What do we do with commentators?

“Hafeez is pushing smoothly. His partner Jamshed is satisfied today.” –Rameez Raja’s commentary and a homosexual mating call.

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No if no but only Siddhu the Jat: Siddhu, the one man self help book cum laughter club patron saint. Image source: 1

History frowns upon talkative people. Considering some of the “wise” proverbial statements from yore such as “Empty vessels make loud noise” or “Honey, stop jabbering and go make me a sandwich”, “That black man is talking way too much while picking cotton, time to put him under the whip”, one understands the ordeal this medium of communication has suffered over the years. Other modes of communication, which include writing, miming or even IPL cheerleading have been accorded artistic connotations that are comparable to Renaissance era’s memorable semi-pornographic artful creations. Speaking has been only given importance only on certain occasions- when people deliver orations or conduct political public debates or as in the case of sports broadcasting in the early 20th century where people relied on the radio for updates. When technology moved on to visual broadcasting, the practice of reporting every event that is visible to the viewers’ eye, could be considered superfluous. However, commentating survived in all sporting events where an explanation was deemed necessary for an uninformed audience about the nuances of the crucial moments in the game. For example, football and hockey relies on commentary about special strategic moves made by managers or players; boxing relies on terminology and information about how weaknesses of opponents are being exploited. Since chess is too slow and ping pong/tennis is too fast, most of the commentary is made after the opponent has won the game and a point, respectively. What about Golf, you ask? It is anyway a pointless rich man’s sport and its broadcasting is meant as only a buffer channel to prevent awkwardness when one’s mother/grandmother unexpectedly joins in to watch the TV premiere of a “family” oriented flick, but a steamy striptease inexplicably appears (eg. Dhoom 3).

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Banal retentiveness: The many faces of cricket commentators. Image source: 2, 3, 4, 5.

Cricket is one sport which has been let down by commentary in more recent times. Richie Benaud, the father of leg spin, was one of the few good commentators as he illustrated his speech with timely anecdotes at important phases of the match. In recent times, commentary has transformed into a contest of unimaginativeness and an advertising stunt. Maninder Singh, L. Sivaramakrishnan and Arun Lal are rarely imaginative in their articulation and their careers, but for a few moments in the mid to late 80s, are a reflection of their understanding of the game. Navjot Singh Sidhu relies on irrelevant rhetoric and overbearing optimism while Rameez Raja ushers in his patriotic feelings at the sight of a Pakistani fielder holding on to a catch. Sunil Gavaskar, assumes the role of an overbearing Indian mother-in-law while Sanjay Manjrekar and Aakash Chopra are often seen eating their words for lunch. Vaughan and Hussain inflict enormous individual bias in their remarks while Danny Morrison is making lingering references to some inner garments. Dean Jones and Andrew Strauss have been censured for making personal attacks. And the most distinguished of them all, Ravi Shastri adopts military vernacular and delivers extremely obvious remarks like “ If India want to win here, they have to play well”.

With the decline in commentary standards, it becomes imperative that we look at other solutions to make a cricket match a more memorable and a less monotonous experience for a viewer. The following ideas are floated keeping this necessity in mind.

Personal Commentator: Since player bias already exists in commentary, viewers are entitled to their share of biographical updates. Each player should hence have his personal commentator. He can easily fit into the staff consisting of a personal trainer, marketing agent and the superstitious piece of equipment, dirty rag or the photo of a spiritual teacher. Unlike a public relations officer, his job will not be to field questions from reporters but to explain the hardships suffered by the batsman and how he evolved into a cricketer. Whenever the batsman takes strike, his personal commentator switches on his mic. The commentators can add snippets of information about their employer’s off-the-field heroics and exploits with the opposite sex and kick start the gossip mill. This particular commentary model will be excessively useful for developing nations in solving unemployment problems and will bring the reality show audience under the cricketing umbrella. Chris Martin and Varun Aaron’s personal commentator would be from a pool of differently abled candidates, given their brief stay at the crease and making it the MBA world’s “diversity” dream. This particular aspect itself adds to the credibility of BCCI being listed as a charitable organization. To attract even more charitable contributions one can trust the BCCI to auction Aaron’s batting timeslot to the highest bidder since an ad is assumed to be imminent. The only perceivable drawback is that commentators of defensive batsmen might need medical cover for chronic occupational laryngitis. Even in that situation, family members like uncles, or an estranged brother can be invited to the box as a replacement.

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I have a dream: The sight of Chandra bat, Ranatunga field, Matt Prior appeal and Warner jump will add to the leap of imagination of the keen students of the game. Image sources: 6, 7, 8, 9.

Dreamentators: In a world where superlatives are used without warning and obvious facts are reported without shame, how can you expect creativity to thrive? For this purpose, the concept of dreamentators should evolve. Qualified candidates can be short listed from a pool of distinguished novelists to stand- up comedians. They will report events on the field with flowery vocabulary and poetic devices that cleverly mask the deep meanings. For example, Arjuna Ranatunga’s fielding could be described as “He is escorting the ball like a doting father, tailing his daughter after dusk”. Bhagwat Chandrashekhar’s batting could be reported as “Watching Chandra walk to the crease with a bat in his hand is akin to watching a medieval knight fight a fire breathing dragon with a toothpick”. Similarly, Matt Prior’s incessant appealing could be thus narrated to the viewer as “Matt is putting a good performance in the camera in front of the English audience. I have no doubt in my mind that he’s angling for the part of an uncredited extra for the sequel of the movie “Braveheart”- the one with a garish costume and a shabby metallic helmet. Given his war cry, I wouldn’t be surprised if the opening shot of his scene features him being struck by an arrow and him falling theatrically to the floor, thus ending his dramatic but brief role”. English teachers will then recommend a match for their students as homework and additional revenue can be generated by cricket boards. On the other hand comedians could render colorful vignettes about Monty Panesar’s fielding or Inzamam’s running between the wickets. Dreamentators would also be allowed to ponder over the “What (would happen) ifs” of a situation:

Example 1: “What if Younis Khan were to be given a benefit match on his ODI debut? Wouldn’t it be a benefit to the PCB?”

Example 2: “What if Venkatesh Prasad deliberately messed up his bowling description to right arm medium fast in his debut year just so that he could deceive batsmen that way at least?”

Example 3: “What if David Warner were to be picked up by a overlooking hawk during his celebratory jump after a century ?”

Example 4: “What if Ishant Sharma was raising brain tumor awareness by hitting his head after dismissing Chandimal ?”.

Such ideas will certainly change the way we look at things.

Astrologers: The game of cricket has certainly stagnated. With powerplays and free hits, the game has become one-dimensional. The key to improving the game lies in increasing the entourage of match officials. It is imperative to add a match astrologer/soothsayer in addition to the match referee and 3 umpires. The match astrologer will carry a crystal sphere/tarot card pack/Panchangam to the commentary box and predict the fate of players and matches on air. He can even supplement the role of the personal commentator by predicting the birth of a child and injuries/retirements of players so that respective team managements can have a contingency plan. One can go as far as replacing the overly criticized Duckworth-Lewis system in rain-hit matches as the astrologer can predict the outcome of matches. Imagine the excitement when an astrologer forces the conversion of a Test match to a T20, given that only 3 hrs in the next 5 days are auspicious for playing cricket. Spot fixing and match fixing will also be on a decline as bookies will no longer be the only source of information.

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Music to my ears: Imagine a day when soundtracks accompany popular programming. Image sources: 10, 11, 12.

Musicians: Cricket match situations enjoy the reputation of being closely relatable to events in the life of any person, given the spicy twists and multiple factors (weather, pitch, bottle throwing) that come into play. Since any Oscar winning drama needs a good background score, broadcasters should invite composers to render emotional quotient to the match. In fact, rights for already established hits could be bought for a match and a competent disc jockey could handle the playlist. The fall of an important wicket would demand tragic overtones, the over- the- top celebrations of Imran Tahir could be supplemented by gusto raising orchestra and England’s struggle against spin could be embellished from the library of Looney Tunes melodies involving Elmer Fudd. This particular scheme is already popular with YouTube uploaders where rock music accompanies significant achievements of popular cricketers.

With these changes, cricket will enter the domain of being a very cultured and well respected activity. Cricket can pander to all members of the audience. There would be something for the traditionalists, the teeny boppers, the school goers, the TV binge watching generation and the core audience of the game. With the promise of bigger influx of money larger cricketing footprint, BCCI would dive head in, thus finding these ideas a backer. We can thus dream of an era where the statement “Although both teams played their best, cricket was the ultimate winner” will actually be true (cue in start of background music: The Great Debaters OST, Artist: Various).

Disclaimer: Some images used are not property of this blog. The copyright, if any, rests with the respective owners.

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