own bubble and if you choose to hit out publicly, take on the criticism and not the critic, for he or she is no cheerleader.