Samir Chopra January 25, 2009

Radio gaga

It was during this session that I discovered that despite all the distortion from the radio set, ones comprehension of the spoken word improved over time, almost as if the audio-processing component of one's brain was carrying out its own corrections



Reading the recap of the 1979-80 Australian season was, at the risk of descending into cliches, a trip down memory lane. For that season was the first time that I tuned into radio commentary from Australia for a match not involving India (my uncles and I had spent many hours glued to the radio during the 1977-78 season when India went down 2-3).

Whether it was the impressionability of youth or the magic of radio commentary, that season stands out quite clearly in my mind (and I have not seen, or at least I don't think I have, a single second of video footage of that summer). On a purely cricketing level, I was excited by the return of the Packer cricketers to the fold. I had been shattered by the schism in world cricket: it had taken all the worlds best players to the WSC and threatened a great deal of confusion in my mind between official and unofficial cricket.

But all was well. The Chappells and the Lillees and the Marshes were back in my then favorite team, the Australians. The West Indies were back as well, and to top it all off, the English had obligingly agreed to play the part of the Prissy Poms by refusing to contest the Ashes. And the icing on the cake was that Kim Hughes and David Hookes, who I worshipped, were going to play in the full-strength side. More than anything else I wanted to see how my two new heroes would do.

The first time I tuned in to the morning commentary from Australia, Joel Garner and Colin Croft were putting on 56 for the last wicket at Brisbane in the first Test. Croft, amazingly, hung around to make 2 off some 70 odd deliveries while Garner bashed 60 at the other end.

It was during this session that I discovered that despite all the distortion from the radio set, ones comprehension of the spoken word improved over time, almost as if the audio-processing component of one's brain was carrying out its own corrections and filtrations over time. My mother walked into the room where I was and was flabbergasted at the sight of her son listening to what sounded like a banshees wail. But to me it had become crystal clear.

That winter, once I had figured out the best frequencies and timings for the commentary from Australia, I became a diligent listener. There was plenty to admire and mourn from a distance, plenty of material to imagine and let grow wild: Richards batting, the hostility of the Windies quicks, the mixed run that both Hughes and Hookes had, the heartbreak of Hughes 99; the oddness of Boycott carrying his bat for 99 not out; the blast from the past vibe associated with Ian Chappells presence in this series (Ian played his last Test in it); and so on.

But retrospectively, the real heroes were the radio sets: the large GEC set at home in Delhi (which seemed to take forever to 'warm up'), and my grandfather's portable Phillips set in Central India. For hours and hours, they became my portal to a distant land where giants roamed, fantasies were realized, dreams were crushed and cricketing drama was enacted. If I have overblown impressions of the cricketers in that season, its because my imagination did double-duty that memorable summer.

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

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