In the midst of a tight contest, with six runs required of one ball, with the bowler firing on all cylinders, and there being no scope for error, if the batsman, cool as a cucumber, decides to put one into orbit, how do you earn the TV viewer’s ire? Easy – shout, “There’s a fielder coming underneath it, looks like it’ll go straight down his throat… but it sails past him!”
Cricket commentators manage to repeat the same overused phrases so many times during the course of a match, and with such great alacrity, that one wonders how many broken TVs (or heads) might have resulted were there no mute button.
“When Shoaib Akhtar begins to seem like the closest to a sports pundit in a panel, there surely is a problem at hand.”
The Ashes manage to attract not just British and Australian audiences, but an overwhelmingly large number of neutral viewers, one of the reasons for which is insightful (and at times outspoken) commentary by the Sky Sports team, which includes names like Ian Botham, Nasser Hussain, Michael Atherton and Shane Warne. It is hard to imagine anywhere near that kind of neutral viewership for even an India- Australia or India-Pakistan series, especially taking into account that the odd neutral viewer may be easily put off by as elementary a feature of the modern game as the commentary.
“When he hits it, it stays hit,” they exclaim with a flagrant disregard of the laws of physics that is enough to make Newton turn in his grave. “All three results possible here,” says the Schrödinger of commentators, “Ultimately, it is cricket that is the winner.” (How does an entire sport win?) Subcontinental batsmen are “wristy” and West Indians are “hard-hitting” (the polite term for “sloggers”). A test match that stretches to five days is “an advertisement for modern cricket” (and a rather long one) and in the end “the crowds definitely get their money’s worth.” (TV viewers certainly don’t.)
When Shoaib Akhtar begins to seem like the closest to a sports pundit in a panel, there surely is a problem at hand. The recent revival of Hindi commentary has meant viewers get to witness a comedy of errors all through the match, sometimes more entertaining than what they had initially tuned in to watch. A few commentators alternate between English and Hindi commentary boxes and seem only a little more comprehensible speaking in Hindi than the Teen Guna Lagaan guy is. Most are often so embroiled in pleasantries that cricket is forgotten and a spontaneous tea party is initiated, peppered with occasional comments based on random stats the broadcaster ventures to pull up on screen
“What the viewer is treated to is a vast PR exercise with a broadcast so censored it would put China to shame.”
A part of the reason for this unending stream of inanity is the BCCI’s stringent commentary guidelines. As per the Board’s diktat, on-air commentators are not allowed to mention matters relating to a number of topics, ranging from the DRS to team selection. The Board owns a TV production unit which seems to specialise in zooming into the plump faces of their neta-cum-administrators and their guests in the VIP enclosure at just the wrong time. What the viewer is treated to is a vast PR exercise with a broadcast so censored it would put China to shame.
So the next time the ball “runs to the fence like a tracer bullet”, or a minister-cum-patron-cum-association-chairman shows up to remind you of all that’s wrong about the country or the “electric atmosphere” stops short of electrocuting the commentator (much to your dismay), stop expecting an astute analysis, mute the volume, turn on your propaganda filters, sit back and watch the match in its most palatable form.
Also published at HuffPost India