The art of cricket commentary has been reduced to a succession of clichés and platitudes

The unearthly alarm would set up your appointment with Alan McGilvray, transporting you to Australia, as the transistor would crackle to life with a slight adjustment. Cricket viewing for most of us was through the wonderful commentary of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) with McGilvray the pick, not to forget Johnnie Moyes, Jim Maxwell and V. M. Chakrapani. McGilvray’s work was sheer joy and cricket fans grew with his deep knowledge of the game. His impeccable description of the proceedings made radio commentary a very important component of the game. The match was brought ‘live’ for you with some insightful description.

When cricket fans in India were introduced to Channel Nine, it was a pleasant revelation and introduction to quality on television. Richie Benaud, Bill Lawry, Ian Chappell and Tony Grieg formed a collection that was considered the best ever when it came to making cricket a huge spectacle. They combined their knowledge and experience to produce a lucid description of the happenings on the field. Henry Blofeld introduced the glamour element in the 1980s. Geoff Boycott’s humour was a welcome change. It was an embarrassment of riches and the viewer was the winner. Michael Atherton, Nasser Hussain, Mark Nicholas and Mark Taylor are among the best in these times.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) too made its contribution to cricket with an enviable team of commentators that included greats like John Arlott, Brian Johnston, Rex Alston, Trevor Bailey and Christopher Martin-Jenkins, to name a few. Tony Cozier has been the voice of Caribbean cricket for close to five decades, an authority on the game. Bryan Waddle has been a popular broadcaster with Radio Sport in New Zealand.

India has not lacked with some excellent commentators, mainly attached to radio, standing out with their style and diction. Names like A. F. S. (Bobby) Talyarkhan, Pearson Surita, Dicky Rutnagar, Berry Sarbadhikari, Devraj Puri, Anant Setalwad, Suresh Saraiya, Narottam Puri, Ravi Chaturvedi, Sushil Doshi, Skand Gupt and noted Marathi commentator Bal Pandit evoke nostalgia. Pandit’s contribution was huge since he took the game to remote corners of Maharashtra. “I did just my job to the best of my abilities,” says Pandit.

And then gradually cricket commentary on radio went out of service. Television dictated. There was no space for All India Radio at the venue. From a vantage position behind the bowler’s arm the radio commentators were shunted to midwicket and square-leg positions. “Very demeaning,” Saraiya would bemoan. Off-the-tube commentating took away the charm and it impacted the new names to an extent that AIR struggled to attract quality men to do the job.

The decline of cricket commentary, if one may call it so, has coincided with the decline of the game. Every shot and every dismissal is termed “great” by some of the ‘illustrious’ experts. Every six is “massive” and victory “fantastic.” Lest one forgets, there is no match, especially in the shorter formats, that is not “important” or “significant.” The collection of former international cricketers in the commentator’s box has not necessarily enhanced the quality of broadcasting in recent times because they have taken away the most absorbing part of the job called meaningful criticism. They only offer unabashed worshipping of the game, its administrators and fellow cricketers.

The over-analysis of the game on television has taken fun out of cricket. Interestingly, some of these experts forget their position to be neutral when analysing the fare. The stuff is so predictably rosy when it comes to describing anything Indian. “Why do our experts forget they are not Indian cricket’s supporters or fans?

They must be objective in their criticism. I prefer the mute option than suffer this one-dimensional commentary,” says a veteran cricket fan, who is sick of the trivial packaging of fours, sixes and wickets in the name of highlights.

Says Gulu Ezekiel, freelance cricket journalist and author, “The degeneration in the standards of television commentary over the last few years is one of the many disastrous fallouts of the monster that is the IPL. Legends like Richie Benaud and John Arlott always maintained that pictures should be allowed to speak for themselves and that silence was golden. But today commentary has been reduced to a raucous cacophony with former greats proudly parading themselves as paid mouthpieces of the BCCI. A sad commentary indeed!”

But the commentary team is now enriched with the welcome addition of Ajay Jadeja’s talent remains untapped. He is refreshing and unsparing in his healthy criticism. With Sourav Ganguly showing promise, one can expect him to lend some quality to the otherwise mediocre team of Indian ‘experts’ like L. Sivaramakrishnan and Arun Lal. Ravi Shastri has become repetitive and N. S. Sidhu, for all his astute cricket reading, is more of an entertainer. The current crop of Hindi commentators on television, without exception, ranks among the worst. Their poor diction and language make a mockery of the art of commentating, especially in the ongoing IPL. The less said about the radio commentators and the `experts’ on Doordarshan the better.