This book, Out of the Box by Harsha Bhogle, is promoted as a collection of the best of Harsha Bhogle’s articles for Indian Express. It is more a selection of Harsha Bhogle’s works for the Indian Express in the last 5 years. I picked it up in a hope to read some of his earlier articles as he has often admitted to being influenced by Peter Roebuck and even tried to write like him in his early days. Though I had read many of the articles over the years, to have them all together in a single book is a treat – like Neville Cardus’ Cardus On Cricket and Peter Roebuck’s It Takes All Sorts.
I often wondered as to how he manages to shuffle between radio, television and print media so effortlessly. I even concluded sometime back that if you were good in one medium, you would be good in the other mediums as well. Through personal experience I have learned over the years that you should be able to say what you have to say in 20 words in 15 seconds on a television programme which you would describe over 500 words in the next day column space. Through some of his works I have been able to acknowledge that different mediums require different skills.
He has a wonderful style of writing. He uses expressions like ‘titration’ and ‘inference’ and ‘concentrated solution’ often to emphasize his points of view. Perhaps it has got to do with him holding a degree in Chemical Engineering. Often he uses terms like ‘sensex of batting’ and ‘blue chip stocks’ as a reminder of his IIM-A* days. But really, what he says is more important than how he says it. His take on Indian cricket and the BCCI as a true reflection of the state of affairs in Indian cricket. Not for nothing is he called the Richie Benaud of India, and I would agree with that.
Of course, it doesn’t mean I agree with everything he has to say. I do believe that he gets it wrong at times. But you can’t deny the love he has for the game and Indian cricket. He has a sane and balanced view on how and why Indian cricket is the way it is and I gladly concur with him on how and why Australian ways of playing cricket doesn’t necessarily work in India. He has for long been a huge fan of Australian ways of playing sport and in one piece even dissects why Greg Chappell’s ways didn’t work out with the Indian system and why Hayden wasn’t off the mark when he said Indians play for personal records and not for the team. It is a remarkable piece of work and the book is worth a buy for that article alone.
He has strong views on the structure of First Class cricket. He says a country of 27 First Class teams is a recipe for disaster and calls for reduction in the number of teams in order to create a ‘concentrated’ group of teams resulting in high quality players which has merit. Perhaps his views on franchise system being the way forward even for First Class cricket calls for attention of those running the game here.
He argues that BCCI’s two fold agenda involves filling its coffers and then seek the votes every Annual General Meeting. Whilst BCCI wants to be the superpower off the field it successfully manages to do that given the following for the game and the money that India is willing to pump in. India’s on-field performance suffers as a result as the parent that runs the sport thinks that its responsibilities are over by appointing the best tutor to take care of its rich kid. Worse still, it believes the responsibility of the kid is also over the moment it appoints the best tutor!
All my non-Indian friends should grab a copy of this book to understand the chaotic ways of how cricket is run in India, how and why Indian players and spectators have a love for centuries and statistics, and how with so many hundreds of thousands playing the game it is still not the best cricket team in the world.
And for budding sports writers it makes sense you read one of the best. For all the media hype and over-the-top fan fare, India still produces some of the better cricket writers in the world. I do know that most of what is written in newspapers is biased, even foul at times, but in Nirmal Shekar, Ramachandra Guha, Harsha Bhogle, Rohit Brijnath, Sharda Ugra, Mukul Kesavan, Suresh Menon, Rahul Bhattacharya we have some of the finest and brightest and sanest sports writers in the world.
Cricket, they say, reveals the character of the man playing it. I say read Harsha Bhogle and you’ll get to know everything Indian.
* IIM-A (Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad) is India’s top B-School