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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on April 18, 2009, 20:41 GMT

    I remember, late 70's & early 80's BBC, Radio Australia & Radio Pakistan in Mumbai. Of course, had to put up with interference from Radio Moscow at the height of the cold war, RM would jam Western radio stn's. Well, now its only BBC TMS avail. online to overseas listeners for free. Otherwise, now ABC is chg. a small fee for their summer of cricket. Does anyone know where can I listen to the official T20 World Cup 'live' audio commentary? There are dozen's of websites offering 'un-offical' commentary, which pale in comparison to TMS or ABC.

  • testli5504537 on February 10, 2009, 2:06 GMT

    Hi, cool site, good writing ;)

  • testli5504537 on February 3, 2009, 15:51 GMT

    My memories of radio commentary dates back to the seventies when I was mesmarised by the voices of Balu Alagannan,Suresh Saraiya,Ramamoorthy,Blofeld and Cozier.My memorable matches are the ranji match where Karnataka scored unbeaten 450odd for no loss which kick started a certain Roger Binny's Career- but whatever happened to Sanjay Desai?, another Ranji Match where the commentators were appaled by Sunil Gavaskar batting left handed to Raguram Bhat,the world cup matches in 1983 when someone described Mohinder Amarnath's run up as apologetic, and the latest on a wintery morning Nathan Astle murdering the english bowling to the quickest 200 in tests..Oh those memories!

  • testli5504537 on February 2, 2009, 16:50 GMT

    Radio Australia commentary team headed by Alan McGilvrey, Max Walker, Frank Tyson, et al in the heydays of West Indies cricket was unparalleled - the commentary was like a sine wave, good modulation, emotional ups and downs, and more exciting tan watching on TV - Aussie commentators on Radio were far superior to the Channel Nine TV crew - I have to agree Tony Greig of late ha sbecome too repetitive, nothing unique - I'd say among the channel nine team, Richie Benaud and Bill Lawry make a good team - Ian Chappel, Slater, taylor, Nickols, greig are all too proasic

  • testli5504537 on January 26, 2009, 23:32 GMT

    I grew up in the TV era, but the ind-aus series of 1991-92 was not covered live on DD and I remember me and my grandfather listening to the ABC commentary..I distinctly remeber the 1st test in brisbane when Srinath (on debut) bowled Geoff Marsh...I was sooo thrilled to finally have a fast bowler who could dish it back to the Aussies...

  • testli5504537 on January 26, 2009, 5:10 GMT

    I rememeber listening to Kapil hit the four sixes of Hemmings in the Lords test of 1990 and in the same series Tendulkar's first century (Old Trafford ?) was greeted with 4-5 minutes of applause on the radio when the commentator just stopped speaking. Gavaskar, Srikanth and Mohinder made merry in the test match against probably the weakest Australian team. There was also a Ranji final possibly 85, when Mumbai typically grinded Delhi out. Gavaskar scored 200+ and Kirti Azad made a fighting century in losing cause. The challenges of tuning the radio for a test match in the Windies, England or Australia was also a challenge and fun.

  • testli5504537 on January 25, 2009, 22:26 GMT

    Radio commentary is proof of the adage "less is more". For my generation, cricket is inseparable from the voices of Arlott on the BBC, McGilvray of ABC, Anant Setalvad in India and others. Somehow, the images evoked by Arlott's describing Snow tearing in to bowl to little Sunny Gavaskar or Vishy in 1971 are just so much richer and evocative than seeing them on TV with multiple cameras and angles and replays. One of the unlikely benefits of the alternate Hindi-English commentary on India's tour of the Windies back in 1976 (when we famously chased down 405 to win a test in Port of Spain) was that I became amazingly good at learning all the numbers from 1 to 100 in Hindi- something no teacher in school had been able to do with this southie boy. With the great increase in the frequency of matches these days and the surfeit of video coverage, those radio days seems richer and more meaningful than ever. I'd better stop before sounding more of a Luddite than ever.

  • testli5504537 on January 25, 2009, 21:44 GMT

    Same for us in teh WI. Groving up in the late 60's & 70's meant no TV in Guyana. WI in AUS meant that we have to stay up at night to listen on the radio. Commentator: "3 slips, a gully, cover, xtra cover 3rd man.. Richards mops his brows - in comes Lillie - passes umpire bowls to Richards..." who needs TV when you already have the picture painted in your mind? What a beautiful thing live cricket commentary was in those days.

  • testli5504537 on January 25, 2009, 21:42 GMT

    As a student in Pakistan in the late 60's, when a visiting team came to play, all life revolved around the radio commentary which was always in English. The sounds of cricket filled the bazaars; boundaries, wickets, scores were understood by all. Recall a moment in class, when the teacher put a transistor on the table and started writing notes on the board for all to copy. Pin-drop silence as we took notes and listened to the cricket. Pakistan batting. Asif Iqbal scores a glorious boundary, then shortly another and another. Teacher turns around from the board and smiles which was just the permission we needed to break out in joyous applause. I shall never forget that teacher nor the moment.

  • testli5504537 on January 25, 2009, 19:38 GMT

    Tim Lane and Jim Maxwell, those two names will always be linked in my mind. When I was 16 I listened to Border and Thomson crawl to their target of 62, and Geoff Miller finally taking the catch, with a Match like that, of course one is hooked for life. Ten years late I heard in shock as Pakistan achieved a miraculous WC win. I still remember Moin Khan in the semis hitting 6 and 4 to win with one over left against a great N.Z. I also heard Pakistan being robbed at Hobart when Langer was given not out, but before that, I loved Australia because well, I listened to Radio Australia! In Jakarta in 1995, I climbed on the roof to get a decent reception to listen to Mark Taylor, Steve and Mark Waugh win with a make shift bowling attack, McGrath, Julian, Pistol Pete and the Waughs. The reception was still horrible, I was surrounded by satellite dishes, and I climbed a ladder, with my drinks/ice/ tiny sony radio and everybody thought I was mad. They didn't know I was cricket mad.

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