Commentary from within a bio-bubble: Part of the job

Much before a tournament begins, the broadcaster ensures that the commentators go into quarantine and get tested at regular intervals. Once the quarantine is over, they are allowed to enter the bubble. Just like the players, they too are not allowed to step out of the bubble and meet outsiders — and a breach means going back to quarantine again.

Former India internationals Ajit Agarkar (left) and Deep Dasgupta on commentary duty during IPL 2020. “You have to accept the way things are right now. Yes, it is challenging, but then, you also have friends like Ajit and Kartik (Murali) and Sunny sir (Sunil Gavaskar) for company,” says Dasgupta.   -  Twitter / Deep Dasgupta

Breakfast in Vadodara, lunch in Chennai and dinner in Delhi! Not long ago, that’s how many would describe the life of cricket commentators in the country. And why not! After all, they would start their day in one city, call a match in another and then take the last flight home. It was challenging for sure, but the commentators — most of them former India cricketers — enjoyed this fast-paced life.

But things have changed since the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the players need to get inside a bio-bubble, it is a similar story for commentators. Much before a tournament begins, the broadcaster ensures that the commentators and the entire crew — camerapersons, technicians, producers and all others required for daily television production work — go into mandatory quarantine and get tested at regular intervals.

Once the quarantine period is over, the commentators are allowed to enter the bubble. Just like the players, they too are not allowed to step out of the bubble and meet outsiders — a bubble breach means going back to quarantine again. The daily routine is quite simple — go to the ground or the studio and return to the bubble. It gets monotonous for sure, but the commentators have slowly come to terms with the “new normal.”

'Veteran'

Former India spinner Kartik Murali is a “veteran” of bio-bubbles. “We all dreaded it in the beginning, but it is a part of life now. As professionals, we need to accept the tough part of the job and this bio-bubble is extremely challenging. You have to learn to live by yourself. It can get lonely no doubt, but you have to find ways to stay focused,” he says.

To tackle the bio-bubble, Kartik relies on his love for spirituality. “I have my books. I re-read the Shri Sai Satcharitra. I carry other books too, but books on spirituality give me strength. Of course, you have movies to watch and music to listen to, but nothing like a book.”

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Kartik has experienced the bio-bubble and COVID-19 tests since April 10 when he was preparing for the 2020 Indian Premier League (IPL) in Dubai. “I have adapted to the bio-bubble requirements. I have had about 50 tests, I have got used to them now.”

Former India wicketkeeper-batsman Deep Dasgupta was in the United Arab Emirates for nearly three months for the IPL and is currently engaged in the India-England series. Over the last six months, Dasputa has undergone “at least 40-45” Covid tests in the bubble, but he is happy to be back in action — albeit with the microphone.

“It is tough. Earlier, you could head home in between the matches. But you are taken care of, and it’s a job that we love doing. So, it is what it is,” Dasgupta says.

Former India spinner Pragyan Ojha, who was part of the commentary panel for the knockout stage of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in Ahmedabad in January, admits that if one stays inside the bubble for longer, it could get a bit challenging.   -  K. V. S. Giri

 

While this is a new experience for him, Dasgupta admits there needs to be a “shift in the mindset.” “You have to accept the way things are right now. Yes, it is challenging, but then, you also have friends like Ajit (Agarkar) and Kartik and Sunny sir (Sunil Gavaskar) for company. You are allowed to meet each other inside the bubble, so that’s a good thing,” he says.

On match days, there is a rush to reach the venue from the hotel and then get ready to go on air, but things are quite slow-paced on off days. “You get to spend a lot of time with yourself, then make phone calls at home — speak to parents, the family. You also end up watching a lot of shows and films on OTT (over-the-top) platforms.”

The “good part,” according to Dasgupta, is the fact that the bubble life has helped him develop stronger bonds with members of the unit. “There is a place for meals, where you meet the people, chat, and that also helps you in making your own schedule. Earlier, you would mostly interact with your fellow commentators and a few others. But now, since everyone is inside the bubble, it is like a family,” he says.

“The breakfast goes on for an hour and a half, and you chat with your colleagues. The gym is also open, so you can go there and do some fitness training. You slowly get used to this life. But perhaps, the only thing is you do not get to meet the family for a long time.”

Relying on friends

Just like the cricketers, even the commentators have bad days in office. In an ideal world, they would just cool their heels with a good meal or catch up with friends and family. But the bubble life does not allow that. So, what’s the way to regroup?

“As a player, if you have not done well on a particular day, there would be team-mates who would lift your mood. Here too you have friends around and the best part is I am very close to this lot. Sunny sir, Kartik and I have been colleagues for long. Even with Ajit – I go back a long way, since our under-19 days. You become closer with the time and they become your support group. That’s what has happened here, too,” Dasgupta says. “We were in Chennai for three weeks. It was the same room and the same set of people. It’s the same in Ahmedabad as well...”

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“The bio-bubble was very tough, especially being away from the family for so long,” says former India fast bowler and commentator Irfan Pathan, who was in the bio-bubble in Mumbai for nearly three months during IPL 2020. “At that time (August-September), we had a mandatory 14-day quarantine, so it was not easy to stay inside the same room. Now, obviously the number of days for quarantine has gone down, and you can step out of your room after a week. But back then, two-week quarantine was quite challenging. I did training inside the room, watched television, read up a little – but when work started, we were busy. We got used to the new normal and slowly, we started training near the pool area.”

“Of course, the most challenging bit was that I was missing my family, especially my four-year old son. I had never stayed away from him, so it was the toughest thing, but we managed it,” he added.

Former India spinner Kartik Murali is a “veteran” of bio-bubbles. “We all dreaded it in the beginning, but it is a part of life now. As professionals, we need to accept the tough part of the job and this bio-bubble is extremely challenging. You have to learn to live by yourself. It can get lonely no doubt, but you have to find ways to stay focused,” he says.   -  Sportzpics / BCCI

 

Former India spinner Pragyan Ojha was part of the commentary panel for the knockout stage of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in Ahmedabad in January. While things were fine with him, Ojha admits that if one stays inside the bubble for longer, it could get a bit challenging.

“At times, it could get strenuous because there are restrictions and you cannot move out. It is a very different challenge and nobody would have thought about it. You need a time off for yourself, and in normal times, one could just go out for a meal or maybe go and watch a movie,” Ojha says.

“Yes, now you are staying in good hotels, there is good food. You can watch OTT. But you are confined to the hotel room and cannot step out. So that is something that is tough and very challenging,” the former India cricketer adds.

“Inside the bubble, the rules are similar for everybody. We all were used to a certain lifestyle — going out and catching up with friends and family. But now, you cannot simply do that. Even your family cannot join you because they need to undergo mandatory quarantine. So, the bubble life is difficult for sure, but there is not much that you can do about it.”

The bio-bubble is the new normal for these cricketers and commentators, and they don’t complain. As they say, it is part of the job.