No. 11 March 6, 2010

Cricket on the radio

Commentary began in the early 1920s, but it really got going with "synthetic reports" by four men in a Sydney studio during the 1938 Ashes

1922

Cricket commentary on the radio dates from 1922, when one Lionel Watt was armed with a microphone and sent to the SCG to report on a match between two New South Wales XIs. In England, Plum Warner was the pioneer, doing the honours at an Essex v New Zealand game in 1927.

The next level was broached with the "synthetic" broadcasts of the 1930s. During the Bodyline series, the BBC deigned to provide no more than potted scores. Stepping into the breach, French radio station Poste Parisien hired former Australian allrounder Alan Fairfax, put him in a Paris studio, fed him detailed reports of play by cable and had him report the game in the present tense as if he were actually watching.

Synthetic radio's finest moment, though, came in June 1938, when cricket fandom was forever changed by four men in a Sydney studio. Every over, a rudimentary written description of play was cabled in from England. Four commentators - Alan McGilvray, Vic Richardson, Monty Noble and Hal Hooker - translated these into breathtaking ball-by-ball commentary. A pencil striking wood replicated the thwack of leather on willow; a gramophone recreated the cheers and jeers of a faraway crowd.

Bradman-obsessed Australians listened all night long. Cricket was, and would henceforth remain, at the cutting edge of sports broadcasting. Every subsequent whizz-bang innovation - from cameras at both ends to super-slo-mo replays to Hawk-Eye - is indebted to those synthetic broadcasts.

This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine

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