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Saturday, August 6, 2011

the art of Speaking : Cricket Commentary - Paid for speaking some and not speaking others..........

Speaking is an art.  There is an oft repeated saying ‘women generally speaking, are generally speaking’.  In the World of Cricket commentary, there is no women of fame.  Some of the famous commentators who readily come to mind are :  Richie Benaud, Alan Mcgivlary, Brian Johnston, John Arlott, Henry Bloefeld, Christopher Martin Jenkins, Jonathan Agnew,  Narottam Puri, Harsha Bhogle, Baloo Allagannan, B Ramamurthi – there are so many cricketers wielding the mike these days, the prominent Indians amongst them being :  Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri, Sanjay Manjrekar, Navjot Singh Sidhu.  Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri always remain the articulate face of the Indian system – whether it was in their playing days or Sports administration, cricket commentary, running of IPL or anything else – they would remain at the forefront all the time !!

Richie Benaud and Henry Bloefeld
The Second Test at Trentbridge which India lost badly saw a verbal spat between Naseer Hussain and Ravi Shastri.  From the Indian mindset, it was satisfying…. In the early 80s and late 70s – the native English speakers in the commentary box used to ridicule all players from the subcontinent and laud any effort of British and Aussies.  It was too lop-sided an affair.  Initially it was the Pakistanis who started blindly supporting their team and their players – too many adjectives would be brought in to describe their players.. Lankans also stood up.  Gavaskar perhaps was a pioneer in that, as he fearlessly started portraying the negatives and questioning the decisions and attitudes.. the game or the sports commentary has come a very long way since, especially after the dominance of India and the advent of IPL which has been a great paymaster for everybody – where commentators scream DLF maximum and every one trying to pronounce a hindi word…..


In earlier days, the running commentary in radio was most heard – it was the only means of keeping abreast with the live happenings on the field.  It was the commentator who with his words and descriptions made a shot good or great.  They used to describe the ground, the end from which the delivery was bowled, the delivery stride, the length, the footwork, the shot, the angle, where the ball disappeared and the fate…….. all in a few seconds.. enchanting indeed ! – one can feel the intense action on the ground through the voice modulation of the commentator.

In the early days of Doordarshan, things were totally different – it used to be dull and inane.  There was the Expert commentator – mostly CD Gopinath or Lala Amarnath.  Those days at the fall of a wicket or a boundary, the Expert would say ‘that ball was pitched on the off stump, he got backwards and square drove it for a four’.  Mind that there were not so much of advertisements running below the screen and break as the bowler is about to complete the last ball of the over.  It was more of cricket !

Gavaskar Shastri and Bhogle
When there was a debate on the contentious Umpire decision review system, Naseer Hussain went emotional and said that after playing so many tests he had every right to air his views and afterall that what he was paid for.  Ravi Shastri immediately attacked stating in the same vein, India had every right to oppose a system which had many flaws and their democratic right cannot be ridiculed..
Today’s TOI report that for Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri, the bread is buttered on both sides.   They get paid heavily by the TV channels and sponsors for their expertise and (how unlikely one thought !) – the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the cash rich body also pays them heftily for toeing their official line.  In some ways, it is not what they think that you hear but more of what the BCCI wants you to hear.  Startling !!

TOI reveals that  the two respected opinion makers have been contracted by the BCCI for an annual fee of Rs 3.6 crore each to spread the Board's gospel - on issues such as UDRS, IPL, or umpiring decisions that may be adverse to Indian interests. "They cannot say anything that goes against the policy or interests of the Board," said a senior BCCI member.   This newspaper can also reveal that the BCCI contract stipulates that any channel which is telecasting an international match on Indian soil will hire these two men on their commentary team. A similar contract, for a lower fee, had been signed with Harsha Bhogle too but was subsequently cancelled because then IPL commissioner Lalit Modi had not taken permission from the IPL Governing Council.

TOI further states that - When contacted, both Gavaskar and Shastri accepted they were centrally contracted by the Board, but did not see this as a conflict of interest, or as something that hampered them from freely airing their views.

For some, it is money and more money, irrespective of whether they are playing or speaking or asked not to speak on certain things…….. on the other side is the sordid state of affairs of other sportspersons like Narayana Surya, an International sportsperson who won Bronze medal twice in International events and led the National side, having to work for a paltry Rs.140/- per day in a tannery.  What a contrast and how cruel life is for some !!

Incidentally, Anjum Chopra who once played for the National Women’s cricket team (a left handed batsman who bowled right arm medium fast) is the lone female voice heard often in pre and post match discussions on Neo TV.

Regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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