Reminiscing the excitement of experiencing a cricket match on a transistor

While technology has made it possible to watch sports on mobile phones, old timers swear that there is little to match the anticipation of a cricket match on a transistor and they reel off incidents on the field that happened years before television took over

“The score on board was just 183. Made by the underdogs India. Not really enough to win the World Cup that too against the West Indies. But then Madan Lal bowled a short one around the off-stump and Viv Richard hit the ball miles up in the air. Kapil Dev who was at the mid-field started running towards the ball, and India waited with bated breath. Dev took the catch and that is one moment I’ll remember forever,” says B Sachit who vividly remembers the summer of 1983. He was in grade nine, and most of his vacation was spent glued to his constant companion, a tiny pocket transistor for updates of the World Cup.

That World Cup final was special for him also because he flew all the way to Kolkata from Visakhapatnam to watch the live telecast of the match on TV! “Televisions were available only in metropolitan cities and not in Visakhapatnam. But I had to watch the finals,”he laughs. That was the first time he watched a live telecast.

K Parthasarathy, secretary of Visakhapatnam District Cricket Association, also travelled almost 150 km to watch the cricketing action live on television. He and 100 others went from Visakhapatnam to Kakinada to do that. “The 1983 World Cup was the first one after the introduction of television in India and as we watched India bring home the cup, no other World Cup would be as special as this one!” he declares. Describing his first live telecast he says, “We only heard about the gestures and stance of players on the radio, now we could actually see it all for ourselves. It felt like we were in the stands in England,” he laughs.

People assembled in front of 'The Hindu' office to see the cricket scores announced on the board for every run scored.

People assembled in front of 'The Hindu' office to see the cricket scores announced on the board for every run scored.   | Photo Credit: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

  • Storms in the
  • World Cups
  • Besides the matches themselves, there were other dramas being played out around the World Cup
  • Kepler Wessels represented Australia from 1982 to 1985. In 1991 he played for South Africa in 1991 and captained its team for the 1992 World Cup.
  • Imran Khan returned to International cricket in 1988 after announcing his retirement the previous year. This was done on the request of Pakistani President General Zia-Ul-Haq.
  • As India slumped from 98/1 to 120/8 after Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal in the 1996 World Cup semifinal, the crowd went berserk at Eden Gardens. They set fire to the stands and threw bottles onto the field as a result of which the match was stopped and Sri Lanka was announced the winner.
  • During 1999 World Cup, when India faced South Africa, captain Hansie Cronje and Allan Donald wore earpieces to get instructions from coach Bob Woolmer. When the case was referred to the on-field umpires, the players were asked to remove the equipment. However, this was not considered to be against the game’s laws.

Retired Air Force officer R Srinivasan was in Leh at that time. “There was no TV but I had a Philips Transistor, one of my first ‘big’ purchases bought for a princely ₹865, on which we heard the BBC broadcast of the radio commentary. Unfortunately, the most exciting century of the season by Kapil Dev in the match against Zimbabwe was never broadcast. Because on that day the BBC was on strike! We had to read about that match the following day in the newspapers. Sadly, thanks to poor reception, we missed out on the final over of India Vs West Indies match. We caught up about India’s victory later on the BBC Sports Round Up, and celebrated all over again,” he says.

“Matches were driven more by passion rather than big money,” feels former statistician for Andhra Cricket Academy, G Phani who also cycled for kilometres to join his friends to listen to the cricket commentary. “At the time of 1983 World Cup, I was in Machilipatnam. There was just one transistor and we used to listen to the match together. We made our own parallel score board to be able to predict the outcome. Even a drawn match was a cause of celebration.”

The visual experience came only from monochromatic, grainy photographs in newspapers says sports writer A Prasanna Kumar. “The commentators’ narrative skills and our own imagination played a big role in our enjoyment of the game.”

The commentators continued to be important even after television came in. Because those days just four or five cameras covered the match and not every ball could be traced to the fielder. But things changed in the 1992 World Cup that brought with it floodlights and third umpires. “It was also the time the teams shed their whites and wore colourful uniforms,” remembers Parthasarathy. The first World Cup match in Visakhapatnam in 1996 “was between Australia and Kenya and people thronged the Indira Gandhi Municipal Corporation Stadium to watch the players.” Parthasarathy was part of the umpiring panel for the 1996 World Cup and acted as the third umpire for eight matches.

    Keeping scores
    • In the 1950s and 60s, The Hindu office in Mount Road, Madras, was a regular haunt where cricket fans gathered to keep track of every run scored. Here is a picture taken outside the office premises during the 1964 Second Test match between India and Australia at Bombay.

    Former State-level cricketer K Pradeep cycled from home to Tripunithura Cricket Club in Ernakulam to hear the World Cup commentary. “Commentators such as John Arlott, Christopher Martin-Jenkins and Tony Cozier painted thrilling word pictures. They talked about the ground, the spectators, what they were eating, what the weather was like and even described the surroundings of the match venue. They even knew how to use a pause or silence to convey something.”

    K Madhavan, a 67-year-old from Bengaluru, agrees that it was a thrill to listen to these stalwarts. “We would to go to our neighbour’s house to listen to the radio commentary and were served snacks! Along with the vivid descriptions, I would also picture [Bishan] Bedi bowling... Radio had its own charm.”

    Soon enough, television made cricket a private affair. Rather than being a community game that brought people together, cricket was now enjoyed in the comforts of living rooms. Sachit misses the earlier times. “It was a community sport in the early 1980s and the World Cup was nothing less than a festival. People planned their days around the match schedules.”

    Now, cutting edge technology has changed all that and streaming services like Hotstar have brought the World Cup to people’s phones.

    But for old timers, there is nothing to top the excitement that their transistors and radios brought them. Sachit, who is following this year’s World Cup closely, can’t forget 1983. “This year, we are one of the favourites to win, but that year we were clearly the underdogs facing a favourite team. The Indian team of 1983 had already surpassed expectations when they entered the semi-finals,” he laughs.

    (With inputs from Aishwarya Upadhye, Pankaja Srinivasan, Praveen S, Saraswathy Nagarajan, Srinivasa Ramanujam and Sujatha Varma)

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    Printable version | Feb 17, 2020 10:02:10 PM |

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