Cricket commentary has been an integral aspect of overall cricket watching (or listening) experience for me. Back in the days when live coverage of games was not a regular deal, I would wake up at 4 am to listen to test match commentary of Radio Pakistan for Pakistan’s tour of Australia. Half asleep, I would be helped by regular Munir Hussain quips of ‘Runs banein gey’ or Chishti Mujahid’s description of game which would actually create a picture in your mind. A normal Chishti Mujahid description would be something like ‘ In-comes Imran, crosses the umpire bowls to Boon, outside the off stump, Boon lets it go to keeper Salim Yousuf. Yousuf passes it on to Salim Malik in slip, who throws it to Miandad in Gully, from where it comes to Mansoor Akhtar in covers. Akhter sends it back to Imran who is going back to top of his bowling mark’.
Even while growing up, I remember cricket coverage from Australia in terms of its production quality was miles ahead from anywhere else. Be it the lure of night cricket, additional cameras or stump microphones, all regular features today but still unique in late 80s, it just all added up to the excitement of game. From an early age, I also realized that Channel Nine’s cricket commentary team was something very special. And no wonder perhaps due to that early influence, some of them have still remained as my favourite cricket commentators.
The clip above is from one of my favourite cricket matches. As much as I enjoy the match in re-run, I always enjoy the commentary even more. This was a classic case of two former cricket legends in commentary box (Bill Lawry and Mike Procter), supporting their respective team right to the end (cue: Bill Lawry reminds Procter after second boundary that Australia can still win) and the change of tone in Procter’s voice after the game ends. Also hard to believe Bill Lawry is in his 70s. He is master of hype when it comes to cricket commentary and surely adds his own touch to the game. ‘It’s all happening here’ and ‘It’s up in the air’ and ‘Got him – yesssss’ are some of his most used and famous phrases. I remember Harsha Bhogle once saying, Bill Lawry always gets best cricket scripts (close finish games).
While Bill Lawry gets excited at drop of a hat, his long term commentary partner Richie Benaud is exactly opposite. His comparison to Bill Lawry would be something like Ice to Fire, Richie Benaud is king of ‘understatement’, almost English rather than Australian. I would probably run out of superlatives to describe his work, so let’s just call him ‘Doyen’ of cricket commentary. With his subtle sense of humor and trade mark cream jacket, Richie Benaud remains face of Channel Nine commentary team and remained associated with BBC till they lost rights to Channel 4. He was part of Channel 4 team from1999 to 2005 and being staunch supporter of free broadcast of cricket, decided not join Sky TV team which was won rights for ‘pay per view’ broadcast of test cricket. For me, watching cricket coverage from Australia would be incomplete when Richie Benaud’s contract finally ends in 2013 with Channel 9. I find him very candid and unbiased when it comes to his opinion on game. Below is what he thought of the famous ‘underarm’ incident which involved Greg Chappel and Trevor Chappel, very unlike his usual cool and calm demeanor.
Third most interesting commentator in that Channel Nine team is Ian Chappel. I understand the new breed of fans remember him as anti-Afridi, with some justification. But I have always found him as one of the most thoughtful otherwise. Imran Khan considers him the best cricket captain he has come across. Perhaps it is no surprise Ian Chappel’s commentary has special focus on captains and their tactics. I tried looking for a particular clip of Ian Chappel where he predicted Shane Warne’s second and third wickets of Warne’s first test hat-trick against England. But unfortunately the clip available has Shane Warne’s own comments thus pushing actual commentary in background. In any case, I look forward to his interesting anecdotes from his playing days, or otherwise.
In last decade or so, Channel Nine’s team has had reinforcements like Ian Healy, Mark Taylor, Shane Warne, Michael Slater and Mark Nicholas. In my opinion, apart from Shane Warne, I don’t see the rest achieving same heights as original Channel Nine team.
While as quality of Channel Nine team seems to be taking a downslide, Sky Team in England, seem to be getting better with team. Gone are likes of Bob Willis, Allan Lamb and Paul Allot who I thought were dry, boring and during England’s bad times; plain depressing. While David Lloyd has added much needed entertainment to it, he is probably the person who gave Shahid Afridi his middle name – ‘Boom Boom’. I particularly enjoy listening to Nasser Hussain and Michael Atherton. Nasser comes across as passionate without being biased or unreasonable while Atherton is eloquent and insightful. From the new generation of cricketer turned commentators, Michael Atherton is best bet to become a top notch cricket journalist.
There is also ever green David Gower who I think is English version of Richie Benaud, some might say a poor man’s Benaud. Gower, like the Aussie, rarely gets excited and remains smooth as single malt keeping intact an underplaying sense of humor. Also, loves to wind up Ian Botham on air, who for me stands out as a sore thumb in the team. One international player in this otherwise English team is Michael Holding who is very well respected and his commentary is as scathing as his bowling was, but delivered with aplomb. Holding is considered a well respected voice for his balanced opinion.
There are some other stand-out commentators who are not particularly linked to a particular broadcast team. Geoffrey Boycott with his typical Yorkshire accent remains a popular choice among worldwide audience. He has considered an outspoken commentator who evokes opinion of extremes but is generally well respected.
While in past, Pakistan has produced some good English non-player commentators like Omer Kureishi, Chishti Mujahid and Iftikhar Ahmed, there has not been a single decent cricketer turned expert. India too, has lacked in this field. Likes of Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri and rest are average for me at best. But one thing is certain, classic old age commentators like Henry Blofeld (best known in sub continent for his fondness of female earrings during the prime of cricket days in Sharjah), Tony Cozier and Jonathan Agnew is probably a trend of past now, and future seems ripe for scores of mediocre cricketer turned experts.