If the BCCI isn’t careful, it might end up having two grooming centres with the same acronym. While the National Cricket Academy will continue to nurture and train players, the soon-to-be launched National Commentators Academy — probably the working title of BCCI’s new broadcasting enterprise — will be schooling those who will talk about the game. Ever since, it ventured into television production, BCCI has told commentators what to say when they are on air. Now, they plan to teach them how to say those lines, too.
BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur tries to clarify, spelling out the thought behind the idea. “We are planning to have a commentators’ academy where interested youngsters who want to take up the profession will be able to hone their skills. And it will also cater to various regional languages. Look how people liked Virender Sehwag and VVS Laxman’s commentary,” he said on Thursday.
Others in the board speak about the second reason behind laying out this assembly line of “Men with BCCI mikes” being the cricket board’s growing broadcasting ambitions. This IPL season, there is video content in Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi and Tamil — besides, of course, English — on its website, with former cricketers Rameez Raja, Sanjay Manjrekar, Anjum Chopra, and Laxman Sivaramakrishnan commentating in their respective mother tongues. There is a high demand for narrators, especially those who can be trusted to toe the official narrative.
Most changes, or reforms, the BCCI has implemented of late, have been influenced by the courts. Not this one, though. The exercise of catching the commentators raw, coaching them, and, finally, recruiting them to face the camera on match days isn’t something Justice RM Lodha would have had in mind when he wrote the following paragraph in his long report: “Even in regard to cricket commentary, games organized by the BCCI have a contractual condition that there can be no criticism of the BCCI or its selection process, thereby curtailing an exercise of free speech. Objective commentary ought to be permitted about everything connected to the match, allowing the commentators to express themselves freely and objectively.” It is unlikely that those nurtured, and employed, by the Indian board will dare to cross the line and be as free and objective as Lodha would like. They will be immensely indebted, too keen to please.
For long, the BCCI has set an unwritten code for those who wear those shirts with BCCI insignia. Thakur, talking to this paper just after his appointment as BCCI secretary last year, had categorically stated that the commentary box wasn’t the place to take a stand that went against BCCI. To the question about why during the 2013 season the commentators, a day after three Rajasthan Royals cricketers were arrested in Mumbai, didn’t say a word about the spot-fixing saga, that too when the depleted and disgraced Jaipur franchise was on field, Thakur said that he didn’t see anything amiss. “I think there are enough platforms to discuss those things… news channels and newspapers. I think there are a number of cricket fans who want to be focused on the cricket, watch a match and enjoy their evening. Why take away that opportunity from them? There are enough debates available on the TV channels, there are many platforms for those things… let’s focus on the cricket,” he said.
The timing of BCCI’s decision to set up a classroom and a syllabus for commentators is intriguing since it comes days after there was wide-spread speculation about the sudden sacking of its long-time retainer Harsha Bhogle. The BCCI top brass haven’t yet given an official reason for the high-profile termination, to Bhogle, or to the public. Off-the-record they do speak about an ugly spat at president’s Shashank Manohar’s home venue, complaints from players who thought Bhogle was critical of them on a few occasions and alleged negative feedback from social media. They say it was actor Amitabh Bachchan’s tweet about Indian commentators talking less about local cricketers – something that skipper Dhoni endorsed – that proved to be the trigger. Actually some even called it the final straw.
For the present and future commentators there are enough lessons to be learnt from the Bhogle’s long innings and also its abrupt end. If they stick to the straight and narrow, there will be the new-NCA where they will teach newbies to master the measured tone and exercise those all important perfect pauses.