Cricket has changed and comparing players from different eras is an exercise in futility
To start with, cricketer-commentator/reporter feud is not a modern-day issue. It has been happening for ages. Even the greatest of them all, Don Bradman, had fallen out with his Australian team-mate and noted cricket writer Jack
Fingleton. The friction reportedly started with Fingleton and Bill O’Reilly leading a group of Australian players of Irish Catholic descent to undermine the leadership of the Don, who was a Protestant. The conflict had a carry-over effect even after the players had hung up their boots, with Fingleton pursuing a career in political commentary and cricket writing.
In early 1980s, Sunil Gavaskar and Rajan Bala weren’t on speaking terms for close to two years over an article that the late cricket correspondent had written. Gavaskar questioned the veracity of the report. In the 1990s, then India captain Mohammad Azharuddin went to the extent of calling Gavaskar “jealous”, after the latter had criticised Azhar’s batting and captaincy, and the Indian team’s performance.
More recently, in 2012, former England opener Nick Knight ran into Kevin Pietersen after he had said:
“England’s 50-over side will be slightly better for having Kevin Pietersen out because it has not been his bag.” Pietersen responded with a loose tweet—“Can somebody PLEASE tell me how Nick Knight has worked his way into the commentary box for the home Tests?? RIDICULOUS!!”—and was subsequently fined by the England and Wales Cricket Board. Knight played 17 Tests compared to Pietersen’s 104.
During the ongoing World Cup, England opener Jonny Bairstow hit back at criticisms from Pietersen and Michael Vaughan, saying: “People were waiting for us to fail. They are not willing us on to win, in many ways, they are waiting for you to get that loss, so they can jump on your throat. It’s a typical English thing to do, in every sport.”
Even the International Cricket Council’s production partner sent a letter to Michael Holding after the former West Indies fast bowler made a fair criticism of umpiring errors while commentating.
The elongated prelude was an attempt to put things in perspective. A few days back, former India middle-order
batsman-turned- commentator Sanjay Manjrekar became a Twitter trend following Ravindra Jadeja’s jibe at the
former’s comment that described the Indian all-rounder as a ‘bits-and-pieces’ cricketer in shorter formats. “Still I have played twice the number of matches you have played and I am still playing. Learn to respect people who have achieved. I have heard enough of your verbal diarrhoea. @sanjaymanjrekar,” Jadeja responded.
Like Pietersen, who had referred to Knight’s playing career, Jadeja, too, questioned Manjrekar’s playing credentials. Between 1987 and 1996, Manjrekar featured in 37 Tests and 74 ODIs, scoring 2,043 and 1,994 runs respectively. Compared to that, Jadeja so far has played 41 Tests and 151 ODIs, making 1,485 and 2,035 runs respectively. The spin-bowling allrounder also has 192 wickets in Tests and 174 scalps in the ODIs. Does it make Jadeja a better cricketer than Manjrekar?
The Mumbai batsman, late Vijay Manjrekar’s son, scored a double century in a Test match in Pakistan against a bowling attack comprising Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Abdul Qadir. He had a century against the West Indies in Barbados. The West Indies bowling boasted of Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Ian Bishop.
Cricket has changed and comparing players from different eras is an exercise in futility. Manjrekar served Indian cricket to the best of his ability. Jadeja is doing that now. From that perspective, Jadeja’s Twitter snide was below the belt. By his logic, Garry Sobers is not qualified to comment on limited-overs cricket, because the former West Indies captain, widely regarded as the ultimate cricketer, featured in only one One-Day International, scored a duck and picked a solitary wicket.
As for Manjrekar, a commentator is entitled to his opinion. But he probably went a little too far by calling a player ‘bit-and-pieces’ who has two triple centuries in first-class cricket. Given that the left-hander is yet to get a game in this World Cup, Manjrekar’s comment probably added to his frustration.
The majority of modern-day players prefer to stay in a bubble. They don’t take kindly to anything that can damage their profile and commercial opportunities. Social media has given them a platform to communicate directly with their fans. The direct interaction helps them increase their fan-base as well. They no longer rely on the reporters and commentators for publicity and accordingly keep them at arm’s length.
Cricket commentary/punditry hardly throws up no-holds-barred criticism, which is prevalent in football. The
Premier League footballers face the likes of Graeme Souness and Roy Keane, for example, week in and week out. Sample this: “I wouldn’t believe a word he says. There’s no meaning, no meaning behind it. I don’t even think he believed what he was saying there. He is a big problem, no doubt about it,” Keane had said about Paul Pogba only a few months ago. The former Manchester United captain even branded some of the players in the current squad as ‘bluffers’.
Wonder how the Indian cricketers would have reacted to such sharp-shooting. There had been examples in Indian cricket of commentators being removed from the panel because they were overtly critical. This in a way gags the freedom of expression. At the same time, it’s important not to offend the players. Richard Benaud criticised when criticism was due. But he did that without offending anyone.