Overs 1.3 - The Dying Art of Cricket Commentary
“He lifted the game from a state of conventional excitement to one of unbelievable suspense and drama, and finally, into the realms of romantic fiction.”
A telling phrase which Dan Waddell wrote in his book “Test Match Special Book of Cricket”. He was making a reference to the highly revered and recently retired BBC radio cricket commentator, Henry Blofield.
The most exceptional cricket commentators have elevated cricket beyond being a simple spectacle to narrating a compelling story. Throughout the decades, legendary commentators such as Henry Blofield have captured audiences by skilfully educating and entertaining them with intimate knowledge of the game, articulated with measured enthusiasm, coalesced with meticulous humour and having a faultless touch of recognising the perfect opportunity to verbalise. The sad truth is that there are not too many in the current climate who can claim to be, in the perfect sense, a cricket commentator just like Henry Blofield.
Maybe well-versed ex-English captains Nasser Hussein or Mike Atherton. Or maybe the delightfully eloquent Alison Mitchell and her smooth, velvety-voiced colleague Jonathan Agnew. To break the English contingent, the ever-reliable Jim Maxwell deserves to be in this category. Gone are the golden days of Blofield, Richie Benaud, John Arlott, Bill Lawry, Tony Greig and the like. Admit it. The previously populated cupboard of enjoyable cricket commentators is almost bare.
When I turn on the TV to watch cricket these days, I hear less about cricket and more about what one had for dinner last night. Minimalist chat about tactics and continuous drivel about the individuals who did not make the team. The commentary has resorted to one of "mates-man-ship", whereby you are forced to listen to past anecdotes of the panel's non-cricketing exploits together. Every person is known by their nicknames, such as Tubby, Slats, Warnie or Beefy. Oh, what I would do to hear Shane Warne speak about leg-spin, and Mark Taylor preach about captaincy! From the childish sniggers to the continuous back-patting, you would be forgiven for thinking that you were watching a sub-par Adam Sandler movie.
Then there are instances where a commentator forgets that there is a difference between television and radio dialogue. With television broadcasting, one can afford to allow the golden virtue of silence to plug between analysis. Arguably the greatest TV commentator, Richie Benaud was the finest example of precisely this sentiment. For a commentator, silence is their greatest weapon. Benaud would say, “Don’t speak unless you can add to the picture.” Due to commercial pressures and also personal preferences, however, cricket commentary has dived to the depths of loquaciousness.
Cricket commentary was supposed to be a practice in impartiality, where your personal agenda against a person or an organisation should not be aired. One can deconstruct a batsman's technique, a bowler's action or a captain's tactics, but using the vehicle of sports media to disintegrate someone's character is unprofessional. Whether it is Kevin Pietersen and his subtle digs at the English board and Andrew Strauss, or Warne and his relationships with Steve Waugh and John Buchanan, these should be reserved for their biographies and not the media box. Certain Boards of cricketing nations have also placed restrictions on their commentators and their coverage of touring teams. This, therefore, has provided an avenue for biased analysis and a limited range of opinions.
Cricket commentary is no longer the same, and will probably never return to the golden years if we continue in the same trend. Unless we talk cricket of course. With dignity. With panache. With timing. With humour.