Charu Sharma is a familiar face with the Indian TV Viewers. This man has been on the Television for about 23 years now. B.V.Swagath had an interview with this well known Sports Presenter on the 30th of March, 2005 during the India A Vs Pakistan warm up game. In this freewheeling chat, Charu talks about Diving, Doordarshan, fellow Commentators and just about everything else. As it turned out , Charu opened up and unleashed a dazzling array of shots of his own. The end result was of course a very interesting conversation.
Whenever we think about sports presenters from India, two people come to our mind immediately one is Harsha Bhogle and two is of course the man sitting in front of me, Charu Sharma. So talk us through your success story.
Well I am not happy with the concept of success story, we all are just doing our jobs and you know it’s for other people to really think whether we are successful or not. For me success means just working hard, making sure that you do the best possible job every time you can, that is very important; constant learning, constant improvement and constant acceptance of criticism and so on. But yeah on the other hand I have to say that I have been very fortunate to make a living in an area of deep interest and passion. And where I come from is not the media or the broadcasting media, I come from a background of being a sportsman myself and that’s what I always was, that’s what I am, that’s what I will and that’s what I will die as a sportsman. And the fact that I can talk about it and earn a living how can I be happier more than this.
Language doesn’t seem to be a problem for you I mean you easily shift from English to Hindi and vice versa, how about that?
I think for all of us language is always a constant problem. That’s what I meant by constant learning and improvement. Language is something that you have to learn more and more every time, get a bigger, better and wider vocabulary, get all your pronunciations right, get your fluency right. I wouldn’t say it has never been a problem, I think I have consciously worked on it to make sure it becomes less of a problem as we go along.
So what’s your cricketing background?
Well when I say I have a sporting background, I really mean that I was a Junior National champion in Diving for many years, 6 to be exact. I played just about every sport at a fairly and serious competitive level. Cricket is something I couldn’t play much at the school level or the college level because of my deep involvement in my own sport – Spring Board Diving. But when I moved from water to land, I played lot of first division club cricket for the Calcutta Cricket and Football Club and when I was in Hyderabad, I played for VST that is Vazir Sultan Tobacco and you know very well it’s in the A-division of Hyderabad Cricket Leagues. So there was all that serious stuff like you know every sportsman, when you are on the field you play seriously.
I got a phone call a little while ago informing me that Charu Sharma was a Bronze Medalist in one of the National Games in Spring Board Diving, could you talk about it?
Like I said I was a Junior Champion at the National level for 6 years in a row from the age of 11. The only time I got entry into the National Games was when I was old enough to participate and I got bronze. Both the Gold medallist and the Silver medallist were from the army and could practice the whole day whereas I was still at college and had extremely limited practice facilities. But yeah very safely I can say that I was among the top 3 divers in the country for a while until I retired at the ripe old age of 19 because where else could one go with diving. It took me to where it could, the sport had little scope and I had to give it up. I also qualified for the Commonwealth Games in 1978 but had to give up as I had to go on my own expenses.
Okay…which was your first cricket match as a commentator?
Oh boy! I can’t remember. My career as a presenter/commentator took off during the 1982 Commonwealth Games and that’s almost 23 years ago. Its very hard for me to remember everything, I did a few odd cricket matches along the way but there wasn’t much coverage anyway during those days. And with the entry of Satellite channels, my first contract was with Star Sports in 1995-96. It was the Singer Cup in Singapore, where Sanath Jayasuriya got his world record for the fastest 100 and I had done lot of in-studio work and commentary began there after.
What is the difference between Charu Sharma of those days and Charu Sharma these days?
Fatter, balder, older hahaha. But obviously if you work regularly at anything, that’s the meaning of experience you know. You gain a lot by working with different kind of people all the time, different gangs, different channels for many years and all of that adds to the word called maturity. So I think one becomes matured, more experienced and more aware of the fact that you need to constantly learn and get better all the time.
Doordarshan seems to have been very instrumental in shaping your career as a presenter, what do you think?
A very true statement because I started with Doordarshan in 1982 during the 9th Asian Games, that’s when my career began. It wasn’t really as a profession then. But I have worked with DD from 1982 to 1992 for most of the major International and National Events sporadically. Only after the advent of the Satellite channels, sports broadcasting became a profession in India and therefore had to leave DD in order to pursuit this as a career; Had to leave DD because of the exclusive contracts. Now of course I am back on DD because of the circumstances that made it happen. And for me it makes sense because they are the only channel with the rights for covering Cricket in India for the last 5 years. DD as you know has its own constraints, limitations, of course they can be better in quality but I got a job to do, try to bring out the best out of me everyday.
What’s the challenge that a sports presenter has to face and how do you cope up with it?
Everyday is a new challenge, there’s no doubt about it. When you are working on Television, even 2 or 3 seconds of silence or 1 or 2 errors here and they are prone to intensify scrutiny, it’s like dying a silent death when you don’t know what to say. Challenge is to make sure that you have enough to talk about every time, you have enough knowledge, do your homework so that you are not caught short, you are always alert, you are always thinking on your feet and never give a slip out. You got to depend on your instinct all the time and Television is so demanding that you can never give less than 100% every time.
Who has been your favourite commentator who might have inspired you to come to this level?
Remember I had come to this scene in 1982 and Television was almost non existent in India then. So they were absolutely no idols, no favourites. I was just a sportsman who drifted into this field because there was an opportunity to work in 1982. But thereafter one got to listen to many good commentators in different sports and learn a lot from each one of them. Subconsciously I might have picked up what other commentators do or try to understand what they were trying to do and put it in my own style. If you are talking only about cricket since you are on Cricketfundas.com, then I got to name a few. Ian Chappel is a very good Television man, he understands the demands of TV, the amount of time and response and there is no shortage of knowledge from him of course. Apart from him we have Arun Lal who is so keen on the game, we have L.S. Sivaramakrishnan who is very sharp and picks up a lot of things which others don’t notice. These guys are good, remember they have been given an opportunity only a few years back and they have utilized it tremendously. They have worked hard at their language and interpretation of the game. Sanjay Manjrekar is another one who works very hard, I know as I have worked with him quite a lot and he always is looking for something new, something better and improvement whether it is a word or a sentence, way of describing things. There is lot of efforts put in by these guys and that to me is well worthy of appreciation.
Which has been your most enjoyable commentary stint?
That’s country dependent, production dependent, so I hugely enjoyed South Africa in 1997-98 and of course the World Cup on Sony. I see the smile for the World Cup on your face haha (as the interviewer recollects about the Yextra Yinnings Script on Cricketfundas.com). I also enjoyed Champions Trophy, few tournaments in Sri Lanka with the bands playing in the background, West Indies is always inspiring happiness and I also enjoyed the U19 World Cup last year with Sony in Bangladesh. There weren’t any stars but everyone was working hard, there were all these Shikhar Dhawan, Robin Uthappa, Suresh Raina and it’s nice to see them today playing for India A.
And most embarrassing moments…
I don’t know there must have been many and there are few who are always constantly looking out for your mistakes and make a laugh out of it, fair enough. It’s very difficult to be 100% error free, everyone makes mistakes and it’s all about forgetting about them and recover quickly and carry on with your job. I had a couple of tough moments though in South Africa. With beers allowed on the field, the spectators do become very happy and out of their conscience after the game. And Sunny and I had to do lot of shows on the boundary line. Sometimes you had things thrown at us, ice thrown at us, sometimes people use to come and dance behind us to distract us from doing our work. Sunny got really annoyed, although I took it in the right spirit, for someone of Sunny’s stature it was too much and eventually had to ask for security ring. These were some of the real good nice moments where one had to have a good presence of mind and shouldn’t get distracted and just carry on with your work.
Roshini or Mandira, whom do you prefer to be your co-presenter?
Both and none. You know what I mean hahaha. They do bring their own personalities to the table and both are really cheerful and both are happy to learn about the game. They take their role very seriously in the production; they just don’t take everything in a light fashion at all. Mandira of course had the benefit of a fabulous production in Sony and of course a fabulous platform in World Cup and also the Champions Trophy. Unfortunately Roshini only had to bear with Doordarshan and their inadequate style. But in substance, the programs we do now in India are no less because you talk the same cricket, you talk the same language. It’s just that people also tend to judge you on the glitz, glamour, style and hype which is obviously missing in DD. So I feel sorry for Roshini because every girl needs that, I don’t and so do the other cricketers who sit along with us. We just have to sit there and talk, it doesn’t matter what we wear, how we look or how the background is but she could use more support in terms of style and sorry for her. Both Mandira and Roshini have done their job, I don’t know what their job is and let’s not go there. But obviously their presence in such programs I am not saying success has been noticed hugely, widely and has been copied by just about everybody else. May be there’s some merit in having them; I had like the other people to sneak in and run a poll on their presence. But obviously they are nice people to be with and enjoyable.
This is the first time that you are coming to the Visaka International Stadium, Hyderabad, what’s your feedback on it?
For starters, I am very happy that the grass on the outfield has been left unshaved; it’s good to see that the batsmen are made to earn their runs. Normally it’s shaved so closely that if you just find the gap the ball races away to the boundary without giving a chance to the fielders, what’s the point and the bowlers get frustrated. And I am also happy that some grass has been left on the pitch and run making is difficult, batsmen might be unhappy, but it gives the bowlers opportunities. As you see India A could post just 189 may be the openers need to be cautious early on and not start banging from ball no.1. But the stadium is incomplete and I know there’s plenty of work to be done and the crowd turn out which is just 1500 is disappointing. So that really doesn’t give a good impression about the ground.
But we had 30,000 capacity crowds for all the 3 days during the Duleep Trophy game between South Zone and West Zone, a month ago…
So what’s the problem now?
I am shocked to see such a sparse crowd to begin with! I think we got that much crowd during Duleep Trophy because no.1 the entry was free during that game, no.2 there was no live telecast and no.3 the presence of Sachin, Dravid and other stars.
May be exams, the heat and I want to add a comment here, unfortunately in India, people are flocking to see their favourite stars and not the cricket and that’s a pity. Even today some of the stars are missing on the field for Pakistan like Inzamam, Youhana and others. So that’s not a happy trend because people just come here for taking the pleasure of having a look at the players and chant their names and go back home without really bothering about the game. May be it’s because of the media hype on the players.
What has been the most annoying question on the Fourth Umpire show?
Hahaha I don’t think there have been annoying questions. Basically if one considers the amount of difficulty in getting through the line and somehow ask a question or so, only thing I have noticed is most of them have only one thing in their mind; “we didn’t get through…we didn’t get through” and then ask a question without realizing that the answer for that was being discussed for the last 15 minutes! It’s like we are talking that the team is now depending on Virender Sehwag, Virender Sehwag for 15 mins and you get a question “excuse me don’t you think the Indian team depends on Virender Sehwag only”. “Listen yaar didn’t you follow the program for the last 15 mins? What were you doing?” So the questions that come in normally have been answered already and you don’t want to be rude and say this question has been answered and say next. So you just give a short answer to each question and carry on.
Okay…my personal view is that you have been naughty in your comments whenever there is a talk about Sachin Tendulkar. Do you agree or not? Roshini seems to be a big devotee of Sachin Tendulkar…and your mischievous smiles do not hide the facts…
Yeah… I would object to the word naughty. I try and incite some excitement on the sets. Some person is not doing well and he is somebody else’s favourite, so I just ask excuse me what has happened. This is something inborn and something which I have inculcated over time. The point is neutrality, however big the star might be, regardless of his powers and I just don’t gush that so and so is my favourite and so on. I just have to go out on the basis of what has happened that day. My role is neutrality and I live up to it but sometimes just in lighter vein of course I don’t mean any harm and I have never made damning statements, just one or two lighter comments here and there. But naughty is exaggerating hahaha but mischief yes after all who wants a boring program yaar. Why not…Why not….
Now a question we really love to see on the Fourth Umpire Show, Doordarshan never shows the final ball of an over completely! Now what are your comments?
I would answer this under protest! DD never show the final ball of an over…wrong. They always show and it’s just that compared to other channels they may just go off air 1-2 seconds earlier. A second or two might be critical, the score needs to be read out, but you have seen the ball, the ball was just dropped near the batsman and no run taken and DD goes off for a commercial that’s fair enough. But because they go off air so soon and something does happen, then of course the action has been missed and that’s where they have been caught napping at times. And they come back a bit late with the bowler in middle of his run up and not the start of it. But I don’t agree that DD never shows the final ball or the first ball of an over. If you look at the cold statistics, they might just miss out 7 balls in the entire match, but why even miss a single ball? Even that’s irritating; it’s so easy to criticize a company that never fights back, DD never have the press conferences, never need any hype, promotions or hoopla, they are never into all these PR things you know. So when somebody doesn’t respond everybody attacks.
But there are lots of scorers who have to follow the TV Coverage and many cases they just don’t know if runs are off the pads or the bat because DD doesn’t give the opportunity for the viewers to see what the umpire’s signal is…
Aaah I see ok…fair enough fair enough. Very clearly commas run the game right? What they have to do is fine tune the advertisements timing I mean I can’t speak for them because I am not employed by them; I just work because there’s a working opportunity. But I do know as we speak now, they are fine tuning in selling their advertisements time a little expensively and cut short some time. At the same time make the same amount of money even by cutting the advertisements marginally. Increase the cost by 10% and still make the same revenue, it’s an easy formula and I am sure they would do it now. But anyone who has bought the rights for showing cricket had to do it by spending so much and they just do not have any choice but to recover the expenditure by advertisements.
Charu Sir, you have covered lot of cricket over the years, what’s your take on Shahid Afridi’s faster delivery? Now I mean about the legalities of that delivery.
Once in a while, he comes in with a leg spin grip and changes his action to fast bowling or off spin and that looks very funny and dodgy. Bowling a quicker one by changing from leg spin action to fast bowling is difficult and can be done only by some special abilities or if I can use the word “crossing the borders of legalities”. Obviously some authority has to come in and check the thing. But you will have to take all the photo analysis and the scientific analysis.
We don’t expect Chris Broad or the umpires to report Afridi for chucking his faster ones, but what about you and the commentators and the media? All the time it’s just “terrific bowling, “tremendous bowling”…
Well yeah it is fair enough if he has bowled a good leg break and has taken a wicket. But when he bowls his faster one yes the visual impression is that he chucks. But the media doesn’t mean just the Television commentators alone, it includes all the newspapers and even websites like yours!
We already have an article published on this topic titled ICC – International Chucking Controversies?
Ok, but we just got to study that more factually and if someone comes in and calls him for a test will he chuck? No he wouldn’t bowl that delivery at all and easily get away with it, it’s just the pressure of the game, need of the hour, the demand of the situation, when such bowlers just cross the borders of legalities and bend their elbow. Any one having suspect action has to be checked scientifically under proper conditions.
One final question, what’s the process you have to go through to become a Harsha Bhogle or a Charu Sharma?
Don’t! Just be yourself. But I know what you mean. There are very few opportunities actually in the world of sports. Today we have 80 channels and out of which only 2-3 sports channels and the sport shown in these channels is at the highest level. For me it was just luck being at the right place at the right time and other factors. I am sure Harsha will have his own story to tell about this. But I wouldn’t encourage any youngster to try and make it to this field and eventually get frustrated with the lack of opportunities.