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Voices from on high

At Kingsmead the PA was commentator, critic, judge and jury

Manpreet Gony is ecstatic after dismissing Praveen Kumar, Bangalore Royal Challengers v Chennai Super Kings, IPL, 5th game, Port Elizabeth, April 20, 2009
Gony finds it in himself to celebrate a wicket despite being informed, along with the rest of Durban, that he had no great pace © AFP

The strange symbiosis of public-address systems and games of cricket has produced some gems in its time. Wilf Wooller, the plain-speaking captain of Glamorgan who later became the club's secretary, once grabbed the mic at Swansea to announce: "In view of Somerset's negative approach to this game, we are willing to refund the admission money of any spectator who wishes to call at the county office."

On another occasion, at The Oval, spectators were greeted to a surreal "Would the cigarette please sit down?" as a man dressed as a Marlboro light to promote Surrey's smoking ban wandered behind the bowler's arm. But yesterday's effort at Kingsmead took the relationship to a whole new level.

The players regard commentators with suspicion at the best of times, the only mercy being that they can usually turn the sound down. Not so here. Quite the opposite, in fact. The two PA announcers were more than just announcers. They were commentators. They were critics. They were judge, jury and executioners. And they dispensed their wisdom with grinding remorselessness.

"Will RP Singh get another over after being savaged in the first?" asked one of the voices after RP's opening over had gone for 16. The answer was that RP did get another over, at which point he duly overstepped: free hit. His captain, Adam Gilchrist, looked as if he might be about to tinker with his field, but a booming voice cautioned: "I don't think you can make a change to the field!" So he didn't. And RP bowled a wide. When the next delivery - still a free hit, remember - was another no-ball, we were treated to a hysterical: "Another no-ball! That's three free hits in a row!"

Confusion was spreading. When Chennai's Suresh Raina slapped the free hit high into the air to provide a simple catch that actually wasn't a catch at all, the cheerleaders nominally representing Deccan Chargers leapt onto their podium, only to descend seconds later as titters in the crowd alerted them to their faux pas.

On came the medium pace of Dwayne Smith. "I see Adam Gilchrist is coming up to the stumps to try to put some pressure on the batsman," noted a voice, ruining whatever chance Gilchrist had of sneaking up unnoticed. (But imagine how well England and Pakistan would be getting on now if the system had been in place at Faisalabad in 1987-88: "And Mike Gatting's just asked David Capel to move a bit closer. Watch out Salim Malik!") Raina coped with the pressure by lifting Smith's first ball over wide long-on for six. The over cost 17. Smith was not seen again.

"Soon we'll be seeing Pragyan Ojha," announced a voice as Rohit Sharma came on to bowl. Matthew Hayden trudged off for 49 with the reminder that "that would have been his third half-century" ringing in his ears. Fidel Edwards ("He comes from Barbados, which produces fast bowlers like other people produce butter from cows.") returned to the attack, and the runs ("Just 25 in the five overs since the break.") dried up.

The voices' hit-rate occasionally left something to be desired. As Manpreet Gony prepared to bowl the second over of Deccan's reply, a voice informed us: "Manpreet Gony has played two one-day internationals for India. No great pace but good control." In the event, Gony didn't even have the control: the over was butchered for 20.

But when Smith returned to the fray, walking out to bat with Deccan's asking-rate mounting, and Muttiah Muralitharan into the attack, a voice noted: "He's under pressure." Moments later Smith was leg-before to Murali for 12. But by then the players might just have stopped listening.

Lawrence Booth is a cricket correspondent at the Guardian. He writes the acclaimed weekly cricket email The Spin for guardian.co.uk

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