Why Indian Cricket Fans Love to Hate Sanjay Manjrekar’s Commentary


Why Indian Cricket Fans Love to Hate Sanjay Manjrekar’s Commentary

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

Cricket commentary, on the surface, looks easy. That’s probably why every living room in the country has an uncle who holds forth on a host of topics, like the quality of the pitch, the impact of the weather conditions, and intangible factors like form and momentum every time there’s a World Cup match on the telly. But providing insightful commentary that is appreciated by your listeners is harder than it looks, which is why that “expert” uncle is considered an annoyance by everyone else in the room. And if the living room in question is in fact all of India, then the honour of being the most annoying uncle present would go to Sanjay Manjrekar faster than a tracer bullet.

Of all the commentators providing analysis in all the languages at this World Cup, Manjrekar might easily be the least popular one there. This tournament has been plagued with incessant rains that have played spoilsport and led to the cancellation of a few matches, but Manjrekar’s commentary is still the biggest dampener for the fans who are watching. His insights are never as astute as Harsha Bhogle’s; neither is he witty, entertaining, and unpredictable like Virender Sehwag; nor does he have Sourav Ganguly or Sachin Tendulkar’s indisputable status as a legend to back up his words; but for some reason he’s still a regular behind the mic, and has been ever since quietly fading from competitive cricket in 1997.  

Despite a decades-spanning broadcast career, Manjrekar has failed to cultivate a loyal following. Sportspeople have loyal fans, Mankrekar has loyal haters. Most Indian cricket fans find him to be overly influenced by his personal biases and inconsistent in his evaluation of players’ performances. He is rudely dismissive of teams other than India and his favoritism toward Mumbai players is unparalleled in the commentary box. Although no one has forgotten, he must remind us every time how many double hundreds Rohit Sharma has scored, how good Tendulkar and Gavaskar were back in the day, and why Mumbai keeps producing star batsmen. It doesn’t help that his own playing resume is often compared to the players he attempts to critique – there’s no version of Indian cricket history where Sanjay Manjrekar’s contributions to the game were more significant than MS Dhoni’s, and Dhoni fans were quick to remind Manjrekar about the same when he called out the former skipper for his unadventurous batting at the tournament. “Dhoni’s approach in the last few overs (against England) was baffling,” he said on Twitter.  

Dhoni has led India to two World Cup triumphs, and all Manjrekar has led Indians to are the mute buttons on their remotes. In fact, during the India versus Bangladesh match earlier this week, fans took to Twitter to share photos of their televisions on mute while Manjrekar was commentating, and started a hashtag campaign to #SackManjrekar. Like every other storm in a teacup this year, the #SackManjrekar movement even ended up with its own petition on Change.org. Remaking Game of Thrones, sacking Robert Pattison as Batman, and removing insipid cricket commentators are the internet’s priorities, which pretty much sums up 2019 in a sentence.

Despite a decades-spanning broadcast career, Manjrekar has failed to cultivate a loyal following.

It would be interesting to know if Ravindra Jadeja is among the over 9,000 people who have signed the anti-Manjrekar petition. The former India cricketer and colourless commentator got engaged in the modern era’s take on a pistol duel, a Twitter beef. Manjrekar called Jadeja a “bits and pieces player”, and Jadeja responded by saying he had had enough of Manjrekar’s “verbal diarrhoea”. Perhaps Jadeja should consider a career in politics, because there’s never been a cricketer who captured public sentiment as emphatically as he did with a single tweet.

The witch-hunt against Sanjay Manjrekar has become the biggest story in Indian cricket this week, eclipsing even the team’s win against an improved Bangladeshi squad. The simmering resentment against the charisma- vacuum Manjrekar has been brought to light by the outpouring of emotion against him. It’s clear that the Indian cricketing community has little love for him. “I hate Rameez Raja because I am a Harsha Bhogle fan. I hate Sanjay Manjrekar because I am a human being,” tweeted Saad Ashfaq. “Sanjay Mankrekar is a real pain in the ears,” said Twitter user @Sysabs7.  In fact, even at the height of their wicket-taking powers, Pakistan’s strike bowlers Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis were probably more popular with Indian fans than Manjrekar could ever hope to be. If you asked the average fan if they would rather watch India crash out of the World Cup, or listen to Manjrekar call another match, the answer would surprise you.

To his credit, Manjrekar has seemingly taken all the criticism on the chin, not responding to the insults and ridicule. But then again, he doesn’t need to, because as soon as you turn on your TV to watch the next match, he’s going to be there, waiting, with his commentary that’s as flavourless as boiled water. And that’s when he will have his revenge.