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The main virtue of this collection of Harsha Bhogle's newspaper columns is its immediacy and enthusiasm
August 29, 2009
When Harsha Bhogle first came into the commentary box, he brought with him a rare sense of excitement, a deep regard for the game's traditions and a profound empathy for its players. There was, too, the boy-next-door image, which, once he had found his feet in television, made him the first superstar of the game in India who was not actually a player. Amazingly, after two decades Bhogle retains the enthusiasm and a child-like wonder that communicates itself to the listener. There are no fans like 12-year-old fans, Ian Peebles once said, and Bhogle is a 12-year-old fan bringing the game into our drawing rooms without the cynicism or world-weariness common to journalists. This is remarkable.
Nor is there word-weariness, if this book, the short pieces in which were written first for the Indian Express is any indication. The first of the pieces was written some five years ago. For a traditionalist, it is surprising that he begins with the Twenty20 - he was associated with the Mumbai Indians in the IPL - before moving on to Test cricket and assessment of the great players.
Bhogle writes well, and conveys to the reader a sense of immediacy, even urgency, as he comments on India's matches, looks forward or throws a backward glance, and occasionally gets personal (some of the best pieces, incidentally, like his column on the 1983 World Cup triumph). This is both the strength and the weakness of the book. The immediacy captures a moment, but occasionally suggests that the tyranny of the looming deadline has triumphed over the need for what Bhogle himself calls calls "weightiness". In a crisp summing up in the preface, he says, "While television rewards spontaneity, the written word demands weightiness. It is a completely different genre but one that is crippled by insensitivity to words."
Yet, there are enough gentle strokes of the brush, especially in the player portraits, that make up for this. Rahul Dravid, he says, "is like the musician plucking each note carefully, a scientist doing a titration where each drop matters. Sehwag might wonder at the need for it." The metaphors come thick and fast, and the comparisons are bang on target.
I have two grouses, however. One is the felt need to occasionally cater to the lowest common denominator by dragging in Bollywood to make a point, and the other is the lack of insider stories from a man who has seen Indian cricket, indeed world cricket, from inside out. It would also have been good to have some of his early writings, from the days when he was less rushed and wrote with an innocence that was charming.
But that isn't his fault. This is a collection of columns from a specific newspaper over a certain period, and such columns have their limitations.
It would have been lovely, too, to have had anecdotes about his colleagues in the commentary box, and stories of the people he has interviewed with such a wonderful combination of "weightiness" and fun. Bhogle's best work is yet to be anthologised, and for fans everywhere that is something to look forward to.
Out of the Box: Watching the Game We Love
by Harsha Bhogle
Penguin/Viking, 275pp, Rs 495
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