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October 19, 2008

Samir Chopra

Microphone. Major impact.

Samir Chopra

A couple of weeks ago when writing about the impact of the first live telecast from Australia to India (back in 1985), I commented on the immediacy of the action that Channel Nine's stump microphones introduced into the cricket watching experience. Over the years, I've come to regard the stump microphone as the single biggest change in that sphere (the varied angles for slow motion replays is a close second).

The stump microphone has done several things over the years. The most obvious effect is that it has made real two sounds that are part of cricketing lore and literature but which, before its advent, were not too clearly heard by those not at the ground: the "willow on leather" and the "death rattle". It also introduced us to the different sounds that bowlers make at the moment of delivery: the heavy thud of the fast bowler, the scraping and grinding of the spinner's pivot.

Most famously, it has let all of us become voyeurs as we listen to players sledging, chatting, complaining, joking and indulging in all of the little conversational moments that take place during the game. There are plenty of us that wish commentators wouldn't talk over the stump microphone!

And of course, players often aren't happy about the stump microphone for precisely the same reason: too much of what they say leaks into living rooms, a complaint most famously made by Shane Warne after the "f**king arsey c*nt" controversy.

In giving us access to these conversations, the stump microphone also performs one salutary function. It demystifies cricket by reminding us that it's just a game played by a bunch of men (in all their glorious imperfection). And often it does so by reminding us of the informality that lies behind the sometimes ponderous cricket analysis that accompanies each Test match.

I was reminded of this when watching the last over of the second day's play in the Mohali test when Amit Mishra, India's new leg-spinner trapped Michael Clarke with a googly on the penultimate ball of the day.

What made the last over even more enjoyable for me (besides getting the crucial wicket of Clarke) was picking up on the stump mics just how informally the entire cricketing conversation went. For Dhoni did not walk up to Mishra and go into a long conference, and gravely decide to implement the change. Instead Dhoni simply yelled out in Hindi "Try it from the other side" (note not, "Amit, I think you should try bowling around the wicket"). The interesting thing is that Mishra did not comply the first time this was suggested. It was almost as if Mishra shrugged off that directive, and went on bowling over the wicket. Dhoni persisted, calling out the same line again. Mishra finally complied and dismissed Clarke.

I found this little moment hugely entertaining. For one thing the conversation took place in Hindi, which provided a flashback to the games that I played as a youngster back in Delhi, with its particular slang and inflections. Secondly, it reminded me that I was watching a couple of cricket players trying something out on the spur of the moment, which is often how most games proceed. And lastly, the informality of it all was like a breath of fresh air for one subjected to several hours of television commentary.

Like most additions to media coverage of sports, the stump microphone has had mixed effects. But at moments like this, it delivers on what it promises: access to the sporting action in a way that changes the way you think about the game.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here

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Posted by Sriharsha on (October 30, 2008, 19:20 GMT)

anyone remember the episode in the T-20 world cup when the stump microphone caught Dhoni telling his fielders "Sone ke liye time milega" ? For just that one insight into Dhoni's character as a jovial but effective leader, the stump microphones have been a worthwhile induction into the game.

Posted by Anjo on (October 20, 2008, 0:24 GMT)

Excellent article Samir, the stump microphone does enhance the experience for the TV viewer significantly. But what about the stump camera, are those few clips, half obscured by the batsman's leg, of the stumps being rattled really worth the investment? I was thinking about this a few days ago, and I realized that almost every single technological innovation in cricket is tied to improving the experience for the viewer. In other words, its the broadcasters who bring (or at least present) technology. In fact I don't understand why people complain about imbibing technology with cricket, the only technology used by umpires is audio and visual aids, both which provide the viewer at home the ability to be a judge too. I would like to see real autonomous technology which aids umpires, like sensors in the crease and in the stumps, so no balls and run outs can be accurately and immediately called/decided. If you're going to include technology, use it to make decisions conclusive.

Posted by KJH on (October 19, 2008, 23:54 GMT)

Waterbuffalo it is time you & everyone else takes a break from using anything and everything to complain about the aussie cricket team. This was a simple article about the great joy stump mics have bought to the televised game and you use it as a vehicle to once again denounce the aussies! Open your eyes and stop being so biased and naive. Every team indulges in banter and every team gets bad decisions against them, even the aussies. Australia have had a couple this series but they are not complaining or calling for boycotts or for umpires to step down & be replaced. Get off your moral high horse and just enjoy the cricket.

Posted by Jahangir Nazar on (October 19, 2008, 11:42 GMT)

How can you forget the huge grunt the bowlers make when they deliver a slow one? The mic has made us think who is using his head more and who is not.. Well done mic maker...:)

Posted by Mukund on (October 19, 2008, 10:49 GMT)

Nice article Samir. I must add, with the stump microphone another thing that happens is that since I watch most of the cricket on TV than live, when I do have the chance to watch live cricket the lack of the sound of bat hitting the ball, or the rattle of stumps is a bit annoying!

The greatest contribution of the stump microphone though is surely the sound of willow upon ball, makes a world of difference to the sweetness of shots, especially if the batsman is Sachin or Lara!

Posted by D.V.C. on (October 19, 2008, 10:03 GMT)

I agree the stump microphone is terrific. I wish it were available to the umpires!

If the umpires had a live feed with an ear-piece to the stump microphone at the other end it would negate the problem of noisy stadiums. The majority of poor decisions from umpires, I think, come from them not being able to hear the nicks. Here is an example where we could use very simple technology to assist the umpires.

This idea has everything going for it. It leaves the power with the on field umpire and it won't add any delays. It just helps umpires make the right decision.

I don't understand why this idea hasn't been introduced already.

Posted by jikeren on (October 19, 2008, 8:47 GMT)

Waterbuffalo, I think that, over the course of a series, the team with the better bowlers creates more chances and near-things. The extra chances give the umpires more opportunities to make a mistake in their favour.

The West Indies at their peak got the best of the wrong decisions. Australia has had it until recently. The next Bowling Attack Number One will get it as well.

Posted by waterbuffalo on (October 19, 2008, 4:40 GMT)

The best thing about the stump microphones is that is has shown the Australians to be the worst behaved team in world cricket. Now,everyone has proof. I remember Steve Waugh complaining about about visual replays on the ground (when it showed the shocking LBW decisions given against opposing batsmen)because he (Waugh) said that it was unfair for the umpires to be put under so much pressure. In code that means the Aussies can't cheat as often as they want because the evidence was there for everyone to see, Thank you for Neutral Umpires, Australia. God Bless You all.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samir Chopra
Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He runs the blogs at samirchopra.com and Eye on Cricket. His book on the changing face of modern cricket, Brave New Pitch: The Evolution of Modern Cricket has been published by HarperCollins. Before The Cordon, he blogged on The Pitch and Different Strokes on ESPNcricinfo. @EyeonthePitch

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