There’s been a lot of debate about how India will go into the World Cup, but it’s the nation’s bench strength rather than their playing XI that is prompting these uncertain questions.
“He lifted the game from a state of conventional excitement to one of unbelievable suspense and drama, and finally, into the realms of romantic fiction.”
So wrote Dan Waddell in his book Test match special book of cricket, referencing the revered and recently retired BBC radio cricket commentator Henry Blofeld.
The best commentators elevate cricket beyond being a simple spectacle to a compelling story.
Throughout the decades, legendary commentators such as Blofeld have captured audiences by skilfully educating and entertaining them with intimate knowledge of the game, articulated with measured enthusiasm.
The sad truth is that there too few in the current climate who can claim to be a commentator like Blofeld.
Maybe well-versed ex-English captains Nasser Hussain or Mike Atherton. Perhaps the delightfully eloquent Alison Mitchell and her smooth, velvety voiced colleague Jonathan Agnew. To break the English contingent, the ever-reliable Jim Maxwell is in this category.
Gone are the golden days of Blofeld, Richie Benaud, John Arlott, Bill Lawry, Tony Greig and the like. Admit it. The previously populated cupboard of enjoyable cricket commentators is almost bare.
These days, I hear less about cricket and more about what one had for dinner last night. Minimal chat about tactics and continuous drivel about individuals who did not make the team.
The commentary has resorted to one of ‘mates-man-ship’, whereby you are forced to listen to past anecdotes of the panel’s non-cricketing exploits together.
Oh, what I would do to hear Shane Warne speak about leg-spin or Mark Taylor preach about captaincy! From the childish sniggers to the continuous back-slapping, you would be forgiven for thinking you were watching a sub-par Adam Sandler movie.
Then there are instances where a commentator forgets that there is a difference between television and radio dialogue. With television broadcasting, one can afford to allow the golden virtue of silence to plug between analysis. Arguably the greatest TV commentator, Benaud was the finest example. For a commentator, silence is their greatest weapon. Benaud would say, “Don’t speak unless you can add to the picture.”
Due to commercial pressures and also personal preferences, however, cricket commentary has dived to the depths of loquaciousness.
Commentary was supposed to be a practice in impartiality, where your personal agenda should not be aired. One can deconstruct a batsman’s technique, a bowler’s action or a captain’s tactics, but using the vehicle of sports media to denigrate someone’s character is unprofessional – it should be reserved for the biography, not the media box.
Certain boards of cricketing nations have also placed restrictions on their commentators and their coverage of touring teams. This, therefore, has provided an avenue for biased analysis and a limited range of opinions.
Cricket commentary is no longer the same, and will not return – unless we talk cricket with dignity, panache, timing and humour.