Star-studded IPL's missing link

Updated: 17 September, 2020 07:30 IST | Clayton Murzello | Mumbai

Cricket followers who lap up Sanjay Manjrekar's insights into the game through his television commentary have every right to feel short-changed.

India cricketer-turned-commentator Sanjay Manjrekar during the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 match between India and Sri Lanka at Leeds on July 6. Pic/Getty Images
India cricketer-turned-commentator Sanjay Manjrekar during the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 match between India and Sri Lanka at Leeds on July 6. Pic/Getty Images

Clayton MurzelloIt's now official that Sanjay Manjrekar won't be in the commentary panel for the Indian Premier League, which kicks off in the Gulf on Saturday.

His description of Ravindra Jadeja as a bits and pieces cricketer in last year's ICC World Cup in England, followed by an on-air disagreement with fellow commentator Harsha Bhogle over the visibility of the pink ball during November's day-night India v Bangladesh Test, have been put forward as reasons for him missing out on an IPL assignment.

There were also reports that some Indian players had a problem with his commentary. The question needs to be asked as to whether a fine commentator should be left out of a panel due to these reasons.

If Manjrekar felt Jadeja is that sort of a player (bits and pieces) that's his opinion. It's his job to provide a view. And haven't we heard of players disagreeing with certain broadcasters or journalists, expressing a counter view and getting on with life? A classic example involves Richie Benaud and Greg Chappell. Benaud ripped into Chappell during his match highlights summary the night of the infamous underarm incident at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on February 1, 1981. Apart from stating that Chappell got "his sums wrong" (as spearhead Lillee had exhausted his quota of 10 overs), he described Chappell's act as "disgraceful" and "one of the worst things I have ever seen done on a cricket field." In Richie — The Man Behind the Legend, published after Benaud's 2015 demise, Chappell wrote: "We never discussed the incident. I didn't feel the need to and I had no doubt that Richie believed he had said what he felt and moved on. Though hurt at the time, I have never held his comments against him."

That was nearly 40 years ago. Nowadays, it's almost like, 'You say something about me which I don't like and I'll fix you.' Player power reaching such heights can never be good for the game.

It will be a travesty if commentators during the IPL and other games go out of their way to avoid making honest comments which could reach a top player and displease him in the slightest way. There has to be an element of spontaneity and that could mean criticising a particular shot from a batsman, a persistent poor length by a bowler or a certain warped approach by a captain. Opinion must form an integral part of broadcasting.

At the cost of repeating myself, I bring up this example: A retired-from-cricket Ian Chappell was on his first tour as a commentator for the 1977 Ashes in England. Leg-spinner Kerry O'Keeffe was bowling poorly and Chappell didn't hesitate to say it on air. He also brought up the fact that his former South Australian off-spinning teammate Ashley Mallett would have done a better job. This didn't go down too well with O'Keeffe who, like Mallett, had played under Chappell earlier in the decade.

When O'Keeffe took offence to Chappell's views and confronted him, Chappell advised him to turn off the volume when he was on air and reminded him of another button on his television set — the one used to switch the device off. Interestingly, Chappell made a return to cricket through Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket later that year and captained O'Keeffe in one International Cup tie against Clive Lloyd's West Indies at Football Park in Adelaide on December 11, 1977. O'Keeffe scored an unbeaten 25 low down the order before sending back Gordon Greenidge in a game that the Australians lost by six wickets.

Now to Manjrekar's disagreement with Bhogle and his assertion that players know best. If the channel (or Board since they have a say in almost everything) felt Manjrekar was out of line, the right approach would have been to have a post-match discussion with the former India batsman and end it there. If at all that meeting took place, we don't know and the lack of transparency in this whole affair is deplorable.

Ultimately, the section of cricket followers who lap up Manjrekar's insights into the game are short-changed. Ultimately, the people who call the shots dropped a man who has added value to broadcasting the world over, however imperfect he is.

Manjrekar's letter to the BCCI, asking them to reinstate him was leaked to the media. Whether he was right or wrong to apologise in that letter is a matter of debate.

What was also a touch surprising was the lack of support Manjrekar got from the cricketing fraternity — former players and ex-teammates to be more specific. It would take a brave person among the current commentators to call for Manjrekar's return because he or she wouldn't understandably want to jeopardise anything for themselves. But what about the others? Did they fear the Board would stop their monthly pension for speaking out on something that involves one's freedom of expression?

Nadim Memon, a Mumbai Cricket Association apex council member, triggered a bring-back-Manjrekar campaign but it didn't bring about Manjrekar's return to the commentary box.

Manjrekar is too good a commentator to be ignored elsewhere in world cricket. There are other avenues to be close to the action as well, in this social media-driven, cyber world and whichever platform he plays on, the Jadeja episode should not stop him from being himself.

Manjrekar has rubbed shoulders with the finest voices in the game and that should keep the commentary fire burning within him. I remember writing a news story about him being part of a BBC commentary team for the 1999 World Cup. The list of his to-be fellow commentators read like this: Richie Benaud, Barry Richards, Richard Hadlee, Colin Croft, Jeff Thomson and Dermot Reeve. They were all either fine commentators, analysts or both. And Manjrekar went on to be one too. The IPL snub cannot take that away.

mid-day's group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello

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First Published: 17 September, 2020 06:56 IST

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