England gave us the English language. Englishmen gave us cricket. Given the alacrity and varying degrees of skill with which we adopted them, it was only a matter of time before All India Radio (and later Doordarshan) gave us Indian cricket commentary. While we achieved competency in playing cricket, our skills in commentating on the game are dismal. Dodgy in English, re-recycling the cliches of the game, little sense of humour (or horribly funny stabs at it) and ignorance of basic commentating norms made our commentators, both radio and TV, the boringest in the world. Thrust on a public that have known little else, Indians continue to suffer them in stoical forbearance.
Traditionally, the bores came in threesomes, the earliest trio being Vizzy, Berry and Puri. Vizzy, the Maharajkumar of Vizianagaram, who could neither bat, bowl or field, led India in England in 1936 armed with 36 suitcases and three valets and controversially sent back star all-rounder Lala Amarnath on ‘disciplinary’ grounds. His princely clout meant he became a selector, BCCI chief and a radio commentator. A prince among bores, his mind schlepped along on free association: instead of the unfolding game, he boldly explored links between Rohan Kanhai and Lord Kanhaiya. An unfortunate generation dependent on the radio had their brains addled when Vizzy noted: “First slip standing at second slip, second slip at gully, gully at short cover”. When Sobers bowled to Nari Contractor, Vizzy attempted lyricism: “Gary to Nari, skipper to skipper, left-hander to left-hander....” His colleague, Berry Sarbadhikari, was soberer, but could not stomach India’s haplessness against England in 1952 (when Trueman and Bedser shot them out for 58 and 82 in the same day at Old Trafford), often wondering mournfully if it was a technical or a temperamental collapse. Another colleague, Devraj Puri, was all fire and brimstone—his indignant declamations about an unjust LBW decision in a game against India against Australia almost led an irate crowd to set ablaze a packed Brabourne Stadium.
These worthy men were often joined by Anand Rao, who was associated with Hotel Dasaprakash (in Madras) and was much attached to the term ‘tiffin time’, as in linking every piffling goings-on in Chepauk with time left for ‘tiffin time’. Vijay Merchant, who could hold his own against the aforementioned, was much given to rumination, inquiring, for example, of his scorer, Anandji Dossa: “Anandji, Steve and Mark Waugh have red and blue hankies peeking out of their pockets. Can you tell when in the past...etc?” After a pause, the reply: “Vijay, remember Middlesex vs Hampshire, when Philip Ian Bedford and Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie came out to bat with pink and purple hankies in their pockets?” Yes, we did have good commentators. Pearson Surita spoke brilliantly and knew his game. So did Anand Setalvad. But not bank officer-commentator Suresh Saraiya, who I was convinced was a gynaecologist when he observed: “Kapil runs in to deliver, he delivers, it is a good delivery, pitching on the leg stump... a delivery which deserved a wicket and he is going back for his next delivery.” ‘Dr’ Suresh routinely set our teeth on edge.
Now for our ‘live’ cricket commentary on TV, where our talking heads usually forget that they need not describe things which viewers can see for themselves. Mahaguru Sunil Gavaskar takes no chances with the viewers’ knowledge or intuition, analysing every blade of grass (or crack) on the pitch, then dissecting an inswinger bowled over the wicket that took advantage of the breeze from mid-on. For Ravi Shastri, everything has gone like a ‘tracer bullet’ in an ‘electric’ atmosphere for long.
Commentators like Arun Lal are patriots par excellence—every nick or rap on the pads is used for declaring Indian batsmen not out, and opposing batsmen out! Most of them are ex-Test players, but for one exultantly garrulous intruder specialising in blithe unctuosity. When he pauses, as happens rarely, it is to flaunt a silly insolent grin from one big ear to the other. Ideally, our commentators, including those plodding away haltingly in Hindi, should be made to watch Sky Sports or Channel 9 commentators. But I am loath to guess what effect this might have on our ‘Bore Ratnas’!