The Commentary That Gives You Brain Fade


The Commentary That Gives You Brain Fade

Illustration: Shivali Devalkar

One hundred and forty years after the first Test match in recorded cricket history was played, where the Aussies vanquished our colonial masters, they’re back again, this time in Ranchi to play a Test series that promises to make more “brain fade” history.

This is going to be the first time that Ranchi will host a Test match, an anomaly for the Jharkhand masses who have earlier flocked to the stadium only to see MS Dhoni play the helicopter shot. The standard of cricket promises to be of superior quality, but what will single-handedly pull down the cricket-watching experience over the next five days is the quality of cricket commentary, where the men behind the mic are likely to sound like a squad of shrill cheerleaders hopped up on amphetamines.

Nobody has quite figured out why in a country that lives and breathes cricket, do we pay millions to commentators to sit in a plush commentary box and wail about how their progeny doesn’t listen to them, or break into a song, or do an incredibly awkward Jamaican accent when the mood is right.

In every muhalla of India, you will find a cricket fan, who has watched every single game, who reads every cricket blog, and engages actively in Twitter battles. This well-informed, articulate fan probably has his own blog where he writes with passion, conviction, and zeal that are reserved these days only for soldiers guarding our country. This cricket fan will take your breath away with his insight on the game; he will try pursuing his passion only to find out it’s nearly impossible to make it. He will then probably become an engineer who watches matches late into the nights, listening to Sunil Gavaskar calling even a fart by an Indian player tactical wind that was blown to unsettle the opposition. It is not for small reasons that he is met with loud cries of “Sunil Bas-Kar”.

But what options are our cricket fans left with if Sunil indeed gives in to the “bas kar” pleas? We are left with RaviShastri, the living reminder of a dictionary that failed to update itself. His heavy baritone saves him the blushes every time he repeats obvious observations such as “cricket is the real winner” or “it’s going to get hotter as the day progresses”.

The blame though, rests with the broadcasters as well as the commentators – both Indian and Australian. The likes of Michael Clarke, Matthew Hayden, and Shane Warne who used to torment Indian cricketers and fans alike, are happy conceding arguments and indulging in Kohli-sturbation along with their Indian counterparts, tails firmly between their legs. The irony of it all is that the one person who takes the job seriously, who actually talks cricket, is Mayanti Langer – the only woman who has broken into the male-dominated filed, but is unfortunately known more for her legs than her impeccable knowledge of the game.

We are left with Ravi Shastri, the living reminder of a dictionary that failed to update itself.

The cricket-viewing experience has come a long way. Ultra slo-mo replays, spidercams, panoramic aerial shots, stat attacks, and much more. Looking at grainy highlights of matches over the last two decades, it feels like we’ve reached the space age. But the commentators are stuck in a time warp, clinging to the Doordarshan era like orangutans with banana-separation anxiety issues.

Every time a young cricket fan tries to ask why are orangutans left in control of our most noble sport, the word “experience” is thrown at him, as if that one word makes up for all that is wrong. Think of every incompetent boss you’ve ever had. Every middle-aged guy getting paid to sit on his lazy ass, hopelessly floundering around as you wonder if the game was always rigged in his favour. That annoying guy is our cricket commentator today.

Will somebody please tell the powers that be that just because Sunil Gavaskar was a great batsman it does NOT make him a great commentator? He’s an over-sharer who finds his personal life far more compelling than anything that is happening on the field. Somebody please tell them that Sanjay Manjrekar’s ability to aggrandise everything the Indian team does, does NOT give him the right to put large sections of the population to sleep, as he drones on about an innings he played in 1996. And while they’re at it, someone also tell the Australian commentators that their job is NOT to be the token white guys, laugh at the poor jokes cracked by their Indians colleagues, and talk in regular cycles about how great India is and how great the fans are.

I think it’s fair to say that the once great art of commentary is dead. It was last practised by Harsha Bhogle. It lay in analysing stratagem, pitting opinions against one another, and sharing anecdotes that truly define some form of historical credibility to a game that’s being played in some level of earnest for the last 140 years. It is NOT about describing what the viewer can already see. The Indian cricket fan is bleeding from the ears listening to Gavaskar’s jokes, Shastri’s restricted vocabulary, and Manjrekar’s throwbacks from the ’90s. The nation is getting a brain fade; despite having the best players, the best infrastructure, truckloads of money, THIS is the best we can do when it comes to commentating.

Meanwhile, as the match begins at Ranchi today, yet another kid spends a day dreaming of occupying that coveted seat in the commentary box, all for nothing. He deserves more than a moment of silence. Let’s turn off the sound for him. It’s the least we can do.