Vantage point

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Professional Commentators

Reading this post by Zainub on Different Strokes, one can't help but wonder why is it that, even though the best cricket writers in the world are not former test cricketers, we expect commentators, consisting mostly out of former test cricketers, to be great at their jobs?

I think producers of cricket boradcasts need to think long and hard about their philosophy behind selecting commentators. As of now it seems like the qualifications are -

- Must have played test cricket
- Must be able to speak decent english
- Must be willing to become a commentator

I wonder if they use any other criteria. The creativity, erudition, wittiness, vocabulary... I wonder if any of it is considered. I really doubt it. Why else would Tony Greig still get commentary gigs when 90% of what he says can be summed up in the following set of phrases - ("in comes the throw", "he's hit it hiiiiigh", "correction"). Why else would the entire Channel Nine commentary team keep reminding me of that Star Wars episode - Attack of the Clones? Why else would Mike Atherton, Robin Jackman, Bob Willis, Arun Lal, Ravi Shastri etc be considered good commentators?

A former test cricketer as a commentator makes sense only when he has a bagful of stories and anecdotes to narrate. Ian Chappell is a great example. Or else you need a cricketer who is also good with the language. Two completely different names come to mind - Richie Benaud, who can fit in maximum punch in the minimum number of words, and Navjyot Singh Sidhu, who genuinely makes an effort to keep coming up with newer phrases. However Sidhu loves the sound of his own voice too much to be a good commentator.

The best commentator in world cricket is someone who has played no first class cricket. In fact he is an MBA - Harsha Bhogle. What makes Harsha great is the fact that he is great with the language, is a great listener, and can strike up a great conversation with his co-commentator at any stage of the game.

TV producers need to find more commentators like Harsha Bhogle. ESPN's reality show, Harsha ki Khoj, disappointingly enough ended up finding TV anchors for the channel rather than commentators. An ideal combination in the commentary box is someone like Harsha, and someone like Ian Chappell or Boycott. The combination of analysis, cricketing anecdotes, and a cliche-ridden commentary is what will result.