His biggest problem is the confusion of others. Most expecting an older, lankier, grey-haired former pace bowler are left a bit nonplussed to see a younger, shorter, dark-haired, bearded man with the mic. Their puzzlement is understandable, because both men who offer commentary on cricket these days are called Sikandar Bakht. But that confusion is only on television, and is limited to those who haven’t heard the younger Sikandar’s distinct voice on radio.
The younger Sikandar Bakht is known for his eloquence and deep, trained voice. Nevertheless, thanks to his namesake, Sikandar often gets a lot of misdirected criticism on social media. “I remember when I was getting into commentary, I was told to change my surname, because people would confuse me with the former cricketer and they still do,” he admits. “Yes, I do get a lot of flak on social media, and then I try to scroll and see what has happened that I’m getting all this. But it honestly doesn’t bother me.
“Yes, I do sometimes feel that people should check who they are tagging before commenting. Still, I’ve never tried to correct people. I just don’t react to it, until and unless something said is absolutely obnoxious. Even on a professional level, when I get to the commentary box and meet the other commentators, they say: ‘Oh, we thought it was him’.” He laughs.
Sikandar began his career as a radio jockey (RJ), though he says never wanted to be a radio jockey. He says that he is one of those who never could decide what he really wanted to do in life. While he was doing his A-Levels, he was offered a morning radio show and it must have been because of his voice.
“My sister and I did a few auditions and recorded a few shows for [an FM station]. I think we connected well with listeners so we were both offered separate shows. But it was only a part-time thing — we were still studying,” he says.
One thing led to another and, one day, Sikandar was also asked to do some updates for a cricket match. “I didn’t find that too difficult to do. At the time, cricket commentary wasn’t a passion, but yes, I did have an interest in it,” he says.
It is important to mention here that Sikandar’s father Mohammad Naqi was an eminent radio sports broadcaster/producer.
Former RJ Sikandar Bakht is one of very few non-cricketers to have emerged as a prominent game commentator in recent times. How did he get to where he is? And how does he deal with the name issue?
“Both my parents had been part of Radio Pakistan. We had that kind of atmosphere at home, where we saw them working day in and day out, and their friends were also from the field of broadcasting. Perhaps cricket commentary had a place somewhere in my subconscious, because I do remember going to the cricket ground with my father and watching Chishty Mujahid and Iftikhar Ahmad doing commentary,” he says, smiling at the memory.
The FM station Sikandar was working with had a cultural exchange programme with Radio Asia in the UK. “We had RJs coming from there and we went from here for a six-month exchange programme. Later, I moved to Dubai for radio. We were launching brand new radio stations, jump-starting sick units, or hiring RJs in the local area wherever the radio station was being launched. By this time I had gained much experience to take up radio as a profession, so things were going well, and radio cricket commentary came along the way,” he says.
“Due to my affection towards the sport, I decided that being a radio jockey was holding me back, because cricket involves a lot of travelling. So, somewhere around 2013 I left RJ-ing completely.”
Meanwhile Sikandar’s sister, Nadia Naqi, with whom he had started his career, had also gained much popularity. “We did host a lot of shows together, and it is always good to have your sister around, because you have a better understanding with your co-host. Then we left for the UK together. She was also in Dubai with me but, later, she left and started her television career in Pakistan, which was good for her eventually. She got into current affairs and is doing quite well for herself,” he shares.
But coming back to cricket, how did gain experience? And does he have a mentor/ideal in commentary?
“I wouldn’t say that I religiously follow anyone as a mentor or ideal,” he says, “but I do like some of them with good game reading, especially in Test cricket. I think Mike Atherton and Nasser Hussain are very good. I also liked Robin Jackman a lot. Pommie Mbangwa’s delivery is also immaculate. From Pakistan, I enjoy working with Ramiz Raja. So I think I’ve picked up bits and pieces from everyone along the way. You also learn a lot on the job in this profession,” he points out.
In this day and age, how tough is it for a non-cricketer commentator to be successful? After all, most commentators nowadays seem to be former cricketers. Sikandar believes it’s not as tough as it looks.
“Cricket commentary is a profession on its own,” he says. “It’s not necessary that a cricketer retires and becomes a commentator automatically, but some cricketers have that broadcasting thing in them, so why not? There are many non-cricketer commentators, especially in radio, and some of them have had the opportunity to do international matches as well. It’s again all about how good you are — it’s not important how much cricket you’ve played. But that’s my opinion,” he says.
Coming to Urdu commentary, Sikandar says that it carries huge potential. “I believe if Urdu commentary on TV is broadcast on a channel such as Pakistan Television, PTV World or any other channel, apart from just PTV Sports, it would draw more listeners. It will become a serious medium. It has serious potential in the Pakistan Super League. It should be done completely, simultaneously with English,” he says.
Speaking about the new domestic cricket structure, Sikandar believes it works very well. “It’s about time we start playing the regions the way it’s been planned, because audiences will claim more ownership. Once the crowd comes back after Covid-19, you will have the home and away matches and a proper thing going on, instead of departments playing.
“You can’t have a win-win situation for everyone, everywhere. There will always be people who would think they’ve been badly hit and, yes, they have been, no doubt about it. But if you’re looking at growth for the betterment of the game, this is the way forward,” he says.
Sikandar recently received a lot of praise from former speedster Shoaib Akhtar. “It was very kind of Shoaib Akhtar to say what he did about me on TV,” says Sikandar. “I messaged him personally to thank him. We have worked together in Dubai, where we were doing a project together, and I had a great experience around him. Whenever we meet, it is always fun to have a chat with him. It feels very nice to find someone in the same field as you speak highly of you, be supportive and encouraging. It helps a lot.”
Asked how he copes with the ‘new normal’ during tours, Sikandar shrugs and smiles. “These days we have no choice but to be locked in the hotel room in a bio-secure bubble. You have no choice but to switch on Netflix and scroll through things on the internet. There is also only one particular view from our balconies that does not change. Otherwise, whenever I used to travel for cricket, I liked hanging around with friends and being outside in the sunlight, exploring different places...”
Nobody said the path to the top wouldn’t involve sacrifices.
The writer tweets @CaughtAtPoint
Published in Dawn, EOS, May 30th, 2021