The Ideal Cricket Commentator: Who or What is He?
“The key thing was to learn the value of economy with words and to never insult the viewer by telling them what they can already see.” – Richie Benaud
“My mantra is: put your brain into gear and if you can add to what’s on the screen then do it, otherwise shut up,” – Richie Benaud again
If there is to be any authority on the matter of presenting a cricket match, and I will certainly not pretend to be one, it is Richie Benaud. The Australian leg-spinner who has been a great servant of the game in all possible ways is widely regarded and respected in the Broadcasting community. As a viewer in the modern era, when cricket is televised, when the viewer has the luxury of everything from slow-motions replay’s to hot spot thermal detectors we may ask if the cricket commentator’s role has diminished.
It may not have diminished in my understanding but it has surely changed immensely. There was a time when visual pleasure was available only at the cricket ground and a radio, or a portable transistor helped you keep in touch with the ball by ball score. The commentator of then was an able orator with specific skills of detailing, hardcore technical knowledge of the game and very little to offer in terms of statistics, anecdotes or even analysis. I believe that modern cricket commentators are increasingly adding to the beauty of the game rather than actually being involved in the process of transmitting it. In saying so, I will be coherent with the essence of what Benaud said.
By this marker, we will find that the ideal cricket commentator differs from the ideal “modern” cricket commentator. There are some basic fundamental requirements for a commentator that have not changed since. Some of these are an abundant knowledge of the game, good communication skills and a loud, clear voice (preferably soothing to the ears). There are some additional qualities a commentator may find rewarding in his/her repertoire such as being a former international/domestic cricketer, analytical skills and a fair share of nostalgic stories (Ian Chappell).
The satellite television has enhanced its coverage range to an extent that we are not strangers to commentators from all parts of the globe. For instance, being an Indian you may still be aware of Ian Healy commentating for Channel Nine in Australia, or Bumble (or David Lloyd) who prefers to travel with his national team. You might have your native favorites such as Ravi Shastri and Harsha Bhogle as well.
To mention some of the outstanding names in this time, Ian Chappell, Nasser Hussain, Tony Greig, Geoffrey Boycott, Tony Cozier, Ian Bishop, Sunil Gavaskar, Wasim Akram, Ramiz Raja… the list is quite a healthy one. Each one of these adds a different dimension to the broadcast of cricket. Especially when witnessing a Test match, these commentators lead you into a discourse on variety of subjects (sometimes only remotely related, but still pleasant) ranging from the delivery of an arm ball to the manufacturing of solid headgear. If you have ever had the luxury of spending an entire day lazing in your couch and watch Glen Mcgrath put six straight deliveries ten times over on the same spot while Dravid watches it with full focus right into the keeper’s glove; you will realize the comfort and company a cricket commentator is.
In the shorter formats of the game, especially the fledgling of T-20 cricket has added another (rather disagreeable) dimension to the game. With every hit six there is Rihanna or (god save us!) Akon playing at the stadium and with that more enthusiastic over the top commentators have taken the battlefront. You can almost imagine Ravi Shastri jumping out of his seat when a flurry of sixes were hit, one of them on a free hit and so on. That sort of commentary I believe is becoming surplus to the spectacle itself. One wonders if the commentator has anything to add in the hurry of T-20 cricket. The twists and turns are so radical and a Richie Benaud would have seemed a misfit. I wonder if he would have actually uttered a word sitting in his seat.
To make a rather inconclusive comment on being of the ideal cricket commentator, it must be said that the criteria is ever-changing. The world of cricket is so dynamic now that the old-world values are disappearing quickly and so are the notions of what a commentator must be like. I wonder if it’s a period of identity crisis for the commentator. What must he do really?