It came as a massive surprise to us to discover that there are two Harsha Bhogles. The one we knew (or thought we knew) is witty and irreverent in equal measures. The other Harsha, however, is neither of those things, and seems more a sycophantic brown-noser then anything else. This information turned our whole world upside down. We imagine it was much like the moment Shane Watson realised he could stop being an average injury plagued all-rounder and become an average injury plagued batsman instead.
The first time we were really introduced to Harsha was when he was the visiting commentator on the Indian tour of Australia in 2007/8. This was on ABC radio mind, as Channel Nine rarely bothers to employ commentators familiar with touring lineups. Indeed, they barely even bother employing anyone familiar with the Australian lineup these days. The tone in the ABC commentary box is typically fairly casual these days, and Harsha definitely seemed a bit taken back by it all at first. But over time he quickly settled into the groove and it’s fair to say that he’s now probably the most popular visiting commentator on Australian shores. Far more popular than Jonathan Agnew anyway. Not that there’s anything wrong with Aggers, just that Australian audiences don’t want to listen to an Englishman while being thrashed in the Ashes.
But the Harsha that Australian audiences were introduced to is a world away from the one Indian audiences were already familiar with, and it was only really during the English tour of India late last year, and especially during the Australian tour this year, that that difference was driven home. Previously it’s been pretty easy to ignore the Indian commentary if you were so inclined but, with the BCCI media blackout in place, suddenly the Star commentary team became one of the main (even only for the Australian tour) way of following the cricket.
Unlike the ABC commentary box, which is full of a random assortment of commentators, some of whom whose playing career never ventured beyond park cricket, who are happy to work for the standard ABC salary of a packet of Tim Tams and as many cups of tea as you like (bring your own sugar), the Star box is full of legends of the Indian game. In this company Harsha is a completely different individual. Gone is the humour and irreverence, and in its place is something akin to fawning adoration. Much like we would be if we ever actually got the chance to meet Steve Smith.
Harsha is always respectful in the company of men who probably were once (maybe still are) his heroes. It’s seemingly his job to cajole icons such as Sunil Gavaskar to recite lengthy anecdotes from their playing days. This becomes an especially important duty when India happen to not be playing well. The final three Tests of the England tour essentially degenerated into ‘Sunil Talks About His Life & Other Stuff’, a series of lengthy episodes which included a blow by blow account of his knock of 221 against England at the Oval in 1979, all whilst a rapt Harsha hung off his every word.
As you can probably tell, the attraction of such anecdotes (although we may be exaggerating a teensy bit) is lost on us. Obviously they’re directed at an Indian audience who may well find tales of Sunil’s school-yard days of enormous interest, but we honestly couldn’t care less and what’s more are left wondering why Harsha isn’t taking the piss out of Sunil at every opportunity. But that’s because when at home he’s a far different individual to the one we thought we knew, to the extent we are sceptical if it’s the same person at all.
It’s not that we think Harsha becomes a bad commentator on Star, just far less interesting compared to the one we’re better used to. We’re more accustomed to the atmosphere on ABC and the BBC, where taking the piss is the norm. Clearly Indian audiences don’t share our view, as he was voted as fans’ favourite commentator on a poll hosted by Cricinfo. Although considering Ravi Shastri came in second place, it appears to be a bit bollocks. Harsha is still the best commentator on Star, although that’s not saying much. The rest seem to be gripped in a bitter battle with the Channel Nine team for the title of ‘world’s most biased’. In this light Harsha is easily the best of a pretty bad bunch, but we just wish he would lighten up a little bit. Giving Sunil an exploding cigar live on air might be a good start. That or setting fire to his hair. We really aren’t picky when it comes to our humour.