After a controversy-filled year that saw him dropped from BCCI’s commentary panel, Sanjay Manjrekar discusses the changing role of a commentator in modern-day cricket
“Why do you fans from Chennai hate me so much?” grins Sanjay Manjrekar, as he logs on to a late evening Zoom call from Mumbai, where he is in a bio-bubble.
Over the two decades he has been on television, the former cricketer-turned-commentator has seen several highs and lows. However, by his own admission, 2019 was a terrible year. It was the year of the ‘bits and pieces’ controversy — a comment he used to describe Indian cricketer Ravindra Jadeja that made the headlines. It was also the year he had an on-air spat with fellow commentator Harsha Bhogle, for which he subsequently apologised.
Comparatively, 2020 has been relatively quiet for Manjrekar, who was dropped from BCCI’s commentary panel earlier this year, reportedly for the Jadeja comment; he was not part of the IPL 2020 commentary panel. However, with the current India-Australia series underway Down Under, Manjrekar is back on air. Edited excerpts from an interview:
How do you look back at 2019, a year when so many things went wrong?
When you play cricket, you know what a good year is because you have statistics to endorse that. But commentary is not like that; it is about how your analysis is or how your predictions fare.
Last year, the problem was that the moment I said something would happen, the opposite of that would take place. I equate that with having a bad run. However, my thought process has been the same ever since I started out as a commentator.
How has 2020 been so far?
I felt like someone answered my long-time wish. I had travelled so much in my life that I had gotten sick of airports and security, and craved for a simple routine at home. I enjoyed the first few months during lockdown, and then, of course, I was working from home. As long as there is a cricket match going on and I can share my thoughts on it, I am happy.
Being back in the commentary box must feel good…
For me, commentary is like riding a bike; you just sit, and you are on your way. This is something I have done the most in my life. In fact, I did not even play cricket as long as I have been into talking about it.
What are your unforgettable memories of India-Australia clashes?
A lot come to mind. There have been great individual performances by Sachin [Tendulkar] and VVS Laxman, but I must say that Virat Kohli giving Australia a taste of their own medicine with his scores was thrilling to watch.
How did you handle being removed from the BCCI commentary panel earlier this year?
Not many people know that I have been removed twice before as well. It was for something that I had tweeted. It is not easy, of course, but in many ways, I have become thick-skinned about such things.
We all talk about the glamour of the commentators’ job. But is it also a little tricky, especially when you are being critical of a star player?
Commentary has always been the most sought-after job for cricketers post retirement. But now, people are very sensitive and everything gets amplified due to multiple media platforms. So, one has to be careful, but there is still a lot of value for truth.
I do not claim to be right, but I claim to be pure and speak from the heart. A lot of people get pessimistic that I am still around as a commentator, but the fact that channels still offer me a job proves that this path is not a bad one to take.
The IPL provided a lot of relief to cricket lovers, hasn’t it?
It’s no surprise that it was the most-watched IPL because people were starved of cricket. It brought a cheer to everyone’s lives.
But not so much to Team CSK, which did not particularly click this year…
Dhoni’s magic is such that he can get even an under-19 team to play well! But this year, he was not able to do that. He struggled as a batsman. If you look at CSK’s success over the years, it is not just about his role as a captain but also his contribution with the bat.
Would you then describe yourself as a misunderstood commentator?
My remark about Ravindra Jadeja being a ‘bits and pieces player’ was not me being wrong as a commentator, but only because English is not everyone’s second language.
People caught on to that only because Jadeja reacted. The only mistake I will hold myself responsible for, in all my twenty years of commentary, is the Harsha Bhogle incident (when Manjrekar took an apparent dig at Harsha’s credentials), where I allowed him to get under my skin and said something that was not in good taste.
Have your thoughts on Jadeja evolved since?
My selection and thoughts are based on a principle that I have learnt over the years: if you have specialists who can walk in based on one discipline, you fill your team with those players.
I do not have a problem with Jadeja; I have a problem with his kind of cricketers in white-ball cricket. Even Hardik Pandya will not be in my team. They add illusionary value to the team. Of course, I have always rated Jadeja highly in the Test format.
Watch the India-Australia cricket clash on SONY TEN 1, SONY TEN 3 and SONY SIX channels