Cricketing viewership in recent times has become something of an ordeal. The Arun Lals, Russel Arnolds, Danny Morissons, Jayasurias, Ian Healys and Athar Ali Khans of the world have introduced me to a previously unthinkable phenomenon…watching cricket on mute.
As subtlety continues to disappear and the men behind the microphone continue to fall in love with their own voices, cricket commentary appears to have become more of an exercise in stating the obvious. While the stellar team of Atherton, Gower and Hussain is still holding the fort in English cricket and Benaud, Crowe and Jackman provide much needed relief in matches involving their respective countries, the standard of commentary overall has slipped rather embarrassingly in recent years.
My discontent with the utter tripe insulting my ears during cricket matches often has me longing rather wistfully for better times in cricket commentary; times when the words fit the occasion; when commentary was not an annoying sideshow and actually provided context and emotion to a moment.
Iftikhar Ahmed’s commentary on Miandad’s last ball six at Sharjah is a piece for the ages. Even though the game happened years before my passion for cricket was tickled, the infectious excitement in Iftikhar’s voice instantly transforms me to that quite marvelous era of Pakistan commentary. It was a time when Qureshi and Iftikhar held the reins of Pakistan commentary, when the impact of radio made cricket commentary a profession only for the true orators.
Iftikhar’s voice reflects an almost disbelief at the miracle that has just unfolded in front of the viewers’ eyes and his comments scream out the passion that every Pakistani viewer feels at that historic moment in Pakistan cricket.
[youtube width="465" height="344"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eY4ucjbG7lY[/youtube]
Richie Benaud’s memorable vocals behind Wasim Akram’s legendary dismissal of Alan Lamb provide insight into a different school of commentary. As Imran brings in his chief ward to land in the killer punch, Benaud and Tony Cozier are leading the commentary.
Akram bowls a sensational delivery and knocks over Lamb.Notice how the tone of Benaud’s voice does not change and there is no audible excitement in his voice. Instead, his speed of delivery picks up with the excitement of the occasion and culminates in the punchline.. “Allan Lamb has been cleaned up. Perhaps…..”.And then he pauses. It’s the pauses that make Benaud the legend that he is. It may be his mastery of delivery, or the fact that he weighs every word carefully. And then he delivers the verdict. “so too England”.
As Akram hits the top of his mark for the next ball, Tony Cozier is reeling off the names of English batsmen to follow. “Lewis, Reeve, Pringle, Defritas…Fairbrother is still there”….As Akram castles Lewis with a devilish in swinger, Richie Benaud pulls out another classic..Rather than shout out an excitable two liner ala Tony Grieg or Bill Lawry, Benaud plays off quite brilliantly off Cozier’s last comment….”Subtract Lewis from that list…Wasim Akram is on a hat-trick”….It was fitting that five of the greatest minutes in Pakistan cricketing history were accompanied not by an excitable commentator eager to hog the mic but by a brilliant orator who knew not to steal from the moment.
[youtube width="465" height="344"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCDi2MkY-fM[/youtube]
David Gower’s brief tribute to Tendulkar upon his entrance into Lord’s captured my imagination. Gower is an old favorite. He speaks with the same eloquence as his batting, it’s an almost lazy, casual play of words delivered in his own inimitable style.
Similar to Benaud, what stands out with Gower’s commentary are his deliberate and immaculate pauses. Notice in this case the subtle emphasis on the words “legend” and “demigod”…As the cameras seek out the crowd, Gower improvises on the spot with a delicious one-liner taken from a banner…”Lord at Lord’s”..It was just about the most perfectly executed little tribute I’ve ever heard in cricket commentary.
[youtube width="465" height="344"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zoie8KlYh3g[/youtube]
Once upon a time when Ravi Shastri did not have drunken outbursts on TV, he used to be a half-decent commentator. A game from the Champion’s Trophy gives me goosebumps every time I listen to the commentary (listen to the clip below at 7 mins -49 secs). Asif and Shoaib have both been banned on the eve of the trophy and Pakistan’s hastily assembled band of backup bowlers have managed to restrict Sri Lanka to a gettable total.
Pakistan’s batsmen, in true Pakistani fashion, blunder their way towards the total. With the ending in sight Razzaq decides to finish the game off in a blaze of glory. As the ball sails into the night sky, Ravi Shastri’s powerful voice booms in the background, “……its vintage Pakistan here…….”. It was a dialogue that captured everything that’s maddening and captivating about Pakistan cricket in one simple syllable. The victory really was a Pakistan classic, secured against all odds, in the backdrop of a disaster that had left them defenseless on the eve of battle. Ravi Shastri recognises the sentiments of the Pakistani viewer and his comment puts the appropriate close on a night of swinging fortunes.
[youtube width="465" height="344"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=baselXjyWdY[/youtube]
Nasser Hussain’s eloquence and charisma as a commentator makes the Sky commentary team a listener’s delight. In this example from Pakistan’s tumultuous last tour of England Saeed Ajmal is announcing himself as Pakistan’s next great spinner. After tormenting England in a test match at Edgbaston, Ajmal is out to prove that his strong performance was not a one off.
The doosra that clips the inside edge of Morgan’s bat is a gem, the commentary if possible is epic. Hussain sums up the brilliance of Ajmal in one poetic sentence…”Ajmal, the destroyer at Edgbaston…is weaving his magic at the Oval”….It might just be the sheer eloquence of Hussain’s delivery, but his point left me infactuated with Saeed Ajmal.
[youtube width="465" height="344"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7F5XAhW6cQ[/youtube]
My bias against commentators stating the obvious notwithstanding, Bill Lawry’s commentary to close out the 92 world cup still sends shivers of excitement down my spine. As Rameez Raja circles around to complete the catch, Bill Lawry’s shrieking tones capture the emotion of the moment to perfection. ” It’s up in the air, this could be victory it is! Pakistan win the world cup.
A magnificent performance in front of 87000 people. Imran Khan has led his side to victory. What a great victory.” It is the brilliance of Bill Lawry that while his commentary lacks in thought or originality, the sheer emotion in his voice is enough to keep the average viewer engaged. In this case Lawry’s voice adds color to a quite glorious moment in Pakistan’s sporting history.Contrast this to David Lloyd and Wasim Akram’s rather bland performance in Pakistan’s T20 victory, and one realizes how a passionate commentator can often capture the essence of a great moment.
[youtube width="465" height="344"]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xebUhHKDFvU[/youtube]
It’s a tricky business judging cricket commentary. While nostalgia, national prejudice and sentimental attachments to the personalities behind the microphone inevitably color the listener’s view, cricket fans generally appear to be united in their disapproval of the utter garbage being paraded around the cricket world as ‘commentary’.
For the time being, we can at least console ourselves with the thought that for every ‘tracer bullet’ that heads to the boundary, every ‘Karban Kamaal catch’ that is completed successfully and every ‘match going right down to the wire’, there are still some sane voices left behind the microphone. And the next time we find ourselves cringing at a Tony Greig cliche, we can rest assured that a little gem from Richie Benaud is somewhere around the corner.
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