India Calling: What it’s like to broadcast cricket in a country with a billion fans

As a sports broadcaster, very few things can surpass commentating cricket in India.

In more than two decades at the ABC, I experienced multiple Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth Games and covered world championships in numerous sports.
But commentating cricket was my greatest passion, and commentating in India was always at the top of the list.

I was fortunate to broadcast three-Test series there – 2001, 2004 and 2008 – as well as the 2011 World Cup. For each series I worked alongside my great mate Jim Maxwell, the man whose voice was the soundtrack of the Australian summer.

Together we immersed ourselves in a cricket-mad nation in all its various guises.

We did so each time in the company of the great Harsha Bhogle, one of nature’s true gentlemen who carries rock star status in India and has become one of ABC Grandstand’s listeners’ favourites over the years.

India, as a country, is a total assault on the senses – sight, sound, taste and smell are all put to the test. The latter not always in the most pleasant of ways.

One morning in Chennai, Jim and I shared a taxi to the ground with renowned News Limited cricket journalist, Robert Craddock.

The infamous Buckingham Canal outside the M A Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai 2001.

“Crash” lost his breakfast after a whiff of the Buckingham Canal

Unfortunately, “Crash” was not feeling on top of the world, having contracted a stomach bug. Breakfast that day consisted of a few slices of dry toast.

The M A Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai has the Buckingham Canal running alongside it. While sounding regal, it is anything but. It is effectively an open sewer flowing directly outside the main gates.

Upon alighting from the taxi, we were hit full force with the stench. Topped by an already hot and humid start to the day, sadly Crash’s breakfast reappeared.

Each afternoon around the tea break, when the wind changes direction and comes in off the sea, the canal’s contents assaults the olfactory nerve. At times, the stench has you almost dry retching.

India is a country of the unexpected.

While walking towards the airport terminal in Delhi one trip, we were amazed to see a cow walk up to the electronic sliding doors and saunter inside. On another occasion, driving pre-dawn out to Mumbai airport, we passed a naked body with a small sheet covering the head by the side of the road. It was a sobering sight.

Often when you think India, you think people. The streets teem with them. And wherever you see an Indian, cricket is not far away. In alleyways, on streets, in parks, the game is played with fervour.

The famous maidan in Mumbai, a massive open space, has hundreds of men and boys playing pick-up games from sunrise to sunset. It is where Sachin Tendulkar spent much of his youth.


One of the great challenges of broadcasting from India lies in the inevitable technical troubleshooting. Having a broadcast line installed is one thing. Getting it to work is another. It’s often an exercise in frustration.

On each tour of India, it was an issue and on numerous occasions, we were forced to call the game on either mobile or landline phones. On the opening day at Kolkata in 2001, we called the first two sessions on various phones. A task made more difficult by the fact we were commentating from an open balcony literally among the massive crowd.

At Nagpur in 2008, we spent almost the entirety of the opening day calling on our mobiles.

Eventually, well after the tea break, we were informed what the problem was. We had been given the wrong phone number to pass onto our master control in Sydney which was supposed to dial us in, and we could not dial out as they had placed an international bar on the line at the local exchange.

A mish mash of cables in the media centre at Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore 2004.

A mishmash of cables in the media centre at Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore 2004

We queried the technicians who kept milling around our box for five hours about those possibilities but we were assured on each occasion that neither of those issues were the root cause and the problem lay with our equipment. When I say technicians, I mean multiple.

Sometimes they seem to multiply like the biblical loaves and fishes. It was not uncommon to have as many as five in the box – one seemingly working on the problem and the other four watching the action, if not outwardly barracking for the home side.

We used to often wonder if the constant line issues were because of the technicians’ desire to resolve things slowly so they could watch the game from our box.

Every time we were forced to call on a phone, our head of department back in Sydney had kittens as he worried about those up the management food chain potentially wanting us to abandon the call in favour of local programs back home due to the inferior sound of the broadcast. Somewhat oddly, many listeners rang the ABC to say how much more authentic the call sounded and that it fitted more with their idea of India.


One of the great features of the ABC’s coverage from India was our scorer, the incomparable Mr Subramanian. He ‘found’ Jim and Tim Lane when the national broadcaster commentated a series for the first time from the sub-continent in 1998.

I must admit, listening back home to that series, I was never sure whether he existed or if he was merely a prop that Jim and Tim were referring to in order to enhance the coverage. However, in the lead-up to the 2001 tour, Jim assured me he was the real McCoy and would be with us. And, lo and behold, come the first Test in Mumbai, he magically appeared as if he was wandering out of an Arthurian mist.

Mr Subramanian hails from Chennai and he informed us he had spent 20 hours on the train in order to fulfil his duties with us in Mumbai. He continued around the country on each of our tours on the vast and overcrowded Indian rail network. There was never cause to doubt his enthusiasm. However, the accuracy of his information was sometimes a different matter.

The famous Mr Subramanian at Bangalore Test 2008.

The famous Mr Subramanian at the Bangalore Test in 2008

The day after our mobile phone episode in Kolkata in 2001, Mr Subramanian arrived at the ground with a sandalwood statue of the Hindu god, Ganesha, who, among other powers, was the god for removing obstacles. He remained in Jim’s luggage for every one of our subsequent tours to India. On occasions, Mr Subramanian, a devout Hindu, would perform a puja ceremony in the morning before play, placing flower petals and burning incense at the base of the statue.

Our Ganesha’s powers did not always save the day but he often became a point of reference throughout our broadcasts. Mr Subramanian was somewhat of a prophet as well as a scorer.

At Chennai in 2004 he amazed us all. At lunch on the third day, Australia was 4-230 after a patient opening session that saw Damien Martyn and nightwatchman Jason Gillespie survive unscathed. Just as play was resuming, Mr Subramanian commented to us that two wickets would fall in the middle session. I was behind the mic with around ten minutes to go before tea when I remembered his forecast. I ribbed him about the fact that a wicket was yet to fall.

I was never sure whether Mr Subramanian existed or if he was merely a prop that Jim and Tim were referring to in order to enhance the coverage.

He told me two would still fall before the tea interval. I asked him who would go first, Martyn or Gillespie? He confidently said Martyn, and the very next ball he was snapped up at slip by Harbhajan Singh for 104. Gillespie fell three balls later, Australia going to tea at 6-290.

The smile on Mr Subramanian’s face was priceless as the rest of us merely shook our heads.

“Mr Subramarian,” I said. “You are a genius.”


Each tour of India provided its own highlights and memories but, without doubt, the 2001 series was the most memorable sporting contest I have ever covered.

After six days of cricket, Australia looked certain to end its 31-year drought in India such was its dominance. Seven days later, they had lost one of the most exciting and memorable series in cricket history.

Australia won the first Test at Mumbai in the most emphatic fashion with a ten-wicket win inside three days. The match was dominated by Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist, who each made centuries in Australia’s first innings as the tourists rollicked to victory.

Mumbai is the Tendulkar’s home and in a country where he is revered, the epicentre of that adulation is in Mumbai. He made knocks of 76 and 65. His first two shots of the series are seared in my memory. Damien Fleming was bowling from the far end. Tendulkar went on to the back foot and defended the ball to the right of Mark Waugh at mid-on – he was out of the cordon after fracturing a finger in the warm-up game – and it scooted away for two.

Jim and Harsha Bhogle, at Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai 2004.

Jim and Harsha Bhogle, at Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai

The next ball he again defended off the back foot. It beat Fleming in his follow through and was fielded two metres inside the rope. Both shots wreaked of pure class and exquisite timing.

At stumps on day three, Tendulkar was 34 not out in India’s second innings.

The gates to the Wankhede stadium were shut an hour before the game. The Little Master was guaranteed to be batting and the locals all wanted to witness it.

When the second wicket fell in each Indian innings, it heralded the arrival of a living deity.

As the outgoing batsman trudged from the field, the ground fell silent. The presence of Tendulkar was met with rapturous applause. As soon as the Little Master stepped onto the field there was a deafening roar which only intensified all the way until he took guard.

The presence of Tendulkar was met with rapturous applause, even a defensive push back to the bowler.

From then on, the crowd rose to every one of his acts, no matter how banal they were; even a defensive push back to the bowler. And then, when he was dismissed, an eerie silence fell on the ground. You could almost hear an inhalation of breath from the crowd. The silence remained until he was roughly a dozen metres from the pitch before the low rumbling heralded tumultuous applause all the way back to the pavilion whether he had departed for nought or a hundred.

There is a misconception about cricket crowds in India. In the south of the country – Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata and Chennai – Test matches are very heavily supported. However, in the north, at cities like Delhi, Mohali and Nagpur, they can be very thin on the ground.

In 2008, when Tendulkar broke Brian Lara’s Test aggregate record, the ground would have been lucky to have had 4000 in it. That didn’t stop the administrators from shooting fireworks into the sky from outside the ground. In brilliant sunshine, you could not see them, but play was stopped for five minutes because of the noise!

There's a lot of love for Sachin Tendulkar in India
All smiles after Australia's historic Test series win in 2004

The Kolkata Test in the 2001 series is one of the most famous in the game. It kept the archivists of the sport busy.

Australia amassed 445 and preceded to bowl the hosts out for 171 in under 60 overs. With a lead of 274 runs, Steve Waugh enforced the follow-on and when India slipped to 3-115 with the loss of Tendulkar, that elusive series victory seemed a formality.

Someone, however, forgot to tell VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid.

At stumps on day three India was 4-254, still trailing by 20 runs with Laxman on 109 and Dravid unbeaten on seven. Day four, beneath a molten yellow sun, produced one of the greatest days in Test history.

Laxman and Dravid batted for its entirety, never offering a chance, as Waugh worked his way through no fewer than nine bowlers. Laxman, in particular, put on a batting masterclass. At times you got a stitch in your eyebrows watching his mastery with the willow.

That elusive series victory seemed a formality. Someone, however, forgot to tell VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid.

On numerous occasions, he would back away to the leg side and drive Shane Warne out of the footmarks and through the covers for four with the skill of a Medici sculptor. He kept plundering the quicks with whips of his pads akin to a man brushing lint off his trousers.

All day Waugh appeared to be attempting to plug gaps. A ball would go to the boundary, Waugh would make a field adjustment and the next ball would go through the gap where the fieldsman was previously. In the end, Waugh literally dispersed his fieldsmen like chaff to the wind. At times it was like watching an autopsy being performed on a man who was still alive.

As the day, unfolded Laxman began stalking history and, as a result, he truly cashed in. In a uniquely Indian way, the electronic scoreboard started to display monetary rewards for his genius.

When he posted his double century a message stated he would receive 200,000 rupees from the Cricket Association of Bengal. Additionally, he would pocket a further 1000 rupees for every run between 200 and 236, which was Sunil Gavaskar’s all-time record for an Indian batsman at that time. And then, for every run beyond 237, he would collect 2000 rupees.

At stumps, he was on 275 and 312,000 rupees (A$13,000 at the time) richer. Only in India.

Bees stopping play at Feroz Shah Kotla, Delhi

When I went downstairs to the post-play media conference, the CAB circulated a release stating that Harbhajan would receive 100,000 rupees for his hat-trick on the opening day – the first by an Indian in Test cricket. They also said they would reward the team with a 500,000 rupee bonus if it won the match.

Having survived the day unscathed, India at stumps on day four was 4-589, with Dravid on 155 and the lead at 315. They had put on 335 runs in the day. The Australian players left the field looking a bottle of week-old lemonade.

India declared at 7-657 about 45 minutes before lunch on the final day, a lead of 383 runs. Laxman finally departed for 281. Dravid was unconquered on 180. Their stand had realised 376 runs.

Australia’s record-breaking, 16-match winning streak was about to end. The question was would they hang on for a draw or surrender the match? They had to survive a minimum 75 overs.

At lunch, they were 0-24. By tea, 3-161. The draw was firming. Tendulkar chimed in with 3-31, including trapping Gilchrist in front for a first-ball duck, leaving him with a king pair having been the middle wicket in Harbhajan’s opening day hat-trick.

With time running out, skipper Sourav Ganguly had Harbhajan swap ends.

He was met with instant success. Three balls into the 69th over, he trapped Glenn McGrath in front. With less than half an hour remaining, Australia was all out for 212 with India levelling the series with a 171-run win.

Harbhajan’s 6-73 sat alongside his first innings 7-123. In most circumstances, that would win you man-of-the-match but that honour was bestowed upon Laxman for his innings of 59 and 281.

Sachin's most ardent fan.

With the sun rapidly setting the on-ground presentations were being carried out in murky light, while at the far end of the ground, the spectators in the multi-level grandstand had gathered up the placards that they had been waving for each boundary and six and placed them in various piles that they set alight.

Brilliant orange spot fires illuminated the stand, creating a surreal backdrop to a bizarre Test. Each day there was a minimum 70,000 in the ground. They would all have stories to tell.

Jim and I had a short walk back to the hotel with our gear trailing behind us. We needed to wander through a long-distance bus depot with buses displaying signs for exotic locations like Darjeeling.

As Australians, we copped plenty of good natured banter. The locals were in fine spirits and well they should have been. A series that looked lost a couple of days earlier was now firmly in the balance.

A few days later, everyone was ready to go for the decider at Chennai.

The day before the game, Jim and I were patiently sitting in the commentary box awaiting the installation of our broadcast lines. While doing so we watched the Indian team training in the nets erected on the outfield.

When the players packed up and headed for the team bus one man remained. Tendulkar. After half-centuries in each innings in Mumbai, he made a pair of tens at Kolkata. He was clearly keen to end the series on a high note.

Glenn Mitchell calling the action on the phone, Eden Gardens, Kolkata 2001

Glenn Mitchell calling the action on the phone, Eden Gardens, Kolkata 2001

For over half an hour he faced a ragtag attack consisting of local net bowlers and the odd member of the ground staff. His monastic devotion paid off. He scored 126, bringing up his century with a massive straight six off Colin Miller. The resultant crowd noise was deafening.

His knock was the batting cornerstone in his side’s two-wicket victory. A victory that denied Australia its first series win on Indian soil in 31 years.

It was an epic series. One of the greatest in the sport’s long and storied history.

Three years later, I was lucky enough to see Australia break the drought.

After winning at Bangalore and playing out a rain affected draw at Chennai, the side won the third Test at Nagpur.

On the eve of the game, Ganguly withdrew citing injury. Many thought it was in response to the pitch that was prepared, which had a covering of green and very un-Indian in appearance. Publicly, he made his displeasure known. The Aussies had no such qualms with the post-match celebrations going deep into the wee small hours.


My last cricket experience in India was the 2011 World Cup.

I worked on that trip for both the ABC and BBC, which presented me with the opportunity of calling many matches around the country not involving Australia.

In Bangalore, however, I was on my own, forced to call the Australian games against Kenya and Canada solo. I busily lined up the likes of Ian Chappell, Danny Morrison and Simon Doull – all there on TV duties – to help out in the expert’s chair. It was tiring for me and no doubt painful for the audience!

Australia bowed out in the quarter-finals, going down to India at Ahmedabad.

The ABC has now returned to India to provide ball-by-ball coverage of a Test series for the first time in nine years.

Despite competition on the radio airwaves in recent summers, I firmly believe ABC Grandstand’s product continues to be the benchmark.

The broadcast of this tour is headed up by Gerard Whateley and Alister Nicholson, two men who will certainly uphold the fine tradition of cricket on the ABC which dates back eight decades.

I, for one, will be a passionate listener. For the boys’ sake, I hope the broadcast lines hold up.

Written by Glenn Mitchell.

After 21 years as a sports broadcaster with the ABC, since mid-2011 Glenn Mitchell has been freelancing in the electronic and written media. He is an ambassador for mental health in Australia. Follow him on Twitter @MitchellGlenn

Design and editing by Benjamin Conkey and Daniel Jeffrey

Image Credit: All images supplied and owned by Glenn Mitchell except the cover image, Indian fans in the crowd and the 2004 Australian Cricket Team which are Copyright to AAP Australia.

Comments

Leave a Reply

  • Kris Swales said | February 28th 2017 @ 6:34am

    Great stuff Glenn. Vivid memories of that 2001 series being called down the phone line, and finally made it here just in time to hear the “Sa-chinnnn, Sa-chin!” chant in a Test series before he retired. Hoping Bangalore and Dharamshala dish out something similarly epic over the next month!

  • Jeff dustby said | February 28th 2017 @ 6:50am

    Yet the crowds in Pune were tiny

  • Hardwick said | February 28th 2017 @ 8:31am

    Great read.

    I remember listening to the 2001 series on the ABC each night. Truly epic.

  • Benjamin Conkey said | February 28th 2017 @ 8:44am

    Great piece Glenn. I didn’t have access to pay television in the 2000s so having the ABC to describe ball-by-ball was fantastic. Those technical issues did make it seem more authentic and added to the drama of what was already a ridiculous series in 2001.

  • tigranes said | February 28th 2017 @ 8:49am

    Nice piece Glenn. In a country of over a billion souls with several religions and a myriad of languages, cricket is perhaps the only thing which unites India.

    Australians might like cricket; but Indians are obsessed with the game.

  • Christo the Daddyo said | February 28th 2017 @ 9:01am

    What a fabulous read – thank you Glenn!

    And what glorious memories for you – envious…:)

  • Jameswm said | February 28th 2017 @ 10:05am

    What a great read – thanks Glenn. Must be so satisfying to have experienced all of that.

  • Ronan O'Connell said | February 28th 2017 @ 10:23am

    Really engaging piece Glenn, fantastic work. I adore India but it can be an intensely challenging place for travel or work.

  • Junior Coach said | February 28th 2017 @ 10:39am

    Great stuff Glenn , I remember as a 19 year old watching the 1987 World Cup final . It was broadcast on Tv (was it the ABC or Ch9?) for the first half of the match and then we trotted off to the Castle Hill RSL to watch the Aussies bowl(2nd innings wasnt broadcast on TV). The sound delay and the crackled picture and noises added to the atmosphere, it was an Englishman doing the commentry and I think he did the whole match by himself. India is a fascinating place and the first test adds another chapter to the game.

  • mds1970 said | February 28th 2017 @ 11:25am

    What a great article! I’ve never been to India, but so well has Glenn written this that I almost feel like I’m there.
    Little details like the canal in Chennai really add to the description and the memories. That wind is the opposite of the Doctor at the WACA…..
    Thanks Glenn for an entertaining read.

  • Russell Neville said | February 28th 2017 @ 12:10pm

    Super article Glen! I too have wonderful memories of that 2001 series. The big question to this day is “Should have Steve Waugh forced the follow on”? Was 274 enough and why put our bowlers out into the heat again after India’s first innings. The story goes that Waugh did ask the bowlers if they were up to backing up. Were the Aussies getting a bit cocky after so many victories? But it’s easy in hindsight!! I grew up in Qld country and TV didn’t reach our outback home, so we only had the radio. I love cricket on the radio and my first memories are of Alan McGilvray and Lindsay Hasset on ABC. Glen I do hope you come back to ABC radio, as I feel with Jim Maxwell doing less and the late Peter Roebuck gone and Kerry O’Keefe retiring the standards have dropped. Gerard Whateley is very competent and knowledgable but his distinctly nasal timbre is quite annoying.

  • TheCunningLinguistic said | February 28th 2017 @ 12:15pm

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Glenn, t’was fantastic! Always great to hear a different point of view to the players and coaches.

  • Marcus said | February 28th 2017 @ 1:45pm

    Terrific read Glenn.

  • Luke Ringland said | February 28th 2017 @ 1:49pm

    Thanks for that Glenn. Cricket on the radio has a special place in my heart, and I have great and vivid memories of some of those matches. I’ve never been to India, but surely will some day.

  • Daniel Jeffrey said | February 28th 2017 @ 2:15pm

    Top stuff Glenn – the overwhelming positivity here in the comments says everything about the piece. An excellent read

  • Deepak Shah said | February 28th 2017 @ 3:23pm

    Brilliant article of a great broadcast. Remember every minute of all the Aussie trips to India very fondly. Really miss you Glen and Jim in the ABC box even for Australian summer. The radio was like an oasis in the desert while at work especially when Kerry O’Keeffe joined. Thanks for wonderful memories.

  • GD66 said | February 28th 2017 @ 3:26pm

    Great yarn, Glenn, I’ve listened to a lot of cricket but that 2001 series was incredible. I too have given away the ABC coverage nowadays, not least because of several favourites moving on for various reasons as Russell Neville has articulated, but I tried again in the amazing Pune test last weekend and Grandstand, at the expense of the cricket broadcast, suddenly developed an obsession with rugby union ! Whiteline Wireless got me home though.

  • E-Meter said | February 28th 2017 @ 4:21pm

    Great read Glenn. That 2001 series inspired me to go and see a test in the 2004 series. I went to the Mumbai test on one of Luke Sparrow’s tours. One of the best holidays I’ve ever had.

  • kaushik mitra said | February 28th 2017 @ 4:34pm

    Wonderful article, lovely experience to share with us.

  • Bored said | February 28th 2017 @ 5:01pm

    Shame about the poor attendances in Pune. Maybe the locals knew what was coming and stayed away.

    Next test will really make or break the Indians. I think the Aussies will hammer them, they have India rattled.

  • Ouch said | February 28th 2017 @ 5:19pm

    Spent 4 months travelling India in early 1997. Once the people found out I was Australian, the stumps, bat and ball came out and it was game on. Played games on the banks of Ganges near Varanassi, in the big cities and in many small villages and towns that i went through. It was unbelievable the passion for cricket they had.
    Some of these kids were absolutely gun players and probably could have made a career out of the game but unfortunately most were dirt poor rural kids with little chance of getting a gig.

    • Kris Swales said | March 1st 2017 @ 1:34am

      Had a scratch match in the backstreets of Varanasi a few years back with a mid-teens bowler who slung them like Malinga. I didn’t hit a ball!

      • Ouch said | March 1st 2017 @ 10:09am

        Awesome isn’t it? They love cricket like nowhere else on the planet. A lot like the Fijians and rugby – lunchtime Saturdays and the entire place comes to a standstill.

  • Graeme Hoskins said | February 28th 2017 @ 6:28pm

    A wonderful article Glenn, It brought all those broadcasts back to me and I still listen as I have for the past 50+ years. Thank you.

  • Graeme Hoskins said | February 28th 2017 @ 6:40pm

    A wonderful article Glenn, it brought all those broadcasts back to me and I continue to listen as I have done for the last 50+ years.
    Thank you.

  • Nardio said | February 28th 2017 @ 6:48pm

    Excellent article … enjoyed every word.

  • Just a bloke said | February 28th 2017 @ 6:52pm

    Great stuff Glenn. A pleasure to finally read this!

  • Mike Tighe said | February 28th 2017 @ 7:34pm

    Congratulations Glenn. An article well written and interesting to read. I recall a number of the occasions to which you referred. Best of good fortune in further such articles

  • davSA said | February 28th 2017 @ 7:36pm

    Wow Glen , What a terrific read . A few years ago a work colleague was on the same flight to India as then coach Gary Kirsten. He related that on leaving the terminal building a huge crowd had already begun to follow Kirsten. I remain fascinated by that country and hope to visit in the future.

  • Tanmoy Kar said | February 28th 2017 @ 10:58pm

    Nice Article, fortunate to go down memory-lane while reading. A very good description of India as well!

  • Glenn Mitchell said | February 28th 2017 @ 11:26pm

    Thank you ‘Roarers’ for the kind comments. It brought back so many wonderful memories when The Roar’s editors suggested I write this column. The positive feedback has been greatly appreciated.

  • SonOfLordy said | March 1st 2017 @ 1:13am

    Enjoyable read.

    Thank you.

  • Mik Tighe said | March 1st 2017 @ 2:08am

    Congratulations Glenn. An interesting and well constructed essay of your time in India. Many of these and identities mentioned I well recall.

  • Geoff Parkes said | March 1st 2017 @ 7:19am

    Thanks Glenn, really enjoyed this.

    I wonder what The Duke of Buckingham would think today about the ‘canal’ named in his honour?

  • Peter Z said | March 1st 2017 @ 8:22am

    Great read from a likable bloke. One of my all time fave ABC commentators

  • Diggercane said | March 1st 2017 @ 10:36am

    Fantastic read, thank you.

  • Sava said | March 4th 2017 @ 10:39am

    What fascinates me is on TV last night,Mitch Marsh was the Test Team spokesman. Why not the Coach or Captain of the Test Team?Not a bloke who is considered by many as lucky to be in the Test Team.
    Sava