Samir Chopra October 19, 2008

Microphone. Major impact.

Like most additions to media coverage of sports, the stump microphone has had mixed effects

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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