I’ve always lived in an era with telecast and televised matches. My stories of cricket commentary coming on the radio, and tuning in to hear people’s voices as they called ball-by-ball are therefore limited by the experience of my parents and my grandparents. What excellent stories they are, though. Television provides the visual experience: of actually being on the ground while a match takes place, and new technology, including the spider-cam, enables you to see the size of the ground, pitch conditions, and everything in between. Thanks to excellent audio mixing, the atmosphere from the stadium isn’t lost on you either. You’ll always hear the crowd’s chants, cheers, and jeers in the background. It makes for lovely viewing. To think, therefore, that some individuals in the pre-telecast era had the burden to ensure that all of this got through to the tuned-in audience just through their vocabulary and the power of their voice – and that they succeeded (because cricket didn’t just become popular overnight) is wonderful.
Yesterday I listened to an episode of the 22 Yarns podcast with Harsha Bhogle. First, I have to commend Gaurav Kapur for a couple of things. The man really knows how to diversify his personal brand, and go crossplatform. His YouTube show Breakfast with Champions is excellent – although it’s inspired a bunch of copycats, it’s ability to retain originality in format and unstructured conversation is delightful. Now, this podcast? Even better.
The entire Harsha Bhogle episode was devoted to understanding cricket commentary better. It provided some lovely insight into how commentary partnerships are cultivated, how feeds are so-well curated and ready-to-go, and what goes on behind the madness of the entire production. There were nuggets of nostalgia, where Bhogle speaks about his start in commentary: after IIM, commentating on a Ranji Trophy game in Hyderabad. It got me thinking about how much of my life has been shaped by some brilliant cricket commentary.
The earliest cricket I remember watching, in vivid detail, is the 2003/04 India-Pakistan series. Shoaib Akhtar was at his peak, being the Rawalpindi Express that he was, the entire series was being telecast on Ten Sports, and Cyrus Broacha hosted the show during the innings break providing for comic relief and grand prizes, including a car. I can’t remember specific phrases, but I remember being introduced to successful Pakistani cricketers through the commentary rotations: these include individuals like Ramiz Raja. Very soon, I picked up on cricketing history purely because I heard people’s voices in the commentary box, or saw their career statistics being pulled up on screen in order to reference their personality. Quite often when this happened, you could see how they tried to deflect attention away from these statistics. When doing live commentary, especially on a Test match day, it almost appeared that the Days played, gone by, they didn’t matter anymore, and all that mattered was the Days of cricket that lay ahead – session after session.
Cut to the creation of the IPL, and the entire frenzy of Twenty20 cricket leading to innovation in commentary generally: the capitalistic and entrepreneurial attitude that has invaded the sport has led to sponsored segments for everything, including Sixes and Fours. Always begs the question: how do commentators remember which sponsor to call out when? Do they make mistakes? How are these rectified? Bhogle provides answers to all of these, and you realize, only then, that so much more happens behind-the-scenes in order to ensure that your cricketing experience at home retains the appearance of glitch-free seamlessness.
Since I’ve joined University, I’ve been following more matches on ESPNCricinfo than watching them live. There’s no voice there, but the commentary retains liveliness. I wonder how they do it: the reporters and scorers ensuring updates ball-by-ball, staying ahead of all of their competitors. What keeps them going?
It’s clear pretty quickly that it’s their love for the game. Nothing will ever come close to sitting and watching a day of cricket – aside from perhaps playing the sport for an entire day. I remember thinking in high school that we needed to open up commentary as an inter-house competition: to allow students from each house to do commentary on the games that were taking place on that day. Even if people didn’t enjoy it, and the commentators weren’t top-notch (none of us would ever have been on our first try), it would provide a record of games gone by. An archive of every moment.
Commentators breathe live into that archive with their words: capturing what everyone observes, but nobody really notices. That’s the essence of their job, and it’s people like Harsha Bhogle who have done that for several moments in the cricket I’ve watched and enjoyed.