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It’s not just about how many balls were outside the off stump, cricket fans are interested in things that happen in the game…mindset, insight, conspiracy theories," says Gaurav Kapur. The VJ from Channel V became a household face as the host of the Indian Premier League pre-match show Extraaa Innings T20 on Sony, from 2009 right until the network lost its IPL broadcast rights to Star Sports in 2018. While he thoroughly enjoyed what he calls his carnival days, Kapur moved to digital video with his Breakfast With Champions show on YouTube and also produced long-form documentaries such as one on Leander Paes (his production house Oaktree Sports is working on one on football in Kashmir at the moment).

When we meet ahead of the announcement of his new Spotify podcast earlier this week, Kapur tells me he loves the “ground floor challenge". His podcast, 22 Yarns, is part of the global audio- streaming subscription service’s first batch of three Indian originals, dropping on 3 December. “I love things that are starting out. The risk to reward ratio there is something I really enjoy. What’s the worst that can happen?" he says.

Gaurav Kapur
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Gaurav Kapur (Photo courtesy: Gaurav Kapur)

22 Yarns is 12 episodes of “myths, stories and folklore" from the world of cricket. “Our broadcasters do good live broadcasts but when it comes to telling stories, I feel they are not bullish enough. There’s a need gap for non-live content, story and sports coming together," he says. On the podcast, Kapur will be in conversation with storytellers ranging from veteran commentators such as Harsha Bhogle to writers Ramachandra Guha and Mukul Kesavan and former players such as Sunil Gavaskar and Anjum Chopra. The first episode, which I heard, is with statistician Joy Bhattacharya.

Each episode has a theme: Bhattacharya’s is captains. With Gavaskar, it’s West Indies. With Bhogle, it had to be the evolution of commentary. Among other things, they tease out the now infamous commentary gaffe: “The bowler’s Holding, the batsman’s Willey." Kapur needs to explain this legendary bit of late 1970s cricket commentary to me. The commentator had meant that Michael Holding was running in to bowl to Peter Willey. “Harsha and I speak about two-three other incidents where things have come out on air like they shouldn’t have," says Kapur, all grins. They also spin yarns about the birth of “synthetic broadcasts" and “lonely commentators who went through five days of a Test with one bottle of whisky for company".

Kapur likes to talk cricket and quips that there’s no room for tales like this on TV, where the focus is on the now. He had quit his VJ career sensing the end of the VJ era, and made his bones in sports anchoring with a weekend wrap of the English Premium League on ESPN Star Sports. “On TV, there’s a brief and a time limit. No room for me to ask Zaheer Khan to expand on his theory about high tides affecting ball swing. When he had told me that, I was like whhaaaat?"

By focusing on content that’s accessible, Kapur is interested in building a community of sports fans. Not an app or a website, but something broader. 22 Yarns is to be produced by Oaktree. “The plan is to use our own distribution platforms to serve small video bits from the podcast recordings and redirect them to Spotify," says Kapur.

Since Kapur equates a podcast with driving a sports car on an expressway (video is driving the same sports car in city traffic), I ask if recording video during the podcast is like working at cross purposes. Don’t guests respond differently on and off camera? “Shooting is so innovative these days. There are ways to do it in a way that’s not in your face. Small tricks in terms of positioning and how you direct the person’s vision," he says. “Besides, these are all veterans."

The beauty of the podcast medium is that it’s time-agnostic. And some episodes have spilled beyond the planned 30 minutes, says Kapur.

Kapur sees promise in the idea of free-flowing conversation in an era when people don’t have the time for talk. And although we discuss the poor work ethic of the 20-something generation briefly—it’s a hot topic of discussion for the 30-somethings—Kapur has faith that the “headline generation" is interested in deep dives too. “They are not all instant noodles. They are looking for perspectives," he argues. “And everyone likes a good story."

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