TV anchor-for-all-seasons-and-for-unintended-laughs Charu Sharma glossing over the England-Sri Lanka match scorecard: “Marcus Trescothick…well, he lived by the sword and died by it.”
Well, no… actually, Trescothick made a quiet 66 runs off 98 balls and was then run out at the non-striker’s end when the bowler deflected a Flintoff straight drive onto the stumps.
Why Charu? The question has haunted me ever since I first saw the man hosting cricket discussions on Star Sports back in 1997, and saying ridiculous things like ”Mohammed Azharuddin there, hitting a nice little six” (this is true, swear, promise – it was during that great Tendu-Azhar partnership in the Cape Town Test!!) Back then, we would joke about the layers of make-up on his face and how the Star make-up personnel must be having their way with him in the dressing room (using his face for practice, I mean, not in the sexual sense).
But back then, Charu was glimpsed only once every five or six series. Now he’s everywhere. And worst of all, since he’s now surrounded by co-anchors who know slightly less about the game than even he does, he is allowed to play knowledgeable big brother. (“There, there, Mandira. You’ve just put your foot in your mouth yet again – but fret not, I’m here to save the Show.”) A world where Charu Sharma can be patronizing! Aargghhh!
Around two years ago, when Sony Entertainment TV first commenced its practice of placing Charu in a studio next to a psycho-babbling bimbette (it was Ruby Bhatia at the time), I wrote a (prescient as always) Wicked Wicket on this unlooked-for revolution in cricket broadcasting. Here it is:
Viewer-friendly freak show?
Set Max’s decision to turn their pre/post-match discussions into a carnival during the ICC Trophy provoked some interesting responses. The dominant view was that expressed by the Purists’ Brigade. “First coloured pyjamas,” we shrieked (yes, the more hoary-minded among us still haven’t gotten over that transgression), “then Third Umpire LBWs, now this; what have They done to Dr Grace’s Good Game?”
But after one particularly difficult tube-watching session some of us decided to discuss the issue seriously. We’d just heard Charu Sharma ask Arbaaz Khan "Don’t you wish women played cricket so Bollywood’s big male stars like you would have someone to flirt with?" (a question that must, like the scorecards of great Test matches, be revisited – you find something new in it each time.) The other side of the argument must be heard, we said bravely.
According to this view, cricket needs to be made accessible to people who get intimidated by jargon and top-heavy analyses. We need someone we can identify with, say the heathens, even feel superior to (therefore Ruby, who also supplies eye candy). We need someone who talks the same facile nonsense we would have, if suddenly flung into the studio; therefore Charu. (Though, honestly, I still haven’t figured out his function in the scheme of things – he’s so neither-here-nor-there. Doesn’t know about the game and isn’t even a hunk.)
We don’t need the Harsha Bhogle-Gavaskar-Boycott nexus, says this group; they say complicated things in throwaway fashion, assuming the viewer knows as much as they do. We do need tarot cards.
There could be something to all this. But what then of this friend who says she’s been trying to "get into" the game but the Set Max freak show keeps turning her off it? The truth, like Charu, probably lies somewhere in between. Time will tell whether this is the beginning of a revisionist revolution in cricket broadcasting or just a two-week circus.
Meanwhile, a horrible thought has afflicted me of late. Set Max has the rights to the 2003 World Cup. Will they…can it be…surely not? Please, please let the worst thing about this World Cup be the Australia-Holland match.
-- Jai Arjun Singh