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“Thank God it’s Friday! Harsha’s column must be up.” : No one, ever.

Friday after Friday, Harsha Bhogle occupies premium space on the world’s premier cricket website. It is a position of great influence and enormous visibility. It is one of the few dashboards with which historically static and stoic national and global bodies can be influenced. It is one of the few avenues in cricket media thru which corruption, cheating and hypocrisy can be exposed. Of all the privileges desired amongst Indians, it ranks somewhere between being a Bollywood personality and a successful politician’s kid.

Yet, week after week one of Indian media’s true pioneers and erstwhile good guys chooses to dabble in clichés, platitudes and the lowest hanging fruit. Topics that have been uncontroversial since his birth such as the Indian team not being as physically fit as other teams, whether or not a player can choose his retirement are given the pride of place in his weekly column. To add to this, in spite of being designated an opinion columnist he rarely takes a stance on issues of not.

Want to know where he stands on Decision Review System (DRS)? He is upset about the controversy but has zero guidance on either a resolution or a path to one. Where does he stand on match fixing and what causes it? He preaches and professes a lot of things without really assigning blame to either the individuals arrested for match fixing or the laws and boards in place. He instead uses convenient generic terms like society and culture to paint pictures with the broadest stroke possible.

His lack of a stance on most things would be the target of many a mob if not for a carefully cultivated public persona and impeccably polite demeanor. Being one of the truly nice guys once upon a time helps. Incompetence in the media can be masked with a friendly face and non controversial beliefs. Thomas Friedman has excelled at this for many years and amassed over 25 million dollars in net worth. It took the internet and many motivated bloggers (1, 2 examples of many) to expose him for the charlatan that he was and is.

In his latest piece, Harsha tries to take on switch hitting. The article riled me up even more than his usual columns because it was filled with several WTF gems –

“but at heart the game must be fair to bat and ball. Well, if not in reality, at least in principle.” – The game should be fair in principle but can avoid fairness in reality. Harsha has just proclaimed his approval for incompetent umpiring as no principles are violated.

“It is a shot that is fraught with risk and is difficult to play. But it is neither legal nor fair.” – Harsha asserts the shot is illegal in an article where he is trying to make a point that the shot should be made illegal. Yes, he just did.

“Steve Smith caught a ball by the boundary and tossed it in the air as he stumbled over the rope. The ball followed him over, but, showing great presence of mind, Smith jumped in the air, scooped the ball, both feet off the ground as he did, back into the playing area, landed beyond the rope, and popped back in to the field of play to catch the ball before it landed.For sheer skill and difficulty, he should have been rewarded with the catch, but the law doesn’t allow it. – Harsha just described something that is illegal in the game of cricket and compared it to something that is legal (switch hitting before a bowler commences his run up) and created a false equivalence.

“And so you have to go by the principle of fairness, even if takes away a bit of drama.” – When it comes to a battle between Dharma and Drama, Harsha is Yudishtra, not Shakuni.

VERY NEXT SENTENCE – Unless, of course, you want both sides to benefit, which will happen if you also allow a right-arm bowler to run in and suddenly switch hands to bowl left-arm. – Wait, what? Ambivalence, lack of self awareness and the ability flip sides faster than a tracer bullet! Harsha has it all.

Indeed, I believe there is fair ground to allow an lbw for a ball that pitches either side of the stumps when a batsman changes hands. (It is, of course, different with the reverse sweep, since a right-hander remains a right-hander and the feet do not move differently either.) – I love the completely arbitrary use of the phrase ‘of course’. It reminds me of managers in the corporate world using it in a casual manner to get employees to work thru the weekends. Kind of like, “Of course I have committed to the team working this weekend for this customer.” Semantics and usage of phrases aside, I fail to understand Harsha’s underlying point here.

Do we complicate things too much in the garb of moving ahead? Or is this an inevitable part of the evolution of the game? – Opinion columnists usually like to make their case in the final graf. It is a place to state what they believe. Harsha Bhogle will leave you with more questions than when he started the piece while also not answering any in the course of the piece.

Parting line – I look forward to more evolved thoughts than this article can manage. Truer words have never been spoken:).

All of the above quotes were lifted exactly from his piece. Without the Cricinfo stamp of approval, does anyone read and respect this stuff?

When you state you look forward to more evolved thoughts, I think you speak for all of us Harsha. We would all like Cricinfo’s opinion pages to represent strong, analytical and intelligent opinion. We would like some one with more evolved thoughts.

When Harsha came to the fore in the late 80’s and early 90’s he brought the fresh, clear perspective of an outsider. His life story of an MBA graduate pursuing his passions and being successful in a deeply nepotistic society was an inspiration to thousands of part-time writers/full-time fans like me.

Two decades later, his writing feels forced and his role in the cricket media evokes sadness, anger and frustration. He is not the media voice that Cricinfo or the fans of the game deserve. He is currently blocking the doorway to India’s Bill Simmons. Instead of using his bully pulpit to hold the powerful accountable, he vacillates. Instead of giving a public voice to India’s passionate millions and encouraging the fresh, the new and the smart, he is holding on to his turf. By never saying anything to hurt any one and by refusing to get specific with names, issues and views, he is hanging on to a position he once earned and deserved.

In other words, Harsha Bhogle is India’s Thomas Friedman.

8 Responses to “Harsha Bhogle is India’s Thomas Friedman”

  1. Sharan (@sharanidli)

    While I am willing to buy your initial broad arguments on Harsha Bhogle, I am quite disappointed with the specific instances that you point out.

    “but at heart the game must be fair to bat and ball. Well, if not in reality, at least in principle.”
    This can be interpreted in many ways. My own interpretation is simple: all Harsha is trying to say is that the laws must be fair. If, in practice, people misuse them, then that is another matter. But, the law book cannot be biased against bowlers or batsmen.
    My own work is with the NREGA. If you read the Act, then you’ll notice that it is a spectacularly well thought out document with provisions of all kinds to ensure that, from a legal point of view, it is fair. And yet, in practice, there is so much that goes wrong, so many social groups that feel left behind. For the large part, the Law is not to blame and that is the first step. It is not the ONLY step, but at least the Law doesn’t justify/encourage exploitation directly.
    The NREGA is fair in principle. But, not always in reality.

    “.. neither legal nor fair”. I understand your quibble, but just to play devil’s advocate: the term “legal” has objective connotations and while something can be legal in your eyes and illegal in mine (otherwise, we wont have courts!) that has more to do with interpretation of the law than the law itself. Here too, the law is not wholly straightforward, because the MCC needed to clarify the matter before it went through. Could it be that Harsha feels the MCC’s interpretation is wrong? That, the original law- the one that prevented changing of grip– was the right one?
    My point here is not to say that Harsha is right, but that there is enough doubt to grant him some leeway and not ridicule him (‘WTF moments’)

    When he compares the switch hit to Steve Smith’s catch, the example is used to make a case for not always linking rewards with pure skill. Just as the catch is now deemed illegal, the switch hit must too, despite them both being exhibitions of tremendous skill. Harsha’s equivalence doesn’t draw from the legal angle, but the skill-to-reward conversion angle.

    I have no Wren and Martin, but I believe that “Of course” used alongside a phrase “Acknowledges the validity of the associated phrase”. And in that context, it can be used the way Harsha does.

    My issue with your arguments are not that they are incorrect, but that there exist sufficient grounds for questioning them. This suggests (to me, at least) that those that make them are not objects of ridicule. The article you picked out was one of those rare instances where Harsha took a stand– the tone and content is clear. He does not like the switch hit, it should be made illegal.

    That being said, I completely agree with your last paragraph. Its a shame he doesn’t take a stand more often on things that matter!

    Reply
    • shyamuw

      @sharanidli Thanks for the detailed comment and thanks so much for reading.

      Your expertise with the law and legal matters is definitely something I hope to soak from and learn from as we interact more. Your writing on the law here is very good and informative.

      I am not sure Harsha took a stance on switch hitting. A stance would be to recommend banning it completely (no right handers can ever bat left handed etc.) or leave rule as is or modify rule differently. Where in the piece has he expressed his choice?

      Reply
  2. tracer007

    Hehe…somehow I can’t get riled up enough over Harsha…true, I have noticed that lately, he prefers to stay in a neutral zone, condemning or praising both sides of a coin and trying his best not to offend anybody…I guess thats a side-effect of working with Shastri and Gavaskar for a long time!
    I did make similar points on Twitter a while back, but was shouted down by people who told me that I was being too harsh and that I was piling on a nice guy…Oh well…

    Reply
  3. W@ssup!

    Hahah…and you seem like cricket’s Suhel Seth!! 🙂 Trying to get yourself heard by complicating things that have been put forth simply and understood widely, including what the concerned person’s stand is! Maybe we should try and get Sidhu to explain it to you, for he seems to speak a language similar to yours! 🙂

    Reply
  4. catchharishHarish

    There are mysterious objects called ‘reliable sources’ in journalism.. If you take a stand too often(u r gonna piss them off) and they dry up and you never get the juicy inside insider details.. That is the inherent and contradictory problem with journalism.. It is not that Harsha Bhogle cannot and does not see the problems in today’s cricket that the rest of us do.. If he mentions the obvious too many times, he would hurt the ever so fragile ego’s of people involved, he wont get access, the multi crore book deals, television time and not to mention prime space on cricinfo.. In journalism, when it comes to writing the truth and paying for your bills (and the wonderful 2 minutes of fame).. the latter almost always wins… It is a problem everywhere with journalism, more so in the completely dishonest and corrupted world of Indian journalism (sports and otherwise)

    Reply
    • shyamuw

      @harish

      Completely agree. It is why blogs and independent media have an even bigger role to play and it is also why Harsha and other mainstream voices’ reluctance to give credence to anyone who doesn’t have a corporate badge is very disturbing.

      Journalists valuing access over honest criticism is a problem worldwide with no quick answer in sight. U have any solutions/thoughts?

      Reply
      • catchharish

        I don’t see any clear cut responses… the way I see… there are sports establishment journalists (Gavaskar, Shastri, Harsha Bhogle) etc who will play by the books and write and say ONLY politically correct stuff.. that is their bread and butter.. They also get the inside access and the big bucks!

        and then there are bloggers who can/should analyze what is being said and present the facts… they are NEVER going to make big bucks and not gonna get any kind of access whatsoever.. It is mostly a hobby for them

        So one has to decide what one wants to be(blogger or journalist) and what one wants to read/follow as public..

        These are 2 parallel and orthogonal worlds and the twain shall never meet… but the bigger problem is.. the reach of bloggers is very limited and most of the public start believing whatever is written and said by establishment journalists as gospel truth… this is a huge problem and in a country like India with very minimal technology penetration and a population that is not looking for fact based decisions… Most of India’s journalism is basically paid journalism, the highest bidder wins and media slant the news accordingly….IMO The bloggers have a very tough task of getting any audience and influencing real public opinion.. Atleast not now.. May be someday technology and the social structure will encourage that…I cant see of any.. today

        Reply

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