January 23, 2008

Wake up, tune in

On the joys of watching cricket in Australia - both at the ground and at the crack of dawn on TV in India

It's more fun Down Under © Getty Images

Remember the bikinis? When I think now of what I remember most about first watching cricket played in Australia, it seems to be the bikinis. It was over February and March 1985, the Benson and Hedges World Championship of Cricket, and it was the first time I remember watching cricket telecast from a country I defined at the time solely by its cricket team and cricket grounds.

The tournament was thrilling. India won, beating Pakistan in a day-night final on March 10. Ravi Shastri emerged as champion of champions and took the team on a ride around the MCG in the Audi that was his prize. Such bliss. For me, a teenager watching in the living room of our south Kolkata home, in a not-so-liberal, not-at-all liberalised India, seeing a car like the Audi -- and the fact that an Indian sporting hero could now possess it -- was a thrill. But the sight of all those toned female bodies and the Channel 9 cameras lingering over them in their jokey, nudge-nudge-wink-wink slow tracks was a far bigger, almost illicit, thrill.

Of course, there was the magnificent Channel 9 coverage. A whole generation of Indian cricket fans growing up in the 1970s had never ever seen anything like that before. Used - and that only just - to Doordarshan's stodgy, boring, shot-from-one-angle stuff and execrable commentary, the manner in which cricket could be brought alive on TV, made spectator-friendly, participatory and exciting was a revelation. Angles, cameras, experts, debates, urgency, the details: how I loved it. It seemed like justification for being a fan.

It was appropriate, perhaps, that in that spring of 1985, more and more middle-class Indian families were buying colour TV sets. My parents had bought one the previous year, but in my memory somehow the images in colour of that tournament from Australia are the first I have of watching colour TV in India.

Then there was the commentary. I had grown up with Test Match Special, broadcast from England on short-wave radio, and from it had formed a particular - and peculiar - idea of English commentators and English cricket grounds. On TV from Australia, it was all so different - the accents certainly were. Before the season was over, Bill Lawry and Keith Stackpole and the rest of the Channel 9 team had become if not quite as familiar, at least almost as treasured companions as Brian Johnston and Chris Martin-Jenkins from TMS; but the grounds, the atmosphere, the crowds seemed unrecognisable from what I had first imagined - and then seen during the 1983 Prudential Cup - of cricket played in England. In Australia, it appeared to me, there was more vibrancy, there was more celebration; it was far more of a riotous cavalcade of colour, delight and enjoyment.

Years later when I went to Australia and watched cricket at the grounds, I realised that these early impressions, gleaned from TV, were accurate. Having grown up watching cricket in India and trying to squeeze my bum into three square inches of concrete and queuing for water and food and the toilet, which always stank, I found that watching cricket at an Australian ground was liberating: it was as much fun as I had imagined; it was an inclusive, comfortable, leisurely, unrestrained picnic, a celebration as much of the game we adore as of the white-hot, glorious days of the southern summer.

Years later when I went to Australia and watched cricket at the grounds, I realised that these early impressions, gleaned from TV, were accurate. Having grown up watching cricket in India and trying to squeeze my bum into three square inches of concrete and queuing for water and food and the toilet, which always stank, I found that watching cricket at an Australian ground was liberating

I realised something else when I watched cricket at Australian grounds. There are as many boors there as there are at, say, Indian cricket grounds. But more Australian spectators show respect for top-class players from the opposition than people do in India. Every time Sachin Tendulkar walked out to bat at an Australian ground, I discovered, he was given a standing ovation. Australian fans treated VVS Laxman, who has softly scythed through the Australian bowling on more occasions than perhaps any other batsman from the subcontinent, like a deity. I don't think I would see that sort of response from Indian spectators in India to the heroics of Matthew Hayden or Ricky Ponting or Brett Lee or Glenn McGrath.

I have watched this riveting ongoing series on TV at my Mumbai home. (And I already feel sort of nostalgic, regretting the fact that the Test series will be over after the Adelaide game.) I no longer find the bikinis as much of a novelty as I used to. Also, frankly, not half as much of an attraction. And with the technical sophistication in the coverage of cricket in India now about world-class, Channel 9 doesn't seem that different any longer. In any case, I don't watch Channel 9 at home but Star Cricket.

A lot has changed. But there is one thing that is common even now to my first experiences of watching cricket in Australia: the unrivalled pleasure of getting up in the morning to watch the game. Could anything be better, quite so unsullied an enjoyment? If I am watching in India, matches in the Caribbean go on till early in the morning. A lot of the cricket played in England - and certainly the start of a day of Test cricket, especially the first session of a Test, the one that I find has unique appeal - is during working hours. With cricket in Australia, I am fine. I go to sleep in delicious anticipation, looking forward to waking up and watching. I start the day with the game, mind uncluttered, nothing having yet happened to ruin my day or mood.

I go to bed with the remote on my bedside table. Wake up and smell the coffee? No, wake up and watch the cricket. It's much more invigorating.

Soumya Bhattacharya is the author of the acclaimed memoir, You Must Like Cricket? He is the deputy editor of Hindustan Times in Mumbai

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Prakash on January 25, 2008, 23:43 GMT

    Its refreshing to see an article and the subsequent comments not being biased and falling into familiar nationalistic lines! The article itself is fascination since so many of us in India can relate to it..the crisp, clear summer air in the beautiful Aussie stadiums on TV compared to the cold and dark early winter morning outside the window in India are in such clear contrast that we take a clear fancy to the cricket played there.

    With the aspect of Indian spectators: I think they are as cricket savvy if not more than the some of the other countries especially when it comes to appreciating the finer nuances of the game but the way they react to the home team defeat is disappointing. It seems to be a peculiar south asian phenomenon where the spectators start to leave the stadium once they know their team is losing. (I have seen this in Pakistani stadia as well, but I don't know about Sri Lanka)

  • Sameer on January 25, 2008, 21:27 GMT

    Such a refreshingly reminiscing article amongst myriad of corruption. Wonderful. I am an Indian and when the author says "I don't think I would see that sort of response from Indian spectators in India to the heroics of Hayden or Ponting or Brett Lee or McGrath"--- unfortunately I agree. Part of the reason being most in India superstitiously follow cricket with unintelligent passion. So they cannot analyze the art of the game. Its merely because of peer pressure and media frenzy and a billion heads most of which consider Ponting, Hayden and even the classically harmless Inzamam as enemies, that there is a shamefully dead silence when the opposition cracks a delectable boundary..... Air heads!!!

  • S. on January 25, 2008, 21:03 GMT

    Thanks for a wonderfully nostalgic article. Having myself experienced everything that you reminisce and rejoice about, I truly identify with your observations. If TMS was special, ABC radio with Jim Maxwell and Alan Mcgilvray was lively. How i wish those days could return! Then Channel 9 elevated us to hitherto unimagined levels of enjoyment. It is such a thrill to be able to watch the same old Channel 9 here in Chicago, where I live today. The matchless Bill Lawry, the shrewd and intuitive Ian Chappell, the wonderfully articulate Mark Nicholas, the modern Mike Brearley (Tubby Taylor) and the effervescent Michael Slater all contribute to a relaxing evening in a way no other vocation or pastime can. I am so blessed, so lucky to be a cricket lover! Also totally agree about the pleasure of watching cricket live at a ground outside India. Though never in Australia I was lucky enuf to do so in SA and in England and can say every true indian cricket fan deserves to experience that.

  • Vinayakam on January 25, 2008, 19:27 GMT

    Aaah, you have made me nostalgic. I still remember waking up at 5am as a ten year old and seeing Shastri making a sliding stop. The style of presentation has hooked me to cricket for life. Amongst the current Indian broadcasters, Star Cricket has the most decent ones. Harsha is one of the best. There might be an Indian slant but at least the conversations are pretty decent. The less said about Sony / Zee / Ten Sports.

  • Nelson on January 25, 2008, 19:16 GMT

    For those of us who grew up in the 70's & 80's we had Doordarshan showing us the video highlights Test matches, days later after the match was completed. And yes, on those Black/blue white tv sets. Later on we get 10 advetr. on Doordarshan even though the over had started & we missed wickets & good shots. Thanks to Star tv, TEN sports, since the 90's we were able to see much more cricket. And, as usual Doordarshan's coverage sucked even for other sports.

    BBC has stopped cricket on shotwave since operating costs were mounting. In those days we also had to put up with constant jarring inturruptions from Radio Moscow, while listening to Radio Australia cricket. And yes, Radio Australia would remind us...this frequency is closing, to continue switch to another on the 31mb, and if you had a digital radio, fine otherwise, weak signal.

    Nowadays just have to do with cricket from UK during the summer where TMS gives us online, otherwise, $20/- from Cricket Australia website.

  • old on January 25, 2008, 18:46 GMT

    It's funny...when I lived in India, I used to like watching cricket in Australia because I could get in a bunch of viewing before school or work. I now live in the US, in the northwest and games in Australia are the only ones I can follow (on CricInfo)for the entire duration of a day's play. Most games usually startwhen I'm getting off work and finish so that I get decent sleep. My best cricket memories are listening to the ABC and BBC TMS commentary teams on my beat up short wave radio...

  • Giridhar on January 25, 2008, 15:42 GMT

    I started watching cricket from 1994-95 as a grown up kid . Ever since then I always enjoyed watching cricket series played in Australia mostly because I like the grounds , the commentary from Bill Lawry, Geoffrey BoyCott, Tony Greg, Michael Holding, the Aussie fans who enjoy cricket, players diving on those lush green grounds, the standing ovation for a batsmen (not particulary Australian )with a century . It was a pleasant feeling for me.

  • Lux on January 25, 2008, 10:29 GMT

    Woah, as an Australian I'm shocked at the platitudes being heaped on the channel 9 team! Here in Australia many of us find them wholly lacklustre and cliche. In fact a widely practiced policy throughout homes in Australia is turning the telly mute and tunin into the quintessential charm of the 702 ABC radio team. Here is where you'll find real insight, opinion and wit in an Aussie dialect.

    ps I should also add that here in Australia we can not fathom how India fails to recognise the genius of VVS Laxman. Who else has so much time? Who else has so many shots?

  • Timothy on January 25, 2008, 10:13 GMT

    It's funny - As an Aussie I get the same kind of excitment watching cricket in India and England. In India the constant noise levels are amazing, as is the deafening silences when an Indian wicket falls. England has that old fashioned 'home of cricket' appeal along with some great little grounds and perfect outfields. My favourite though was watching cricket in the West Indies in the late 80's early 90's, the sounds of the carnival, the dodgy cameras (I swear the frame rate was about half of modern day camera's), and even the fact that I was staying up way too late were all part of it - such a shame the way cricket has gone over there.

  • Sunanda on January 25, 2008, 8:58 GMT

    Thanks for a nice article. Definitly Channel 9 is much more superior in quality than other broadcaster. I think australian stadium also adds to the plesant viewing. As far as the crowd response for good cricket is concerned, I think England crowd much better than australian. But still australian better than Indian crowd as far as prasing good cricket is concerned.

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