Cricket commentary on television April 17, 2006

Atherton raises questions about freedom on air

Cricinfo staff

Michael Atherton says commentators were 'asked not to mention sensitive subjects' on air © Getty Images

Michael Atherton, the former England captain who was part of the commentary team for the India-England series, has said that commentators had been asked to stay clear of "sensitive" issues by the production company.

"The Indian cricket board treat Nimbus, the production company to whom they sold the television rights, like an in-house production company," Atherton wrote in his column in the Sunday Telegraph. "Nimbus are petrified of upsetting their 'employer', for fear of not getting any future rights, so any criticism of the BCCI is strictly frowned upon.

"Local commentators are already asked to wear the BCCI logo and are asked not to mention sensitive subjects like the spat between Greg Chappell and Sourav Ganguly, or controversial selection issues, no matter how germane they might be to the action. There has been talk that eventually the BCCI will have their own cricket channel. No doubt the viewers will get to see only what the BCCI want them to see and, with compliant commentators on board, they will hear only what the BCCI want them to hear."

Harish Thawani, promoter of Nimbus, denied these claims. "I am the producer of the series and I have not issued any instructions to this effect," he was quoted as saying in Hindustan Times. "In fact, the commentators were very critical of the amount of cricket being played and of the board overusing certain cricketers. There's no question of gagging anyone."

Niranjan Shah, the BCCI secretary, rejected the claims made by Atherton, referring to it as a misunderstanding. He said cricketers, once out of the field, have a platform to criticise people as openly as they can write in newspapers and express in other ways. He added that the board was willing to clarify all concerns the commentators may have.

Javagal Srinath, the former Indian fast bowler who was also one of the commentators during the series, had a different view. "I don't know what was told to them [the Sky team]," he told Cricinfo, "but we had no restraint as such."