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


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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • T E on March 8, 2010, 7:18 GMT

    Not to forget the likes of Christopher Martin Jenkins & Brian Johnston for BBC Test Match Special. Used to be great fun just to try tuning into the stations using the old murphy dial.

  • John on March 8, 2010, 6:03 GMT

    Great to see the four names in the famous 'telegram commentary series. I have only really hearrd about Alan McGilvray and Vic Richardson. Monty Noble is well enough know too. For those who don't know Hal Hooker has a special place in cricket history - a marvellous 307-run 1oth wicket partnership with Allan Kippax in Australian Domestic cricket. Great to see his name mentioned in another capacity

  • Dummy4 on March 7, 2010, 3:51 GMT

    1982/83 ashes A. Border back to form with his 62 n.o, but aus lost by 3 runs. G. Thompson was caught by G. Miller, the ball rebound from the hand of C.Tavare

    1984 G. Greenidge hit double hundred against England and WI won by 9 wkts.

    1979 Gavasger 221 Vs Eng match drawn.

    1984 S. Patil's six 4's in R.G.D. Willis' one over

  • Nelson on March 7, 2010, 2:12 GMT

    The ball by ball commentary of Brian Johnson, Henry Blofeld, Alan Magilvray were outstanding. Listening to ABC's RA over the shortwaves in the 70's upto 90's, straining to hear every ball with Radio Moscow jamming Had to change frequencies after 5 hrs for BBC TMS & RA coz. I still had the old dial radio. Once the SONY digital radio set in, it was much easier to key in the frequency & hear the stn. at the press of a button.

  • Sanjaya on March 6, 2010, 13:50 GMT

    I listen occasionally to radio commnetary in Hindi... it is an art form by itself! They are maddening, but very very funny...

  • jamshed on March 6, 2010, 7:58 GMT

    The commentary I heard on the radio went something like this,"He starts walking back to his mark,.....starts running again,comes close to the wicket,bowls,the batsman lets it go through to the keeper,he starts walking back......." and so on and so forth.Yawn.

  • Glen on March 6, 2010, 7:10 GMT

    Nice post, Majr. I am a little too young to have known the radio broadcasts but i do remember Alan McGilvray's commentary from the Eighties. It WAS like watching it live.

  • Rajasundram on March 6, 2010, 6:02 GMT

    Not forgetting the end of session summaries by Johnny Moyes. To listen to Arlott, Johnston, Macgilvray and of course dear old Vizzy and Rutnagar was to be transported to a boundary linese at whatever ground the match was being played. I libed in a village where there were only two radio sets - one in the library, where a grumpy old man would close it at 7 p.m. after which we trooped to our teacher's home. Of course there were some sleepy heads in class the next morning but he would have told the others the reason. Yes tecnology means that you can see the game but the fun of one's childhood imagination has been destroyed when we see modern cricketers spitting on the field! Siva from Singapore

  • P Subramani on March 6, 2010, 3:45 GMT

    I have been fortunate to have heard cricket commentaries on the ABC and the BBC from the early 50s and recall fondly Alan Magilvray and even our own Chakrapani who had migrated to Australia in the mid 60s. I can never forget the mushy noise to hail a big hit or a wicket. Following which the baritone of Magilvray would be heard clearly. It was never difficult to follow any part of the game. That is how clear radio commentary was. In 1961, the famous Tie drawn Test came across through the radio and most cricket lovers actually got to see the game. The likes of Magilvray, Arlott and Johnston were quite unmatched in their turn of phrase, command of English, humor and the ability to spin a yarn. They were all raconteurs par excellence. Though the TV age has brought cricket more vividly to lovers of the game like me, I can never forget the early mornings and the late nights of hearing BBC, ABC, even Tony Cozier and Dicky Rutnagar from the West Indies.

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