Live commentary December 11, 2005

The nightmare called Television Commentary

ESPNcricinfo staff
It’s the mid innings break in the first One-Day International, – I think these should be renamed Damage Limitation Internationals or DLIs given the state of most one-day pitches now-a-days

It’s the mid innings break in the first One-Day International, – I think these should be renamed Damage Limitation Internationals or DLIs given the state of most one-day pitches now-a-days. Anyway, it’s Pakistan and England against each other, and I’m lurking around in my Inbox. We had conceded something of a mountain to chase, but I knew from before hand that we’ll lose, some times you just know.

Not a matter of not having enough faith in the team, but sometimes you just know, probably something in the stars (when half of the team is having a bad hair week (month?), something has got to give at some point!). So I thought I might as well use this time to indulge in some good old fashioned commentary nit-picking.

Enter Anu Garg, the author of the brilliant AWAD – A Word A Day – books and newsletter. I’m subscribed to the newsletter. It’s a brilliant kick-up read, especially if you read it after watching a live cricket broadcast.

For a self confessed pedant like my self listening to some of these modern day commentators is a demanding task, made mildly Herculean when some of them insist on breaking the world record for longest duration in between positive thought occurred or hair cuts taken or sentence said where they haven’t brutally executed the grammar, pronunciation, and subject verb agreement of the language they claim to be speaking in!

Yesterday’s newsletter was a greeting from Anu, wishing happy words to all his linguaphiles. “This holiday season” he said, “as we contemplate gifts for people on our list, let's remember that the gift of time is perhaps best of all.” “But for those times when we can't offer the perfect gift”, he continued “may we suggest the second-best – the gift of words.”

At that point I wished I had the email addresses of Bob Willis, Arun Lal, Waqar Younus, Ian Smith & Pat Symcox et all –all members of the virtual ‘Insightful Commentary Is A Must No-No Society’. Coming to think of it, nearly all international commentators could do with a-word-day free gift subscription.

Othewise, you tell me, why is the case that in nearly every ex-player turned commentator’s lexicon everything from a perfectly timed off, on, square or cover drive to a well placed cut, pull or hook shot is simply a beautiful or lovely shot?

Isn’t it their responsibility to tell the viewer exactly how beautiful or lovely it is? Forget the viewer, isn’t it the right of the shot to be described with a more worthy descriptive epithet then simply good or beautiful?

People like Geoff Boycott for all his straight talk, but all he manages at times for a faultless cover drive, that after coming off the exact middle of the bat will bisect the gap between the cover and extra cover fielders, and then race to the boundary without either coming any way close to stopping it, is a disturbingly high pitched passionate shout of “SHOT!”

Sometimes commentators think elaborate variation in voice volume does justice to the action, but it doesn’t. It actually endangers people’s eardrums. The odd appreciable commentator going around does remember to use more creditable adjectives then good, bad, beautiful or awful shot! But bowlers and fielders almost never get their due.

Admittedly there is limited one can do when you’ve got a glossary comprising of odd terms like googly, in-dipper, off-cutter, slider, zooter, flipper etc to contend with but still. I’m appalled every time Beefy says ‘well bowled’, talk about totally eradicating the very pleasure of watching yet another Englishman not picking Kaneria’s wrong’on!

Fielders are probably the biggest victims of the modern day commentator’s penchant for all things terse. Ian Blackwell is such a character, like Inzi he’s a throw back to the good old days, when you needn’t had the figure of a Marc Anthony to have a fan club the size of KP or Afridi’s.

It’s the second innings of the match now, and Blackwell has just chased down a half timed pull from Mohammad Yousuf, somewhere in between mid wicket and mid on.

The pair ran a three quite easily when only two looked gettable, and all the commentator then on air said was: “Blackwell was a bit surprised”. Surprised, my foot!

If the extremely rare and priceless ‘did-you-just-take-an-extra-run-of-me-because-you-think-I’m-fat-and-I-can’t-sprint-fast-enough’ look is equivalent to just “surprise” then this blog post isn’t a full fledged rant on shoddy cricket commentary, but merely an observation.

I really wouldn’t have been this hyper critical of international commentators if a laconic vocabulary was their only wrongdoing, believe me, I wouldn’t, but sadly that’s not the case. More often then not television cricket commentary is clichéd, boring, uninspiring, inadequate, unimaginative and sometimes even downright ignorant.

There are too many people out there who live in the past, too many who suffer from ‘east-or-west-my-side-is-the-best’ syndrome, too many supposedly sarcastic wits, not enough genuinely intelligent, knowledgeable observes, unbiased, funny characters.

Television producers need to stop employing one highly successful ex cricketer after another and start looking for people that can actually add some value to the broadcast.

But until they get that much sense, God bless radio commentary. Good old Blowers and Chishty Mujahid etc. Next time I think it might be a good idea to turn the volume to mute, turn the radio on, and then enjoy the cricket.