The first part of the interview was about Ravi Shastri the cricketer and his absorbing journey of self-discovery. In the second installment, he explains to Bharat Sundaresan and Sriram Veera, his unflinching stands on several issues of the game and what he thought of being cast as the BCCI’s mouthpiece
When this perception really came to the fore was during the fixing crisis in the IPL, where people went on saying Shastri is the voice of Indian cricket, why isn’t he saying anything? What were you privy to?
Nothing. Today Neeraj Kumar is with us (former Delhi Police commissioner who was appointed consultant of the BCCI’s anti-corruption unit in April 2015). It took them that long yaar. So for me to jump the gun and say do this, do that (was unwarranting). What if I had said no, no he’s absolutely innocent, say Sreesanth, or there’s somebody else, or Srinivasan. Bloody saala kuch nikal gaya udhar, I am looking like an idiot. So my thing in general was there’s an investigation going on. It wasn’t a case of I want to say or I don’t want to say. I said I don’t want to look like an idiot. You want me to spell out that by jumping the gun? They are privy to all the calls, the conversations and whatever was happening. Here you have zero knowledge. So why do you want to be a smart-ass? I have always believed sticking to what you know. Mind your own business, bolta hai na? So mind your own business. That is not my business. For me, life has been pretty great or simple because of that quality I have. You will never see me gossiping. Gossip is on hearsay. If you ask me about a guy I will say he’s a tw*t. Why? Because I think he’s a tw*t. You ask me about somebody else, and I will say I don’t know the guy. Neither is it my business knowing him.
But was it difficult to go on air the next day knowing all that was happening?
No, then you had to stick to cricket. The game has to go on. It is like you telling me Bombay Blast took place. Suddenly everyone should stay in. Within bloody six hours, everyone was in office. You are not thinking about who’s done that and all. Here, it’s very similar. OK they’ve weeded out 3-4 guys. But tomorrow you see a Tendulkar playing, here a Dravid playing and you can’t even imagine anything else then. You bloody go and speak on them. You want me to say that is very incorrect, and they should stop this whole tournament? I should not be commentating today? Drop the mike, throw it away, when a Tendulkar is driving beautifully through the covers? And if you see all these controversies that happen, in sport or outside, at the end of the day it’s the sport or that profession that takes them through. See soccer. A soccer player will come. A Messi will come. There’s enough happening in soccer. Enough doping happening in cycling. Armstrong went, Bradley came. You have athletics. Everything’s happening and then you have an Usain Bolt. So if I’m doing commentary on athletics, it’s very easy for you to tell me, ‘Why aren’t you focusing on that guy, the weightlifter jo fass gaya?’ You have to speak on what you see and do your job.
Remember the Mike Denness affair? A lot of people thought you were freedom fighter in a good and bad way. That Nasser Hussain issue when he supported DRS?
I am okay with Nasser saying he was paid to give opinions. No problems with it; absolutely not. I have tremendous regard for him. It’s not as if we stopped talking or something. That just happened that time (on air). (With Denness, the match referee in 2001) , some 6-7 guys docked and no explanation was given. I just thought you wanted some answers, which so happened it was India’s cause. You could see things were blatantly wrong. I wanted to ask him a question (at the press conference), he wasn’t answering and so I said, ‘what’s he doing here, we know what he looks like!’… At that time, because he gave the statement and the judgement. I knew what was exactly happening. And then he came and sat down there refusing to answer. So I could take his pants off.
So that had nothing to do with BCCI?
Nothing to do with BCCI. That time what BCCI? When I said with Harsha on air, “Mr Dalmiya if you have the guts come here and speak to me?”, tab kahan tha BCCI? Tab kaun likha voice of BCCI? And Jaggu was the first guy to say, “Isko nikalo commentary se” (remove him from commentary). He went and told ESPN. Yet we became best friends after that. Best friends because of straight dialogue. I said what you did was wrong, he said what you did was wrong. Bapa-papa-pa hua and then settled (claps his hands).
So you are the kind of guy who would go and confront the person straight…
Absolutely. Straight confront. No hearsay. What’s your problem? You think I’m wrong? And if I believe I’m wrong I will apologize.
In these terms (being the BCCI’s voice box) your conscience is clean?
And the subsidiary of the criticism was during Lalit Modi, you talked up Modi, next season he’s out. Then you went and talked up the other people.
No, no there again there was a full thing, which I said on air. I spoke in the Dilip Sardesai Lecture also that you have to give credit for what he’s done in the first two years of the IPL. Then there were obviously mistakes for which he has to answer. We can’t answer for him. If there’s an Enforcement Directive or some other accusation we can’t answer. He has to answer, and that’s why he’s not there.
Why do you think people always have this misconception about you?
Probably because there aren’t too many of a kind. I mean, we are a minority. My kind of guys. Like you said are you un-Indian in many ways? The fact that you are asking is that it is that.
You have always been frank and upfront. Even in that Tehelka video on fixing…
I met Shobha De. She said they were showing it (Manoj Prabhakar had stung him) in Oberoi at some event. When you started, all the journalists in the audience shut their notebooks, put their pens away and just enjoyed you in the video. I told her, ‘just enjoy it, that’s the way you have to do it!’ She was saying that was most hilarious.
And that famous episode of you abusing Sudhir Naik, Mumbai curator?
(Gets up dramatically) No no no… I told him ‘great track, Sudhir’. It was outside the balcony yaar. I said champion , he got angry and said, ‘thankyou, thankyou!’ And then I turned around and was going like this — there was a manager and three other guys. I said, I said, ‘Shove up the a***.’ I could have told him (Sudhir) there only. Five guys were there as witness, ki yeh aisa kyun chilla raha hain. My back is turned and not even looking at him. Uska naam bhi nahi liya hai (I didn’t even name him).
But you still meant the curator only, right? You were talking about the pitch.
I am saying it wasn’t directed at him. There were three other fellows who were supposed to water. In the end, he started blaming Dhiraj Prasanna. There were four-five guys ; it’s not he who prepared the pitch, there are watering guys and all that. If you think, I meant the guys who prepared the wicket, them only. But I didn’t go and abuse him on his face; it was more of a comment.
But he was a former Mumbai captain. Mamla touchy ho gaya tha…
Bulls**t. I just told what I saw. The issue is when I am looking at my team, I don’t look at selection. Usi match mey Umesh ko nahi liya! Three bowlers 130, 130 ,130.. bloody hot it was that day. If they had fielded na, do-teen jaan jaata! (2-3 lives would have gone!)
How do you look at Srinivasan saga and Modi coming back?
I don’t know whether he’s coming back. I don’t know the Srinivasan issue. I have been involved with the game. I see some really positive moves. With all these committees, Mudgal and Lodha, it can only help in getting good things in place, which will make the game better.
Back to commentary, how long did it take for you to find your voice?
Two days. Hold your own means hold your own, like it’s your batting. You have to get runs. I just felt comfortable. I said, there is enough here you can contribute. And I went. I quit everything on the outside. It was right after winning the Ranji Trophy in 1994. That season when I played, I realized how bad my knee was. Anyway, managed that season. We won the Ranji Trophy. There was a break for about six or five months before anything happened. I realized at that time I could play at ‘this’ (first-class) level for another three years. But that (international) level, no chance. In that span of two months, suddenly I got a call saying would you like to do commentary?
The initial bit must have come naturally, but in this you had to do something special early to find your feet?
That’s when I worked the hardest. I probably did the next 7-8 years, 150 days live a year, across the globe. The more I did it, themore comfortable I felt with the medium as well. In 1996, 97, I hardly did anything in India. It was Sri Lanka, New Zealand, and a heck of a lot in Africa — Zimbabwe, Kenya. Like I said, 150 days means every two days you are either on a flight or doing commentary. There are 365 days in a year. So 140-145 days for eight years. And every corner. I didn’t do Hindi unless there was a DD broadcast or something. And I fronted so many series, where India didn’t even play. In Australia, England. And the Australia-South Africa series at the turn of the century.
In cricket you knew that you had arrived when you hit that hundred against Pakistan. Any such moment in commentary?
The first day itself. I felt like I belong here. So in the middle of that season only I announced my retirement. I called a press conference and I said, bas. I said boss this is your life. I came back, I walked straight into Bombay House, met the secretary gave my registration, and they asked, what? That year, I had won the Ranji Trophy as captain, at Tata’s we had won the Times Shield, and every damn thing that there was to win. I said, “Nahi, agar serious lena hai toh lena hai.” So I quit.
Were there nerves and all on the first day?
Yeah there were butterflies. And you were doing it with the big boys yaar. There was (Tony) Greig there. There was Chappell, Stackpole there. Guys who had done television. Barry (Richards) was there. Thommo (Jeff Thomson) there. Henry (Blofeld) was there in Sri Lanka. The triangular series. You knew. Immediately when you went there, you knew you can hold your own.
You’d never even thought about commentary as a post-cricket option is it?
Never. I was a massive radio buff. I used to listen to a lot of commentary on radio. Right since growing up years. I would follow the BBC or ABC or whatever. Make no mistake about it. I am passionate about the game. That you can guarantee. That’s why you can do these jobs for so many years. That’s why I loved the commentary, every day there could be something new. Good spell or whatever. Else, you could go into a rut as a commentator without that kind of passion.
There are some commentary clichés associated with you because you have been doing it for so many years. Like tracer bullet. Criticism is that you use a lot of those.
It just happened. With the flow, you can’t plan abhi karna hai. When it actually goes like a bullet, you can say it. Someone told me once (about using that words a lot), I told him, ‘enjoy it!’. Every day, you can’t think of new words. Some guy came and told me about the tracer-bullet thing. That match I told him, “you are seeing it for the 15th repeat, that’s not my fault!” When they keep showing the match 15-20 times, and you go, he has said tracer bullet again! I said it once, you are seeing it 20 times! It’s not my headache na!
In December 2006, there was beef controversy in Johannesburg (Bajrang Dal had filed a case against him for reportedly eating beef and commenting on air, “ Though I know that I am a Brahmin, I can’t stop myself from eating the dish.”)
I didn’t realise it. You have to be careful. We have bunny chow (South African fast food dish consisting of a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with curry) and I just said it, I didn’t realise it will create such a stink. Then you had to be careful about what you do.
How much did you enjoy doing Shaz and Waz show with Wasim Akram?
Good fun. Right up in my alley. Waz was the right guy, he complemented me perfectly.
There was this lady in Australia. Physiotherapist, probably. You put her hand on your thigh and said you have a pain in groin or something. Do you guys discuss about what kind of line you have to draw?
As long as you don’t do something stupid. That was humorous yaar, she must have started laughing if I remember. Anyway, after that I got lots of messages, ‘you lecherous b*****d!’ I turned and told Wasim, ‘that means the show is hit.’ I told my friends who had texted me with that, ‘why are you watching this, go and watch something else if you don’t like it!’ Some said, ‘lucky you, she was hot!’
You were the glamour boy in your days. Even now, in fact.
I was never shy. Even in my playing days, I used to be at the bars with the chicks. What do you do? That’s your personality, how do you change? Bandar jitna b boodha ho, gulati maarna nahi bhoolta yaar! What you are is what you are, yaar.
You disappear after tours, where do you go, what do you do?
I travel, have one or two speaking engagements, one with Boris becker. I just switch off. Play golf, just Chillax. Meet friends, have drinks. Not good at golf, just for fun. I do my rounds of temples. I am like that way. My family is in Karwar (in Karnataka). I go to (temples in) Tirupati, Guravayur.
How difficult is it to manage time when you are team director as compared to while doing commentary?
In the director post it’s much more. In commentary, you can get out. Here you have to be all the time. You have to go early, be there with the team. I get time to spend with my daughter when I am here; otherwise it’s tough. Luckily, next two years, cricket is in India.
How would you describe yourself as a person? It almost seems you avoid emotions — I am this tough guy.
What you see is what you get. I do get emotional. If you are passionate about something, you are bound to be emotional.