The unsettling connection between cricket, politics, internet and Sanjay Manjrekar
- You don't like Manjrekar, and he knows it. But his world has been turned over by a single tweet, a single year.
- Manjrekar's ouster is a reminder of just how vulnerable celebrities are to the trolls and haters.
Let's admit it, folks. You don't like Sanjay Manjrekar.
You don't like how he hogs the microphone, dissecting the art of reverse swing, when there's Wasim Akram sitting beside him. You don't like how he sugarcoats the names of Mumbai players and gets excited whenever he's interviewing a Rohit Sharma or a Shardul Thakur.
Face it: You don't like Sanjay Manjrekar.
The fun fact though is that he knows it too. He knows you hate him to the core. If you want proof, take a stroll down his Twitter timeline.
You won't have to scroll as far as the 'bits-and-pieces' tweet which, amazingly, you would find quite quickly. The ex-Mumbai cricketer hasn't been that active on the micro-blogging site of late. It almost seems like he's on a clean-up mission!
If you've taken the trouble to scroll all the way down to 8 February 2020, you've probably also seen the two recent tweets that have blown social media over. Or maybe just one, because the last time anybody checked, the big tweet was out of his timeline (no, not the bits-and-pieces one).
But it's impossible to not talk about that tweet. That was the beginning of the end. It was a free pass to all those who disliked Manjrekar's commentary. They took to social media to hound 'Sanju Manju', symbolizing the untethered tentacles of the octopus called internet that has choked the life of many a celebrity.
Indians love external validation; it gives them a strange feeling of being politically correct. Ravindra Jadeja, with that incriminating tweet, gave them that. And the rest, as they say, is history. Or Manjrekar became history.
It becomes funnier when you join the dots. A 'bits-and-pieces' cricketer is barely an insult, let alone a pejorative. Many celebrated cricketers of today were bits-and-pieces players at certain points in their career. England once used to play a side consisting of only such cricketers.
Andrew Flintoff was one, Andrew Symonds was one, Ravi Shastri was one, and so was Jadeja.
It is a classical term used in cricket to refer to a player who can't make the side on the basis of their primary skill, but is in to lend balance. And if not for Bhuvneshwar Kumar's injury which lengthened India's tail, Jadeja would never have even found his spot in the XI.
Jadeja's tweet attacking Manjrekar, besides being uncalled for, was disgraceful. How Manjrekar's initial jibe got to his ears is in itself surprising, for cricketers are often instructed to keep their eyes off social media - especially during a global tournament. And this was the World Cup, the grandest of all spectacles, the big moment that comes once in a lifetime for most players.
You could argue that it spurred Jadeja on. But his response was still a bad example for the millions of kids watching their star players on television from home; cricketers being role models is a 'koffee'-table discussion in India, after all.
This entire fiasco did not even start on BCCI's telecast, which makes BCCI suspending him on those grounds ever stranger. Manjrekar was quoted as saying what he did by IANS, an Indian private news agency. The only place where he featured on the telecast talking about his 'bits-and-pieces' comment was after the semi-final against New Zealand, where he admitted that Jadeja had 'ripped him apart, by bits and pieces'.
There was the fallout with Harsha Bhogle on national television, where he evaluated India's most experienced commentator on the basis of the amount of cricket he had played. That was ironic, considering he'd been the subject of similar treatment at Jadeja's hands less than three months earlier.
In Manjrekar's defense though, he knew he'd diminished the quality of the broadcast. He even came out apologizing later that year, when he told ESPNCricinfo that he prided himself on being professional, and that it really bothered him how he'd 'let my emotions get the better of me, mostly being unprofessional and to an extent indecent as well.'
Getting fired by your employer is a personal tragedy, but it is not uncommon. If your work isn't satisfactory, you get the axe. It's the most straightforward piece of logic ever. And yet, Manjrekar getting the sack stands out, like most things in Indian cricket, because you don't know if the full story has been documented in the public eye.
You don't know what propaganda if any has been bubbling under the surface, and you don't know what ulterior motives are running riot.
Some say those ulterior motives date back to Sourav Ganguly's appointment as the BCCI boss last October. Two days before the million-dollar deal, Ganguly met Amit Shah, the BJP Minister of Home Affairs, whose son Jay Shah was coincidentally elected Secretary of BCCI the same year.
Campaigning against Brijesh Patel, N Srinivasan's main man in the elections, requires guts, support and a lot of other things, and Ganguly clearly had all of it. Dig deeper and you'll find that rumors are rife about Ganguly being invited to join the party, and of him opting out due to a conflict of interest with the cricket board.
And of course, there are articles on the internet titled "Ganguly to be CM candidate from West Bengal?" Do note the elusive question-mark at the end.
Cricket, politics and the internet are intertwined like a half-knit ball of yarn in India. The permutations and combinations that emerge when you place by this ball of yarn Manjrekar's big tweet from last week are eerie to say the least. Maybe India's secular instincts can't be shaken, but Manjrekar's life surely has been.
He should be looking forward to this break. It is not one from just the commentary box, but also from the prying, precarious eyes of social media. It's a place he doesn't deserve to be in, where nobody deserves to be in.
Imagine switching on your phone on a Sunday morning and waking up to a thousand hate messages. When every reply to every tweet of yours has to do with a cricketer you barely know, and a spur-of-the-moment opinion is blown out of proportion. He is only a broadcaster, for god's sake.
Manjrekar's ouster is a scathing lesson on celebrities' vulnerability to the vicious cluster of trolls and keyboard warriors that climb upon their lives like catacombs. It's a story we've heard so often before and yet, one that needs to be retold.Published 20 Mar 2020, 16:16 IST