Harsha Bhogle at Oxford

Written by  //  August 15, 2011  //  Sport  //  7 Comments

After a sandwich lunch this afternoon, I had the pleasure of hearing a man I have long admired – Harsha Bhogle. He gave a candid talk at the Rhodes house in Oxford and as is usual for him, his words were full of insights, sharp observations, tough questions, all packed together with a touch of humour.

Although the title of the talk was ‘Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown’, after the Edgbaston test, it was clear that India would no longer be wearing that crown. On that note, Harsha steered away from cricket and began his talk by talking about the importance of studying at good institutes and how one must make the most of their time.

After completing chemical engineering at Osmania University in Hyderabad, Harsha graduated from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahemdabad (arguably the best management school in India) before starting his career as a sports commentator. Later, when someone asked him about the motivation to make such a drastic career change, he confessed, “Things just happened. It wasn’t planned.”

India’s 64th Indpendence Day brought Harsha to comment on the new buzz word in the Indian management speak – Jugaad.  He believed that  if Jugaad is taken to mean entrepreneurial spirit then it’s ok but if instead it means ‘just get it done somehow’, then there’s definitely lots that is wrong. The commonwealth games were mentioned in the next few words, obviously.

Cricket had to figure at some point and what better moment than when he had only finished talking about India’s ‘Chalta Hai’ attitude, right? A good start to the many issues that Harsha discussed. Following is by no means an exhaustive list of what was discussed (I’ve written it as if those are the words he used but I don’t have an audio recording of the talk to confirm that so please forgive my errors):

  • Indian cricket lacks a system. Our Jugaad attitude has caused us many problems.
  • There are always two teams playing. One on the field and one off the field. Both teams are critical. The off-field team needs to prepare the on-field team to do its job best. In India, we have an excellent on-field team but a very ordinary off-field team.
  • We need to treat our players like corporations treat their brands. We must look at each player as a separate brand and we must understand what we need to do to nurture that brand. That’s the only way we will be able to bring the best out of the players that we have.
  • Indian first class cricket is ordinary. Even a country of a billion people cannot have enough players for 27 domestic teams. We need look one level below where we are to know our own strength. Australia has a fantastic first class scene and that is what allowed them to be at the top for so long.
  • IPL is a good thing. I am absolutely for it but may be it will hurt us in the long run. You can play for excellence or you can play for money. The player needs to make a choice.
  • Can you seriously expect Sehwag to say no I don’t want the $2.5 million, I will get the shoulder surgery done during the IPL and be ready for the test matches in England? Can you expect Delhi Daredevils who have invested over $80 million in the team with Sehwag in the middle of their strategy to walk away?
  • The order of things was that you graduated from test cricket into the shorter format of the game. Now the trend is reversing. That in itself may not be a bad thing but problems could arise when a player like Raina who is a star in T20s and ODIs thinks it is too much effort to play a test match and decides not to put in that effort. We may then spiral into not having good enough players for the test team. That could be a serious problem.
  • There are many parallels between the EPL and the IPL. For one, both are overrated. Both produce big names but they may not the best in the world.
  • BCCI is an earning board not a spending board. Some of the IPL money is getting invested in bettering our cricket infrastructure and it has definitely improved by leaps and bounds but the BCCI still spends a lot of money on unnecessary things like trying to not pay taxes.
  • On the Indian fan – We the Indian viewers must ask ourself, do we watch Indian cricket like and Indian soap serial? Today the team has lost three tests to England, so we hate them but tomorrow we will win the ODI series or Sachin will score his 100th 100 at the Oval which will make us forget all about the test series altogether. Do we Indians view cricket as escapism, a daily reminder of our Indianness?
  • Are we asking tough enough questions to our sports teams and their administration? Is Harbhajan really injured? I met a doctor who tells me that there is no such thing as an abdominal muscle injury. Can we not decide amongst ourselves that may be it’s not the right time to have Harbhajan around, let’s get someone else? Should Sehwag really be in England at all? Is he fit and ready to play the class of bowlers that England has in it’s team?
  • On sports administrators – I’ve long held the view that sportsman don’t make great administrators. How many international games Alex Ferguson played?
  • On Duncan Fletcher – The role of the coach is overstated in cricket. It’s the captain who calls the shots. He’s only supported by the coach. A team with a dominant coach is already a failed team. Cricket in that respect is a unique sport. It is the only game in which the captain (by which I mean the man who strategises) is on the field of play. In football, Alex Ferguson is the real captain of the Manchester United team.

He then answered plenty of questions, one that I asked him was with his brilliant insights has he ever been offered to help BCCI in selection or any other matters? He said he was happy he wasn’t involved. He believes that it is better if the people who have been on the front-line are the ones doing that job.

After the talk, he shared few stories from the cricketing world. About how Sachin says ‘Bats talk to me’, how McGrath claims that five of Steve Waugh’s thirty-two centuries actually belong to him (because as the 11th man he stood the ground and allowed Waugh to complete them!), how he has to manage doing quality analysis in a program despite all the commercial aspects (like Epson see beyond the usual moment), how different national cultures affect each countries playing style and many others.

Given the fact that I’ve actually remembered so much of what he spoke today might give you an idea of how much I enjoyed the talk. I am sure many others had an equally good time. I have to admit though that I am not a die-hard fan of cricket and whatever passion I have for the game stems from my love for the Indian cricket team and for the IPL. But I am not the typical fan either. I love them when they win but don’t hate them when they lose. In that regard, if there was one sports commentator in the world I wanted to meet in person then that would’ve been Harsha Bhogle. I’m glad I got that chance today.

PS: It’s a shame I didn’t take a picture to go along with this post. I’ve asked a friend to email me one that he took, when I get it I will upload it here.

7 Comments on "Harsha Bhogle at Oxford"

  1. Karan Bheda August 16, 2011 at 12:47 am ·

    Check out another of Harsha Bhogle’s excellent talks at his Alma Mattter, IIM-A — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugJhHsUfZFo

  2. Akshat August 23, 2011 at 11:42 am ·

    Here’s a candid interview of his: http://mutiny.wordpress.com/2007/04/08/interview-with-harsha-bhogle/

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