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Ever wished you could be in the TV control room at the stadium during a cricket match?

Nagraj Gollapudi

April 18, 2011

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The vision mixer's desk and wall of monitors in the ESPN Star control room at a game
The wall of monitors © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
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The six that ended the World Cup on the evening of April 2 is an image that will be talked about for generations to come. For the man responsible for getting that picture out to the world, all that mattered was what the next one would be.

In the crowded broadcast control room, where numerous cameras showed the crowds starting to explode in celebration, television broadcast director Deepak Gupta's immediate motive was to get a camera as close as he could to the pitch. "Get in, get in, get in," he ordered into his mouthpiece, talking to one of his camerapersons. Upstairs, in the commentary box, Ravi Shastri was going off. Gupta's earpiece connected him to the commentators as well, so he had Shastri full-tilt in his ear, but he continued to call unaffected: "Camera two, camera 11… 15," ordering different shots, different angles.

It was an evening to remember for millions of Indians, but for Gupta, tournament host broadcaster ESPN Star's man in charge for the World Cup final, it was another day at the office, and his job after the winning stroke was hit was to pack in as much as he could. He used shots from all 15 manned cameras at his disposal after the winning stroke: MS Dhoni's smile, Harbhajan Singh's tears, Yuvraj Singh embracing Sachin Tendulkar, the abject Sri Lankan dressing room, Muttiah Muralitharan's final minutes in an international match, the ecstatic crowds and the fireworks, Gary Kirsten being carried about on the shoulders of Suresh Raina, Aamir Khan turning to his wife in delight. For about 22 minutes Gupta cut shots from all the cameras at his disposal to bring the viewers a montage of pictures of the culmination of the Indian side's World Cup journey.

Upstairs in the commentary box, Gupta's producer, Ajesh Ramachandran, dispatched Sanjay Manjrekar and Nasser Hussain for flash interviews with the Indians. He instructed the floor manager to line up as many Indian players as possible, and then had Shastri go down to the ground for the main presentation.

Ramachandran put Sunil Gavaskar and Tom Moody on air immediately after the win, mainly because both had been World Cup winners and would know how to relate to the emotions on both sides. Moody, who also was the Sri Lanka coach at the 2007 World Cup, spoke with insight about what the Sri Lankan dressing room might have felt after losing a successive final. About his choice of Manjrekar and Hussain as interviewers, Ramachandran said: "They are natural and conversational. They're good on camera, and it is not everybody's cup of tea."

Wired for action
The control room is where the story of a cricket match is written for anyone who isn't at the ground. The director is the narrator, and along with the producer, who sits in the commentary box, he crafts the story that the world sees.

Some of it is played by ear, especially in unscripted situations, such as the one after the final, but Gupta's team is well prepared all the same. "When we get to crunch time, we know which camera will be on the batsman, which one on the crowds, another near the team dressing rooms, one on the celebrities," Gupta explains.

"It is very difficult to cut otherwise. You are trying to capture everything on the field, because remember, the viewer is only watching one camera. So you want him to feel 'Wow, that is all that is happening and I am missing nothing.'"

At first glimpse the broadcast control room is suffocating. The floor is a maze of cables that run all over before climbing into various machines, monitors and screens. The room itself is square and windowless. Personnel from various departments - engineering, Hawk-Eye, the camera-control wing, graphics, sound, communication, and the EVS (which relays the replays) - sit here for long hours. They chat in whispers. The director is omnipresent, in everybody's ears.


The jumble of cables in the ESPN Star control room at a game, April 2011
It's a jumble out there © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
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Flanking the director are his assistant, who gives ten-second countdowns to the global broadcasters before the end and start of an over, and for drinks- and innings breaks. The vision mixer, on the other side, is the man who pushes the buttons as the director calls out instructions. Inputs from the cameras, graphics, Hawk-Eye, EVS, are fed to the vision mixer's desk, where he assembles them according to the director's calls. He sits still but his hands move like an expert pianist's - in short, swift movements. The feed is routed from his desk to the satellite truck, parked in the stadium, and uplinked from there to a satellite for international broadcasters to downlink into their control rooms.

Gupta is the conductor of the orchestra. He sits facing two plasma screens on which feeds from about 28 cameras (manned and unmanned) are beamed live. The unmanned ones include two stump cameras, four for run-outs, two for lbws, and one "beauty" - the wide shot of the ground from on high that you see in the background when scorecards and other stats are imposed on the screen.

Setting up
For the production unit, the match starts four days before it is actually played. There are four core crews and five operations crews for the tournament. The core crew is the executive producer, director, producer, floor manager, director's assistant (DA), producer's assistant (PA), statistician, and reporter. The operations crew has the production manager, vision mixer, six EVS operators, three soundmen, five graphics operators, three Hawk-Eye operators, 11 engineering operators, 18 cameramen, five satellite operators and eight riggers.

The first job is to get the control room ready. The engineering team gets the generator set up, for power, and then puts the monitors in place. Next comes rigging up the cables, which is an elaborate process. All the camera positions and microphones across the stadium are hooked up to the control room.

The next day the facilities check happens under the vigilant eye of the director. The cameras are in place, the cameramen check the viewfinders, the picture inputs are checked, and the director gets the TV monitors placed so he is comfortable. The sound checks happen at the same time.

The engineers also link the producer, statistician and the commentators, who all sit upstairs in the commentators' box, to the control room. The commentators have a microphone, a view of the programme output (the last video image that has been transmitted, before the director has cut away to another), and a "fruit machine" - a gadget that displays essential data like the team total, batsmen's scores, bowlers' figures and such other stats.

Each crew member works for about 12 hours on match days, starting three hours before the match and finishing two to three hours after. Through the match the only time Gupta walks out of the room is at the halfway stage, save for quick dashes to the restroom.

Talking a good game
The all-important voices of the broadcast emanate from the commentary box. Here sit the commentators, the producer, the statistician, the scorer, and a field logger, who is responsible for the fielding graphics.

At 12.45pm on the Saturday of the final, the commentary team was warming up. Sunil Gavaskar and Sourav Ganguly were having a laugh. Tom Moody, whose head almost hit the low ceiling, wondered if Sri Lanka were gambling playing Suraj Randiv, who had been rushed in at the 11th hour as cover. Nasser Hussain wanted to check if the wi-fi was working. Sanjay Manjrekar, who would go on first, sat still.

Ramachandran was in the back of the box, seated on an elevated platform. The biggest match he had produced so far had been the final of the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean last year, but like for Gupta, there were no nerves. Ramachandran had done the day's roster, the commentator's time table. For the semi-finals and final there were eight men, as against six for the previous games.


The EVS in the ESPN Star control room at a game
The EVS, where the replays come out of © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
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At any given time there was a designated lead commentator, who describes the delivery, along with two "colour" commentators who offer expert views. Shastri is usually the lead commentator when India are playing. "Ravi manages to talk up an event," Ramachandran said. "In the first half hour of the game you need that to set up the match."

****

The "most tense" moment of the day, according to Gupta, was the toss, usually a straightforward event. In the final the match referee had to toss the coin twice as he failed to hear Kumar Sangakkara's call the first time. Gupta desisted from airing a replay of the first toss. The global feed (when the international broadcasters start their telecast) commences ten minutes after the actual toss, so Gupta, his bosses and Ramachandran could afford a few minutes to decide whether to show the first toss on the global feed. "In the version that was shown across the world, only pictures of the first toss were shown, without sound, before moving on to the second toss," Ramachandran said.

Thankfully the rest of the day was without controversy. Gupta conducted the show with aplomb. All through, he and his team remained unaffected by the happenings around them. They were metres away from the field of play but sealed from it. Kaushik Basu, ESPN Star's vice-president of production, said he had been on the job for 16-odd years and never once had he stepped on to the field of play.

Standing there as they worked was fascinating. Gupta's primary aim was to show the cricket, but he also had his eye peeled for the sidelights. As Mahela Jayawardene closed in on his century, Gupta kept his focus on the batsman but one of his cameramen had Jayawardene's wife, Christine, in his sights. Not quite up to watching as her husband came up to a hundred in a World Cup final, she masked her face with a scarf. When Jayawardene stepped out to loft Zaheer Khan for a boundary and raised his arms, Gupta initially captured the player's celebrations, before briefly moving on to Christine jumping in the stands.

The closest Gupta came to reacting was when 12 deliveries were left and India needed five runs to win. A smile lit up his face. He asked Philip Betts, one of the ESPN executive producers, to go out and feel the atmosphere. "The World Cup happens every four years and we were so fortunate that it was in India and India won it. It was a moment not to be missed," Gupta said later.

I asked Gupta if holding back his emotions is one of the most difficult part of his job. "We [directors] don't really watch the games. I am thinking of what I would like to see if I were sitting at home."

Gupta and his team, of course, are not at home. It is close to three hours after India have won the World Cup. The Indian players have started to let their hair down in their hotel. Outside the Wankhede, thousands are partying along Marine Drive. In the ground, though, Gupta's runners are busy winding up the cables. The "derig" - dismantling everything and packing it all up - will take another three hours. Eventually all the equipment will be loaded onto trucks, ready to go into storage, till the next tournament, when the show hits the road again.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by ashish2727 on (April 21, 2011, 14:03 GMT)

Lovely article, this - kudos!

Posted by CricEshwar on (April 20, 2011, 19:08 GMT)

Superb article. Superb perspective. As always Cricinfo is everything about cricket. Do bring in more informative articles like the ones written by Akash Chopra on the technicalities of playing Cricket, and other's of this article's kind, the operational details. Looking forward for stuff like How the pitch is made and people involved in deciding its nature? Customized bats and technicalities of different balls How IPL franchises work, modes of their revenue, their involvement and limitations in decision making of the league etc.

If you guys don't mind, let us know how you guys function. Brief Info on interfaces that you input commentary, maintain stats etc. How you gather news,

Posted by satyam.sharma on (April 20, 2011, 0:25 GMT)

@sshereef13: Thanks!!! Awesome moment ... really gotta love Dhoni's attitude and the look in his eyes and face immediately after hitting that six :-) BTW, really great work by the ESPNStar team (one of the best produced cricket series or tournament I have ever seen) and a thoroughly awesome article by Nagraj Gollapudi :-)

Posted by   on (April 19, 2011, 14:55 GMT)

Nice article.Keep up the good work.

Posted by sshereef13 on (April 19, 2011, 10:53 GMT)

@ satyam.sharma - really, after 100's and 1000's of replays you still haven't seen it? It's on youtube man. "Dhoni's Winning Six in style - World Cup 2011 Final India vs Sri Lanka ", paste that in and you won't miss it.

Posted by satyam.sharma on (April 19, 2011, 8:49 GMT)

Tell Gupta and Ramachandran and co. they missed a vital moment and image of the match when Dhoni twirled his bat just after hitting the last ball for a six while striking the pose for the photographers. I have watched 100s of replays and 1000s of recaps of the winning moments, but still haven't seen this highly-discussed-about twirl-of-the-bat by Dhoni (commentators mentioned it on air, Harsha Bhogle even mentioned it in an article on Cricinfo).

Posted by   on (April 19, 2011, 8:40 GMT)

@Arvind Pal: Actually the online world cup broadcast by espnstar.com had that feature. I listened to it with earphones. The right one only had commentary and the left one had all other ground and crowd noises. So I would remove the right earphone whenever commentary became annoying.

Posted by   on (April 18, 2011, 22:06 GMT)

Great piece of information. We (the viewers sitting in teh cosy comfort of their homes) perhaps do not even think of the effort that goes in beaming these events to the world.

Posted by victorUS on (April 18, 2011, 19:22 GMT)

A Pulitzer Prize piece. Gripping and thoroughly captivating reading! First time some inquisitive soul has lifted up the curtains (or broken through the walls) to let's have a peep into the scenario behind the scenes. But it's only an appetizer - MORE PLEASE!

Posted by VivaVizag on (April 18, 2011, 15:53 GMT)

OK. Still need more info. Can I have the name of the guy who inserts ads in the middle of overs? :-)

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