People are like, “Aah see he is following his passion” but I am just fortunate that I got a second chance in life – Bharat Sundaresan | ICF – 125
J – Thank you for your participation in this interview, sir, it’s an honour and a privilege to be interviewing you, what are your early cricket memories?
Firstly, thank you for interviewing me, it’s my pleasure, I love talking to people who are involved with cricket.
So my first memory of cricket would be just before the 1992 World Cup, I was born in 1985. I was around 5 or 6, so just before that there was a tri-series between India, West Indies and Australia, which happened in Australia. That’s pretty much what I remember. Landmarks in my life are based on cricketing events. So I think my first memory of life itself was that tri-nation series in 1991. I must not have been doing anything of note prior to that. I don’t remember anything up to then. That’s really my first memory of cricket and I immediately fell in love with West Indies Cricket, it was just instinctive, I don’t why or what reason, but it just happened.
J – What inspired you to write about Cricket?
I never planned to become a writer. It was almost by accident. I was always involved with cricket and at the same time watch it as well. But apart from just watching it, I always went beyond to find out more about it. I have an elder brother, he was equally interested, and he would always go beyond what we saw on TV, so he was my first real cricket tutor, he taught me a lot about playing this sport and all these backstories. He was very interested about knowing where a cricketer comes from, what their backgrounds are and a lot about technique. He turned me into a left-hander and even designed a helmet for me, which I thankfully stopped wearing after a couple of attempts. It was nothing but a cap over my head and a shower cap, with no holes, over my face. It wasn’t the easiest as a result to breathe in.
I remember asking my father few difficult questions like “When did Geoff Marsh score his first half-century?” or “What makes Gavin Larsen so economical?” And he would look at me and say, “Why can’t you be like other kids who would just watch the sport and be happy?
Also, there are these little things like I would always make an effort to find out how a player’s name is pronounced, for example, Hansie Cronje, growing up in Bombay, how do you know it’s Hansie Cronje and not Cron-jee, right?
We had this tape-recorder with a microphone where we could record the audio as well as video, I would randomly just read out scoreboards from completed games, it’s almost like I was practising for what I do now, but subconsciously. And that’s how I improved the pronunciation of cricketer’s names and the way I spoke, I learnt most of my English from listening to commentary as well. So I got very proficient with the language early on. It really showed in my essay-writing in school, though my teachers would wonder why all of them take a cricketing slant or use cricketing analogies. There was this guy, my brother’s age, who would always tell my folks that Bharat would be involved in cricket in some way or the other. He clearly knew something nobody, including me, did.
So, all these things worked towards me eventually becoming a writer.
But it wasn’t exactly by choice. I made a lot of mistakes in my life at a very young age. I got into some bad habits around 18 or 19 years of age where I was going through a dark stage in my life. Teenage addiction is real, and it ruins a lot of valuable lives. I’m glad I’m still alive to talk about it. It could all gone so wrong. It nearly did.
Somebody just suggested to me and said that you know so much about cricket and also so interested in this sport, maybe you could look towards cricket journalism as a career option. I used to play cricket at that time, I was not a bad cricketer, but I didn’t have the determination to sacrifice other things. I tried my hand at music, even had a heavy metal band, which played nowhere but in a few college festivals. It just happened by chance. I got into Journalism because I wanted to get away from the little hole that I dug myself into. That’s why I left Bombay and moved to Chennai and joined the Asian College of Journalism and it just worked out. It never was my dream. And that’s why I looked at it as a job, a lot of people are like, “Aah see he is following his passion” but I don’t look at it that way, I am just fortunate that I am still here and that’s why I keep smiling. Every day is a bonus. Even through the darkest days, I stayed loyal to cricket. And cricket gave me a second chance in life.
J – You have not only written articles on this sport, but you have also covered live matches from the ground, and also recently we heard your voice from the commentary box, which is your favourite thing to do if you had to pick one?
The first and the second are sort of connected. And I have always been a journalist, I wrote cricket for The Indian Express for ten and a half years which involved me covering cricket from the ground. That’s just a part of being a cricket journalist. But things have changed these days, as you have a lot of people freelancing, with their own websites and blogs where they write their own articles. So the entry points to the press-box have changed.
But ten or twelve years ago, if you wanted to come into this industry, you had to do journalism. You would have to find a newspaper or a cricket website, and there weren’t too many of them back then. So, I covered a lot of local sports to start with. I was fortunate that things happened quickly for me compared to what was the norm then. I got to travel around the world and cover cricket from the greatest stadiums in the world but in the end, it was all a part of being a cricket journalist, not a perk.
And I would still cover other sports as well while in India. But in India, cricket is such a big sport, it becomes difficult to cover other sports because you don’t get time or space, so you either are a cricket reporter or a sports journalist. They are almost similar, but cricket just becomes a bit all-consuming. And well, there’s that added bit of attention attached to it.
Like I said, if you ask this question to any journalist who has been around a while, they’ll say you can’t differentiate the two because that’s just part of our job, it’s not like “oh I am getting to cover it from the ground,”
See, I’m not underestimating the significance of covering a big game. I mean it feels good when you are covering a World Cup Final or The Ashes, but in the end that’s just what you do. It’s our job. And that’s what I tell the other young journalists who come in to treat it like a job. Please don’t make it your life. Because once you are in this industry, you have to get rid of the whole awe of being around cricketers or being at a cricket ground. They are your equals. You are all part of the same industry.
I love doing commentary. I love talking generally as you can see. I’ve always been interested in it. I still remember in South Africa when I dabbled in some radio work in 2013, and even the West Indies. The first time I came to Australia long before I moved in, in 2014-15, I did some radio work, including mimicking some of the Indian players imagine. But I started doing regular commentary during the 2019 World Cup for a radio channel called SEN here in Australia. I covered the final of the 2019 World Cup as a radio commentator because Australia failed to qualify for the finals, and I was there as an Australian correspondent. I’d never thought I’d say that line. And since I’ve been doing radio commentary for Tests here and on TV for domestic cricket around Australia. That’s how my commentary has progressed. But the thing with commentary is that when the match finishes, your job finishes. There’s a lot more research that I end up doing before the game. In the case of writing, your job starts once the match finishes. Writing will always be my primary job. That’s what brought me to the dance.
J – If you would like to give a piece of advice or tips to someone who is also in this field, what would it be?
My customary line that I have used for many years, never make cricket writing or cricket journalism your identity, don’t base your happiness and sorrow based on the articles you have written, your identity should always be who you are. I have seen so many people not be happy in this profession purely because they live and die based on how their articles are received. And also, your reality is your reality. Your friends and your family should be your priority. Knowing a cricketer or having a cricketer know you doesn’t make you a good journalist. Doing good stories is the way only to do so. That’s also the best way to be objective about your work.
It should just be a part of your job. Your identity should be who you are. My identity is I am like this talkative guy with long hair who doesn’t follow any dress code and I like to believe when I am in a room people get entertained. You always need to have more sources of happiness in your life than just writing.
J – One of the greatest Test series in modern times was recently concluded, how was your experience of covering the Border Gavaskar Trophy 2020-21?
The only match I couldn’t go was the last Test match in Brisbane because I was in Sydney and only the players were allowed to leave but it was a crazy summer, it was an incredible series like you said, it was crazier because of all these border closures. My journey began in Adelaide, November 18, the place where I live. It went into lockdown so I had to get a rental car cand start driving towards the border so that I made sure that I went to Sydney before the white-ball leg of the series started. So I went there and covered the One-day, the T20 series, the two practice games and then I came back home for the Adelaide Test. But because I was there in Sydney for that second practice game, going to Melbourne became an issue. But because India’s innings got over early at 36-9 on Day 3, I was able to leave for Melbourne the next day. If the test match had gone for another day we would have been stuck and that would pretty much be the end of my series. So 36-9 may haunt some Indian fans but for me, it meant that my tour went on. So then I had driven to Melbourne and after Melbourne, there was this confusion about where the next Test match would be held and when they said Sydney I thought it would make sense for me to go to Sydney and stick with the Indian team. One thing I have learned from this Indian team is to stay with them. So I went to Sydney, but because of this I couldn’t go to Brisbane, but I did my radio commentary from the studio in Sydney for the last Test. So yeah, it was very adventurous, but I couldn’t come back home after that. Because South Australia had shut the borders for people who were in Sydney. I drove around regional New South Wales for 10 days. So, long after Indian players reached home and just before the England series started, I finally came back home as the borders had opened. But yeah it was a crazy cricket series where so many unexpected things happened, and India did something that no other team were capable of.
Of all the series I have covered, this has to be my greatest. I still do believe that it is the greatest series ever. A lot of people would tell you that’s not the case. Maybe it was not India’s greatest series win, but as a series, it was the greatest series ever because of all the off-field drama. When you look at that and then you see India making a comeback what they did in Sydney and Brisbane especially. It was just incredible. We saw new players pop up from nowhere. I remember joking with a senior coach in the team about how T Natarajan deserves a test cap in the series and he eventually did feature in a test match. So just in terms of drama and the script that was written, I would call it the greatest series ever.
J – A bit about your Journey as a Windies fan.
Oh! It brings back some painful memories from the 90s because I grew up in a household where my late father and brother were mad Indian fans like most of the other families. But here I was a crazy West Indian fan. It’s funny because my love for West Indies spread, everybody knew about it, everybody from my school knew about it, from my area where I used to live. So every time West Indies won, people would come and congratulate me as if I did something. And when Brian Lara made 153 not out and when they won that famous test in Bridgetown, Barbados, as I was heading towards my school, everyone from the balcony of my building, they were all congratulating me for that victory so it was strange. And when they lost the 1996 World Cup league game to Kenya, I didn’t go to school as I couldn’t show my face to the world. It just meant that much to me. At home, I used to get in trouble because whenever there was an India – West Indies match and when Tendulkar used to get out, I would celebrate in front of the TV and I would get beaten up and my father never stopped my brother from beating me because he was equally angry. Then my mother intervened and they made sure that a second tv was brought for the bedroom, so whenever there is an India vs West Indies match, I would be locked in the bedroom watching the game all by myself while the rest of my family members would watch it outside supporting India and whenever West Indies used to do well, I used to sneak out my room, shout “YEAH!!!!!” and I would run back to the room hoping no one would catch me. So I put my whole body on the line for West Indies cricket.
J – Where is Cricket heading towards currently?
Eventually, Cricket will feature in Olympics, just a matter of time. Once it reaches the Olympics, you would expect China to get interested as well because that’s generally how the trend is with a lot of sports. And that will just make the game bigger. And whether it’s Women’s Cricket or Men’s Cricket or franchise cricket, the arrival of American cricket will make it much bigger because there is so much of Indian money pumped into USA Cricket whether it’s Times of India Group or Shahrukh Khan investing, those are signs Cricket will grow globally. There will be a lot of South Asians playing it in the USA and a few parts of Europe. So yeah, it might eventually become a global sport, even though it’s the second most viewed sport in the world if I am not mistaken, I don’t consider it as a global sport because not enough countries play at a higher level.
I think Women’s Cricket will play a huge role in that, we already saw that with Thailand and the impact they had in World Cup just by being there, similar to Afghanistan in Men’s Cricket. Going back to the Olympics and the spread of Cricket in the world, I believe Women’s Cricket could do what Men’s Cricket couldn’t do in 150 years, MAKE IT A GLOBAL SPORT!
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