The smell of freshly watered grass, cut to an even inch off the terrain. The ever so pleasant breeze, wafting across as the slightly overcast skies dance with the sun. Crowds have gathered here on what has turned out to be the perfect weather for cricket, as the Men in White make their way out onto the field. Three slips and a gully. Cover, Mid-off, extra cover and point. Attacking play by the fielding side. The beaming birthday boy bowler, examining the shine on the Kookaburra leather. Batsman ready. Umpire gives the go-ahead. First ball. Pitched slightly outside off, right on the seam. The pitch does its job – natural outswing. Batsman reads the ball early. Traditional back and across. An effortless crack off the willow for a glorious drive on the off side, placed with mathematical precision, between cover and extra cover. The ball races past the fielders, on a clear outfield, rushing to the ropes. Four runs off the first ball.
You know how they say, a good book can transport you to another world? It works exactly the same way with speech. We love hearing a mellifluous singer, the picking on a brand new acoustic guitar, or a wonderful description of an event.
The purists of cricket have been arguing that the game, in its traditional sense, is slowly being killed, with the advent of T20 cricket. The short ball isn’t being allowed, fielding restrictions are imposed, limited overs restricts bowlers’ freedom and variety, classy ground strokes are being replaced by unorthodox shots – the reasons are endless. But what T20 cricket has also done, is that it has killed cricket commentary.
T20 World Cup and the IPL, back to back – we are being exposed to a lot of limited over cricket this year. And over all the din of the packed stadiums, we hear the commentators in the box, screaming at the top of their voices. Most of the commentary is limited to reading out the scoreline, or the statistics of the players. This isn’t radio commentary, guys. We can see the same figures that you can. And when it comes to the actual shots, the adjectives used to describe them are “BANG!” or “BOOM”. Maybe the changing game format requires such high energy. Maybe their contract states that the commentary must be basic and is just a filler noise over the cricketing action. And commentary has been reduced to baseless marketing for the gazillion sponsors of IPL. It’s not a boundary anymore, it’s a Yes Bank maximum.
Gone are the good ol’ days, when you had an Ian Chappell, or an Alan Wilkins, poetically describing not just events on the field, but off of it too, occasionally providing us with snippets of information. And for the Caribbean flavour, you would have a Michael Holding or Clive Lloyd, narrating their experiences at that pitch. Cricket was not just a visual treat then – it was a sensational hearing experience. And one of the most critical elements of commentary in those days was – to know when not to speak. “Put your brain into gear and if you can add to what’s on the screen then do it, otherwise shut up,” said Richie Benaud, on when to keep quiet.
As the late Tony Cozier famously remarked, after the West Indies were bowled out for 51 by Australia in 1999, “Where does West Indies cricket go from ‘ere?”, we wonder, “Where does cricket commentary go from ‘ere?” Could we be hearing “LOL that was a misfield” and “OMG what a shot” in the future? Who knows. Back to Bang and Boom for now. Virat Kohli on strike.
– Shashank Sreekar