“Pujara square cut that ball, jumping into the air….the point fielder took the pace off it, but the ball will still reach the boundary. Pujara moves to 74 with that” – the commentator thundered into the microphone with these details, like he was reporting from the front lines of the Normandy Beach on June 6th, 1944. One can argue that the analogy is apt, because Pujara’s insurgency against the second new ball was a crucial battle for India to win and it could turn the tide of the overall war. The real problem though was that Sunny was ‘reporting’. Those 30 words added zero value to the audience who has already witnessed everything he said on HD Television. They might have as well watched it on mute.
For the untrained eye, the 540 balls bowled in a day of Test cricket could be mind numbingly uneventful. A bowler walks tens of yards to his mark, then runs in really fast and bowls one outside the off stump, only for the batsman to leave it alone, so the keeper could collect it and throw it back to the bowler, who will do this all over again.
Except, the bowler is not just running in. Every muscle motion in his action has been carefully chiseled at the confluence of science, art and the human spirit. It has been designed meticulously to add every fractional kmph possible on the ball, stopping just short of permanent damage to the bowler’s body.
He is not hurling just another spherical object. The cricket ball is the most romantic of sports accessories. The symphony that the leather can create with air, ground, saliva and sweat is the stuff that can inspire poetry.
So, when the batsman is leaving it outside his off stump, it is not lack of action. In the .45 seconds he had to make this decision of negotiating the object traveling towards him at 148 KMPH, he has factored in the trajectory of the ball, whether the shinier side is, which way the seam is positioned and hence which way the ball will swing. He has also analysed where it is likely to pitch, what the bounce in that area is and whether it has cracks. Subconsciously, he has matched all this data with the location coordinates of his off stump and whether any of the aforementioned potentially compromises it’s well being. And then comes the “percentage”. If he could rock back on his right foot and caress the ball into the 12 odd meters between the gentlemen standing at point and covers, could he have enough time to run 22 yards? Probably. But then, the man at cover has a reputation and this ball is likely to travel towards his left, which is his ‘right’ side. Is one run worth the risk of losing his wicket at this stage of the game? NO. And that is when he lets it go past him.
.45 seconds can be a very long time.
That is just one of the 540 battles that happen in a day. And all great battles need to be immortalised by great literature. That precisely is the role commentary plays in test cricket – it augments mere reality into high drama. No, I am not talking about the iconic moments – Richie Benaud on the underarm or Tony Greig on the desert storm. Those must be easy I assume for the orator. It is between those moments that you need an artist in the commentary box. To paint the mental tension around a puff of dust, put a defence in context, spread-eagle the anatomy of a cover drive, notice a grip, a crack, create legends out of men, women and their exploits, smell a rain cloud, searche for irony in statistics, make you laugh, set the stage for a decision, notice wrists, make you cry…
But alas, what we have had on show in Indian commentary lately, has just been reportage. Stating the obvious, hyperbolic reverence of heroes and having stock lines to describe situations. There is rigour and dedication in it probably, but certainly no art. No wit. And as a result, it tragically takes away from the TV watching experience rather than add to it. I know that Murali Vijay stepping out to Lyon in the last over before lunch was a ‘lapse of concentration’. I know that ‘a wicket here could turn things around’. I know that ‘keeping the scoreboard ticking is important’ or that ‘it was a well directed short ball’. What I am craving to know is the story and the emotion behind them. The nuance of the incident.
Commentary is a relief to a game like music is for the movies. They both have to compliment each other. If Morricone or Ilayaraja had just played sad or happy music corresponding to the footage, those films would have lacked magic. Lacked the spell. I yearn for Ian Chappel’s insight or Bumble’s wit or Dada’s genius or Cozier’s trivia. Mostly, I think I just miss Harsha. Sorely.
Here is an example of what commentary can be:
As I type this line, I just heard “This is an important innings by Pujara. A big first innings lead for Australia would not have been good news” and some one else concurred “Yes, India getting a sense that something will happen in this game now”. Then went on to add “there is every reason to believe India might even take a lead now” (we are 16 runs behind at lunch with 4 wickets to go). Another just cracked a joke I believe, but I can’t remember what it was. Must have been a ‘brain fade’.
Pro tip: If you want something on audio that remotely matches the intensity in Pujara’s eyes today, may I recommend muting your TV and playing this instead: