“I THINK I WILL LIKE THIS PLACE”
Harsha Bhogle reflects on his 27 years of working for the ABC.
For more than a quarter-century, Harsha Bhogle has followed the Indian cricket team to Australia. He is no longer a visitor – as he says, he returns to his home at the ABC.
Wide-eyed. Long hair. Big glasses. Vegetarian. Teetotaller. Low on foreign exchange. A missed flight. No confirmed accommodation. Broadcasting experience of three Test matches. You might say the odds weren’t in my favour when I landed, finally, in Brisbane at about 8am on the opening day of the first Test in November 1991. By the time I reached the Queensland Motel, where my friend Kuldip Lal had allowed me to dump my bags, he was already leaving for the game.
But Australia was kind to me on that first tour even though I struggled with the accents and the commentary style initially. And I met some lovely people: Jim Maxwell and Tim Lane and, later, Glenn Mitchell became good friends. Once I had come to terms with Peter Roebuck’s eccentricity and his flights of intellect, he became a valued colleague and I discovered the Aussies were easy people to get along with. Alan Marks was very encouraging and I still owe him a huge debt. The ABC didn’t sit in judgement over me, it accepted me for who I was. The ABC was like a new home you move into and tell yourself “I think I will like this place”.
My accent, my metaphors, my quirkiness (gauche is a word that sat well on me), my inability to appreciate wine and Vegemite probably made me a curiosity. And I was greatly amused, and to be honest, a bit overwhelmed, when a columnist called Susan Kurosawa found my intonation and voice “sexy”. I have often been told there is little else to pin that adjective onto! It has been 27 years since but Susan, I am still looking forward to meeting you. Over a glass of red wine? A good Aussie shiraz? That first visit to Australia, one that started amidst uncertainty and ignorance, was the turning point in my life as a media person. It opened up new worlds for me, brought me into contact with many nice people and began an association with Australia that I am proud of and grateful for. I love the egalitarianism of
Australian society, I find most people caring and sensitive (even if the men are almost embarrassed to admit it!) and the only things I still haven’t come to terms with are Vegemite and sledging.
The ABC has been my broadcasting home ever since and I have returned to full Test tours in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2014 and for the World Cup of 1992 and 2015. I have had a ball and have survived some wonderfully weird moments with Kerry O’Keefe in which, for some reason, he assumed I would know who Barry White was, or that I would have grown up on stories of Skippy the Bush Kangaroo or that I was on backslapping terms with the weather man in Darwin! But Kerry, you chickened out of the Naga chilli challenge!
Jim Maxwell threw me into a commentary stint with John Howard because, he said, the Prime Minister was late and the roster had to be followed. So typically Jim – fair to a fault. Not for the first time I was lost and ended up inviting him to the Eden Gardens. He said he might be occupied at the time and one Australian newspaper interpreted that as the first sign of early elections! I bumbled my way through a few things!
India has provided Aussie viewers with some good cricket and favourable results, a combination that makes for popular tourists. The pitches here have allowed batsmen to trust the bounce and each of India’s greats has left a footprint behind: Tendulkar at Perth, Dravid at Adelaide, Ganguly at Brisbane, Laxman at Sydney, Sehwag at Melbourne and Kohli at Adelaide. The 2003-04 tour was magnificent, 2007-08 grew ugly and confrontational and provided the only occasion in Australia I would like to forget, while 2014-15 showed the promise of the future. The greats, on their last legs,
THE ONLY THINGS I STILL HAVEN’T COME TO TERMS WITH ARE VEGEMITE AND SLEDGING.
faltered in 2011 and so India has yet to win a series in Australia.
Can 2018-19 be when that happens for the first time? It is within the realms of possibility as Australia prepares for the series with its weakest batting line-up that I have ever seen. I never thought I would come to Australia for a Test series in which India started favourites. But new winds are blowing at home. This will be the fittest Indian side to tour and earlier this year in England, the four quickest bowlers of the eight on display were all Indians. You might have to scour the horizon for a quality spinner but young men who want to fling the ball hard at the batsman are mushrooming everywhere.
They will give Australia’s batsmen a hard time and Steve Smith and David Warner, recipients of rather harsh sentences, will be missed very often.
And I am looking forward to calling the action again. My accent hasn’t changed and maybe I am no longer the curiosity I was all those years ago. I will have access to a few more dollars than I had then, I enjoy an odd glass of Aussie red and will renew my love of coffee in Melbourne. Australia continues to be kind to me, and I get to go to some beautiful places. Is there a prettier part of the world than the Whitsunday Islands in northern Queensland?
Our countries must come closer. Hopefully tours like this one will act as bridges between cultures. India has changed enormously, unbelievably, since I first left home to come and call cricket here and the Aussies who are part of the mass migration every April (otherwise called the IPL!) will bear testimony to that. There are now more Indians in Australia than ever before. Hopefully these are good signs. And hopefully more wide-eyed gauche young men and women, like that fellow in 1991, will travel and build bridges between our countries.
That will be nice.
While Bhogle was still learning Aussie culture, he had to handle a visit from PM John Howard.
Memories of the greats: watching the majestic Rahul Dravid inAdelaide in 2003 ...
... And the not-so-good times: Symonds, Harbhajan and 2007-08 – the only occasion Bhogle would rather forget.
Through all the changes in Australia and India over time, cricket has brought the two nations closer.