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Some commendable commentators

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Richard Benaud Commemoration CartoonIn the olden days, the only way to follow cricket if you weren’t at the ground was through radio commentary. However, television has since become the most preferred medium to watch cricket. Almost since the beginning of televised cricket, commentary on the game has been an inseparable part of cricket coverage.

Of late, a lot of cynics and purists feel that the standard of cricket commentary has been declining. There is no denying that good commentators provide valuable insight about the nuances and intricacies of the game. They add an extra dimension to the game by pointing out things that are not obvious to the average layman.

A good commentator must be articulate and, ideally, should have played the game at the highest level to have the cricketing knowledge necessary to hold forth. He or she need not have been a great player, but someone who has had the necessary experience at the highest level. (Yes, yes, there will always be exceptions to this rule like Harsha Bhogle and Narottam Puri.)

He or she should possess the ability to be insightful, a sense of humor and be totally unbiased. The most common complaint among cricket fans nowadays is the extremely partisan nature of cricket commentary. While it is understandable that a former player will want their team to do well, a really good commentator is one who is able to put forward their views without letting personal bias spoil the experience for the viewer.

In an event like the IPL, a commentator might need to show more emotion and be a lot more vocal and vociferous than normal. While the IPL is still serious cricket, a lot of people watch it for sheer entertainment value and they would not appreciate dour, bland and banal commentary.

Putting the IPL aside for a moment, here are 5 great commentators who each bring something unique to the table.

Richie Benaud

Richie Benaud, who sadly passed away in April 2015, was rightfully known as the doyen of cricket commentary. He had a few golden rules of commentary, which are followed by most sensible members of the profession. He used to say that it is worth voicing your opinion only if you can add to the picture. He hated words like ‘I’ and ‘We’ and always remained objective and unbiased even when talking about Australia.

Richie’s criticism of players was measured and based on facts rather than any malice and or personal vendetta. The most adorable quality about Richie was that he always maintained a sense of perspective and never used words like disaster and tragedy when a team suffered a setback. That equanimity, combined with a shrewd cricketing brain, made him the best commentator of all time in the eyes of many.

Geoffrey Boycott

Geoffrey Boycott is a prime example of why a player’s personality on the field doesn’t necessarily translate into his commentary off the field. On the field, he was a drab, dull but a prolific batsman. However, ever since he quit playing the game and made the transition into the commentary box, he has shown a flair for words and a willingness to inject a touch of levity.

He has remained objective even when his county Yorkshire or beloved England were part of the proceedings. His comments like “my grandmother could have done better” have often had many of the viewers in splits. An Indian newspaper once said that he should levy an entertainment tax on his viewers, which was a flattering yet largely truthful compliment.

Ian Chappell

Ian Chappell was a blunt, in your face Aussie. He is considered one of the greatest captains of all time and that cricketing knowledge shows in his commentary. His ability to be ahead of the game and predict a mistake before it actually happens is second to none, unlike certain commentators who criticize after the event.

He was an attacking captain and he doesn’t pull any punches on air either. He doesn’t mince words and did not hesitate to criticize even his own brothers for their actions during the famous ‘Underarm incident’ against New Zealand in 1981.

Nasser Hussain

Nasser Hussain was considered one of the best English captains of modern times and it is easy to see why, once you listen to his no holds barred approach to commentary. He always describes the situation of the game from the perspective of a captain and gives his views on what both teams need to do at a particular point of time.

He does not worry about being politically correct and does not hesitate to call a spade a spade. At the same time, he is not averse to giving praise when necessary. He never sits on the fence when asked his opinion on cricketing matters.

Michael Atherton

Michael Atherton is considered one of the best English opening batsmen of all time and he brings the same level of proficiency when he is in the commentary box. His captaincy record may not be that great when compared to other all-time greats. However, his shrewd observations on the game and his excellent command of the language make him a delight to listen to.

He usually commentates for Sky Sports in the UK and they have a segment called ‘Third Man,’ where they analyse and compare footage of cricketers during that particular match to matches in the past, and come up with insightful reasons as to why a cricketer is doing well or why he is struggling. This is something that Athers excels in.

One of the most delightful experiences for discerning viewers is when Hussain and Atherton are on air at the same time and indulge in some good natured mutual ribbing. The viewer is treated to shrewd analysis with a dose of banter.

These 5 commentators may not be the ideal ones to commentate on the IPL, where vociferous commentators like Danny Morrison and Pommie Mbangwa rule the roost. This is not to suggest that Morrison and Mbangwa don’t have knowledge of the game; just that they may be better suited to the kind of commentary needed in the IPL.

However, the 5 commentators mentioned above are so knowledgeable and versatile that they would have found a way to adapt. I’m sure they would have been a success in the IPL as well. 

 

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