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This commentary circus

By Sunaad Raghuram
February 17, 2003 11:30 IST
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The homo-sapien, we all were told in school, by our biology teacher, was a species with a strong spine, which could walk erect. But our childish innocence didn't allow us to even imagine that there could also be another of the same human species -- the Indian cricketer -- who was exempted from adhering to this basic biological fact, either through an orthopaedic peculiarity or perhaps even a divine ordinance!

Watching on television, the pitiable mental disarray and the complete surrender, bordering on tragic subjugation, of the much-vaunted (and now, increasingly less wanted!) Indian cricket team against the Australians at the Centurion Park, on 15th February, I slumped on my sofa in a heap of pathos. Not even a hastily proffered glass of whisky, doing anything to mitigate the humungous tragedy that seems to have befallen us, a nation of not mere cricket lovers, but ardent worshippers.

Sourav Ganguly's men looked as helpless as a rookie, scrawny, boxer pitted against the power and towering might of a seasoned champion. Battered into submission, our cricketers seemed to be increasingly lunging at the ropes, instead of at the opponent, desperately panic-stricken, and terribly in need of a life saving sip of the water of deliverance! Deliverance from the searing heat of battle; from the Aussie bowlers who came at them with the menace and the havoc-inflicting, single-mindedness of a charging bull; from the arena which might have looked to the Indian batsmen, as one, which had eleven sword-wielding gladiators, doing a macabre dance of death, hell-bent on slitting their throats!

While our cricketers had just one 'enemy' to face, we cricket lovers seem to have two of them. The second one being as damaging, as turmoil causing, as grating, as humour-less and simply, quite impossibly intolerable as the first one. The commentary team of the Sony television channel which has the overall rights to bring the World Cup into our drawing rooms!

Comprising sundry former cricketers (mostly failed) and managed by an anchor whose receding hairline is badly in need of some urgent re-seeding, and with a tragi-comic (I'm not referring to the roles she has essayed on television but her present avocation!) 'starlet' thrown in for good measure, who understands her role inside the studio from where the pearls of cricketing wisdom come gushing forth into a billion homes around the world, with the same capacity and efficiency of most of our batsmen at the crease; let me tell you, it is pure bedlam. An insult to our cricketing sensibilities; a charade of glorious proportions; an inane exhibition of the shocking lack of understanding of the game's technicalities; a hollow haranguing which leaves the listener with the feeling that he would have been a much happier person if he had been born deaf and dumb!

How else would you describe the idiotic mouthings of a team of three men and one woman who sit in judgement, on matters cricket, showing the world their profound sense of 'grief' at the Indian batsmen's inability so far to put up big totals; by uttering such ridiculously generalized homilies like, 'Oooh, I'm disappointed. Disappointed is not the word, actually I'm sad' and 'Actually, I wouldn't mind jumping barefoot over a pile of broken glass than watch the Indian batsmen perform. In fact, that would hurt much less!' and many more such absurdities!

While the broken glass and its dangers were being spoken about, there was this question asked of the former coach of the Indian team, Anshuman Gaekwad, when the score card read a pathetic 50 for 5. 'What would your message be to the Indian team now?!' Are we such a nation, inundated and besotted as we are, by all kinds of messages; political, social, religious and communal, that one of 'our' commentators has to ask this rather laughable question in the commentary box by way of wanting to continue a conversation? What message are we, as Indians, sending to the world, forget the man at the batting crease, by putting together such a circus of a commentary team, which only seems to have clowns and jokers? 

Cricket as a game, is a phantasmagoria of images; of images that have allowed us, the cricket die-hards, to ever so carefully and safely put away in the inner most recesses of our hearts and minds, the great and thrilling moments of the game as played by a succession of stalwarts from the cricketing world over, so wonderfully captured in words in the past by such giants, like John Arlott, Brian Johnston, Alan Mcgilvry, Christopher Martin Jenkins and Tony Cozier, just to name a few, and even in the present television era, by men like Ian Chappel, Richie Benaud, Tony Grieg, Geoff Boycott, Michael Holding and our very own Sunny Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri and that most entertaining anchor of them all, the pleasant-talking, dulcet-voiced and ever-smiling Harsha Bhogle.

Men, who virtually painted a picture of the game on the canvas of our minds, and took us on dizzying flights of fancy with their well-chosen words, used to stunning effect, while capturing the game's subtleties and the nuances, with the poise and grace of a ballet dancer; their technical knowledge and descriptive flavour combining to make the whole experience of listening to cricket commentating, such a wonderful one.

The 'starlet', on the day of India's defeat to Australia, spoke of the broken glass and her willingness to jump. What is she waiting for, I wonder? She deserves to. After all, haven't all of us been hauled over the coals?

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Sunaad Raghuram