Events and people that shaped the game

No. 11

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

Christian Ryan

March 6, 2010

Comments: 9 | Text size: A | A


Fans listen to the match on the radio while waiting to enter the ground, England v Australia, 5th Test, 1st day, The Oval, August 20, 1938
Fans listen to the radio outside The Oval during a Test in 1938 © Getty Images
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Series/Tournaments: The Ashes
Teams: Australia | England

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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Posted by TEGOVIND 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.

Posted by JFAB 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

Posted by   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

Posted by nelrod03 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.

Posted by sanjayas 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...

Posted by ww113 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.

Posted by darkgrace 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.

Posted by Subra 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

Posted by Percy_Fender 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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Christian RyanClose
Christian Ryan Christian Ryan lives in Melbourne, writes and edits, was once the editor of The Monthly magazine and Wisden Australia, and now bowls low-grade, high-bouncing legbreaks with renewed zeal in recognition of Stuart MacGill's retirement and the selection opportunities this presents. He is the author of Golden Boy: Kim Hughes and the Bad Old Days of Australian Cricket and Australia: Story of a Cricket Country

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