As the Indian men’s test cricket enters one of its storied phases under the captaincy of Virat Kohlis, one wonders about the role of our cricket commentators. What is their comment as a credo? Why did the Anglo-Indian commentators indulge in chauvinism and cheering Indian cricketers to nausea during broadcasts? It is true that India has fought under the pump and there is much to celebrate, but where should a cricket commentator’s allegiance lie with the arts and crafts of the sport or with satisfying nationalist urges?
In the ongoing Test series India’s English cricket commentary has fallen in quality, especially in the live, post and pre-match day talks and analyses. Some of our iconic cricket moments have generally been captured with the comical brio of Ravi Shastri behind the mic. To some extent, that trait seems to have remained as a residue in the commentary mentality. Much has been ridiculed about Gavaskar, Bhogle, Manjrekar online.
Whenever I got a grasp of a test day’s procedure, I invariably pressed the mute button on the TV remote when the said gentlemen showed up. Their collective thoughts and general programming were fluid and hyperbolic, even when things got boring or when India played badly. There were moments of unintended irony.
In the third Test at Headingley, India was eliminated for 78 on the first day. They gave away a big lead and pulled things back slightly on day three, when England were used to it and India beat better to get to 215/3. England was supposed to take the new ball and they did, but the whistle was poor and the Indian batters continued the challenge until day four. India was still in a vulnerable spot. But our commentators babbled that night as if India had made a comeback, as if they were finally fulfilling their potential, as if the game was as good as being in the bag. The next day, India was blown away in the first hour. One of them rumbled, the castle that Indias so carefully built is crumbling before their very eyes. Actually? Was a decent day at bat worthy of being called a castle?
But also a word about the overall viewing experience. There were breaks with stupid car ads, stubble, muscular men throwing deodorant sprays, or ironic ads featuring former Indian bowlers being compared to OGs. I grew up scarred from the beating that said OGs got in the 1990s and 2000s. One of them had a slower ball that bounced more than his bouncer; another may have had nightmares while bowling against Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Ads like this are designed to show T-20-loving younger Indians that we were world conquerors in the past.
When it rained, during session breaks or if India lost with a day to spare, the TV would broadcast old games that India had won in England or elsewhere, giving an overall impression of Indian supremacy. The truth is that even struggling Pakistan has had a better test record in England in recent years. The intent to be pro-India causes channel producers to ignore the fuller picture of the past.
The commentary is interspersed with feeds from Sky Sports. You listen to Holding, Hussain, Warne, Atherton, and you know you are in the presence of excellent interpreters and conversation stylists. They invariably try to read the game from many sides and dimensions. Their dedication is to the art and craft of the game; not just one nation or group of players.
Indian TV commentators once expressed their views. Have at least two gone soft? One reason for this I think could be the impact of the man who is now the coach of the Indian team. If he was your biggest notable in the comment field, which models should we follow? The on-air feud between him and Nasser Hussain during the 2011 India England tour, which India lost hard, showed the gap: the independence of one and the pro-team bias of the other.
You can also see that this kind of commentary environment can lead one of the greats of the game to write about Black Lives Matter and the role of sport and answer bigger questions about some of the serious issues in global society and international sport. Michael Holding has opened a powerful avenue for discussions to take place in sport. It is also a credit to air sports. India is the powerhouse of the sport. But those on TV abroad appear to be more involved in how the game is viewed and understood.
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