This clearly is not cricket
Mandira Bedi as moderator on Set Max adds unwanted, unneeded glamour to the biggest-ever cricketing extravaganza, says ZIYA US SALAM.
Charu Sharma and Mandira Bedi... hosts on Set Max for the World Cup.
TO SAY that it amounts to trivialisation of television would be to imbue the medium with a dignity that it often does not deserve. Actually, it is a real pain to sit in front of the idiot box, now more fatuous than ever before. One look at Mandira Bedi on Set Max and you know that this lady, with due respect to her obvious charms, is where she is ICC Cricket World Cup in South Africa because she belongs to a particular gender. And hails from the entertainment industry.
No offence intended but she only brings an unwanted, undesired, unneeded glamour to cricket coverage. She adds misplaced sex appeal to some serious talk on cricket at the biggest-ever cricketing extravaganza. It is not a part of a larger, grander vision of bringing in women to the game, getting their inputs. If that had been the case, then the likes of Diana Eduljee, the highest wicket-taker in women's cricket, or Mithali Raaj, the highest scorer, would have been called upon to say their bit. Or maybe, we would have got some sound bytes from Anjum Chopra, the women's cricket team captain.
These women of accomplishment obviously lack in `style'. Hence, they are where they are languishing on the sidelines while Mandira hogs the limelight. Matters little that Mandira herself claims: "My mandate is to bring in the women audiences."
On the first day of the tournament, she came dressed in an off-shoulder costume that would have been just ideal for the Miss India pageant. The camera focussed on her top, almost but ignored her `attire'. The little girl sitting on my lap and watching her first World Cup cried out in all innocence: "Shame, shame!" She obviously thought that the lady on TV had forgotten her clothes before she came on the screen.
Next day, Mandira Bedi was more traditional. And wore a sari. Only thing is the viewers were left wondering if her blouse was skin coloured. Or was there one at all? And in the Indo-Pak match, the lady wore a choker-like black something with a huge, deep cut. Just like she did in the Lanka-Windies match earlier where the right arm did not know what the left arm wore! Was it a Ritu Kumar creation? Whatever, it clearly was not cricket. And Mandira reminded many of us of those period costumes worn with such dignity by Raveena Tandon and company in "Agni Varsha" last year.
Probably, chastened with an angry viewer response, she played safe the next day during the Aussie-England encounter. Out came a blouse kissing her elbows and panting viewers wondered if she could breathe! No pun intended, no fun desired but this is the image the once-failed actress had cultivated in her first few days as cricket moderator.
Interestingly, while all the commentators, cricketers and other `experts' wore a Set Max-ICC Cricket World Cup logo on their heart, Mandira was the sole exception. Probably there was no apparel to tag the logo onto! Again, you cannot accuse the lady of wearing her preferences on her sleeve. It does not exist!
By the time she decided to end the suspense and get into an attire which would have met with approval for the family pages of a glamour rag, people were talking more about her cricketing knowledge (or the lack of it?) than her dresses.
Matters little that this time, her mega sleeve kissed her shoulders, teased her arms. The lady had done enough when she opened her mouth to detract all attention from her physical endowments. Speaking in an animated way that comes but naturally to the beginners or the gullible, she asked Barry Richards in all earnestness: "Holland scored 140-odd against England. They got 136 against India. Does it mean that our bowling attack is the same as that of England?" Obviously stumped with the sheer `innocence' of the query, all that Richards could say was: "No, not really. You cannot put the two together."
On another discussion, after India had beaten Zimbabwe to stay in the race for the Super Six, she beamed: "This is such a major victory". Clearly, the lady had not been told that Zimbabweans are all but minnows of the world cricket.
There was more. "We saw Zaheer Khan taking a splendid catch today. Can we say now we have three brilliant fielders in the Indian team... Zaheer with Yuvraj and Kaif?" This time before any of the seasoned panellists including the likes of Tony Greig, Venkatesh Prasad, Anshuman Gaekwad or Aamir Sohail, could say some-thing, Bedi's co-host Charu Sharma came to her rescue and saved us some blushes. "It is not done this way. Zaheer has taken a fine catch today but... ." Charu obviously knows a bit more about cricket than the lady he shares the screen space with.
TV personality Ruby Bhatia covered the mini world cup in Sri Lanka last September.
A few minutes later, interjecting a fine discussion on the merits of Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble, she asked Greig and others: "Can we talk about Tendulkar? He batted so beautifully."
Little wonder, another day, Tony Greig, pointing to Mandira sitting alongside said: "This is getting nowhere... this one on my left."
Similarly, in another discussion to savour the joy of an Indian victory, Mandira Bedi decided to offer her `expert' and `exclusive' comments: "The Zimbabwe spinners came to bowl after our hard-hitters had already batted." This was her way to rationalise the fine showing of Zimbabwe slow bowlers. Again, it never dawned on her that Grant Flower clean-bowled Tendulkar and Murphy bowled well to the middle order, including Ganguly, Dravid, Yuvraj and Kaif.
In Mandira's terms, probably Indian batting starts and ends with Sehwag and Mongia, the first two wickets to fall in the said match.
With so many bloomers to go with her very Bollywood-like dress sense, the best Mandira could say was, "Please don't go away, we will be right back after a break." And smile, her upper lip well and truly dominating and caressing the lower one, a glint in her eye she is probably as relieved as the viewers.
The best one can say about Mandira Bedi is that she has been a shade better than Ruby Bhatia who covered the mini world cup in Sri Lanka last September and made a major spectacle of herself.
However, irrational, immature comments she might have made, the fault is not Mandira's alone.
She might be the glorified extra in `Extraaa Innings' but actually the Set Max guys have reduced the World Cup to a gimmick. They have brought in astrologers, Tarot card readers and what have you to the studios.
Yes, we all want to know what the likes of Barry Richards or Sanjay Manjrekar have to say about the chances of the teams competing that day. But who wants to know what a sundry Tarot card reader feels about the prospects of South Africa or the West Indies.
In the fitness of things, barely a few hours after Maa Prem Rithambara had told the viewers that "there is no stopping South Africa today... they have the spirit, the drive and... .", the Calypso cricketers proved her wrong with a fine, if unexpected victory!
Just this Sunday, it was the turn of Nasser Hussain to prove her wrong. Minutes before the crucial match with Australia which England contrived to lose, Rithambara said: "There are chances of an upset today. The captain is likely to lead from the front. England will win not because Ponting and his boys will play badly but because England will play better." Well, England lost and we all know Hussain's dismissal off the third ball he faced and his blunder in bringing on rookie Anderson to bowl the penultimate over when experienced Caddick had another over to go. Captain leading from the front?
Even their battery of experts has many people who know almost everything there is to know about cricket but nothing about communication.
Many of them are not at ease with English, others quite conscious of speaking to millions of people. We have had Vinod Kambli saying, "My spinners is my two hands" and Sohail adding "Sachin have to play as an opener".
Not to forget Prasad who fumbles as often with his speech as he used to with the ball in the outfield.
Enough of this lightening up? What next? Isha Koppikar giving us exclusive bytes on the Union Budget? Or Lisa Ray moderating on the Iraq crisis?
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