Restraint is of the essence

IT was on STAR that the ICC controversy erupted during the end-stage of the Trent Bridge Test. Erupted in a style that showed up espnstar in an amber light - a traffic jam it was you here pictured invoving (wheels within wheels) Sachin's Palio, among other brands. Harsha Off Line and Ravi On Line it soon became - alongside Geoffrey. For a change, Boycs kept his mouth tightly shut, his ears wide open, as Ravi did all the spouting. Hammer and tongs went Ravi Shastri for the ICC. Making viewers wonder if espnstar commentators knew no moderation and observed none.

It is one thing to speak up on TV (through its most influential cricket channel in Asia today) for the players. It is another to use espnstar as a platform to devalue the ICC as an institution. Like it or not, the ICC it is running the September 2002 Mini World Cup in Sri Lanka - as the dress rehearsal for its February-March 2003 World Cup in South Africa. That both these mega-mega events are in the mike custody of SONY, not espnstar, is a matter that merits not so incidental mention. Therefore for Ravi to have been viewed on STAR, questioning the ICC's world cricket role in the strident tones he did, sounded almost a caveat presented for the aggrieved Indian cricketers even before watchers had been able to get a feel of the contours of the controversy.

Isn't it significant that Geoffrey uttered not a word right through the Ravi tirade? Geoffrey normally can no more stay away from the mike than he can resist blowing his own trumpet. It is all very cricketingly done, of course, but in the end there is, in the commentary, quite a bit about Geoffrey too. David Lloyd's was therefore a class STAR act in 'using' Ravi as the all-rounder model in mimicking (with a Lancashire burr) Geoffrey's Yorkshire-oriented analysis of cricketing men, matters and moments. David Lloyd had Ravi and Harsha alike in stitches for quite a while with his not so flattering imitation of the know-all way Geoffrey reads the game. If only Geoffrey had been there by David's side to pay Lancashire back in the Yorkshire coin during such a studio set-up War of the Roses! But would Geoffrey have had the savvy to take on the chirpy Lloydy?

Well, Geoffrey certainly had the ammunition to have been able, if he felt like it, to join Ravi in the ICC rip-off we had from Shastri. Only, Geoffrey knows on which side his ICC bread is buttered - in an espnstar telecast beamed via the English Channel 4. So does Ravi know on which side his chapati is ghee'd. As the inventor of the chapati shot, from Ravi we well know what to expect. But espnstar should, for its objective part, be looking into the thorny issue of how far its live commentators should be going. Going in being viewed as taking partisan sides on such sensitive matters involving the parent body of the game. Ravi could have queried ICC's locus standi without debunking the institution itself. Ravi Shastri has evolved into one of the best commentators in the game today. As a mature telecaster, Shastri must comprehend that, in certain grey areas, restraint is of the essence - even on instant TV.

Having said that, I must in all fairness record that Ravi and Geoffrey were to be heard at their tandem best in the crucial final phase of the Trent Bridge Test as India fought to save the game with its back to 'The Rahul Wall'. How does Harsha here come out in keeping the debate going beyond close of play or during light-rain breaks? It must be remembered that Harsha now is a telegenic personality in his own light. Given such projection, it is even tougher for Harsha, I sense, to manage things in such a way as to ensure that the star players acting as commentators feel fulfilled. Harsha has progressively acquired a convivially easy-going fluency in this demanding interact art.

Never forget, such ex-players functioning as commentators like to be 'put in the box' only up to a point. I know this from live interviewing experience of stars. The underlying idea is to see that you get the star commentator to unwind. This Harsha manages to do without losing his own individuality. It is vital for this genre of commentator to identify his set role on the small screen. Take Gautam Bhimani. Our initial reaction to Gautam was one of near derision. But how over the weeks Gautam has grown upon viewers! Gautam has so grown by eminently professionally sticking to his brief. Thus when Henry Blofeld, in his mini TV reappearance, said something tendentious, Gautam gently reminded this ear-ringmaster that "we are a family channel".

I wish this family factor had been kept in mind by the STAR commentator concerned while passing that outrageously suggestive comment on the young lady as the camera zoomed in on her savouring an ice-cream cone. We are all game for a bit of fun on TV, I myself invest this column with a subtly sexy slant, on occasion, by way of an aside - in sync with TV's glam look. But that ice-cream comment, visibly lacking in taste, avoidably embarrassed the whole family of espnstar viewers.