Friday, December 3, 2010

Cricket Commentary on the Radio

Before the television era, ball-by-ball radio commentaries of cricket matches broadcast by radio stations were the only way cricket followers outside the ground could get live updates from the field.  Radio commentary continues to be popular ever since the first radio broadcast  (click here) was made.  It was known as 'synthetic broadcast'.  You will be amazed at the method adapted at that time! Today, people can watch live coverage in pictures on their mobile phones!

Suresh Saraiya (click here)

I was inspired to write this blog when I heard that Suresh Saraiya was doing his 100th Test Match as radio commentator (for All India Radio).  It was the Nagpur Test between India and New Zealand (Nov.2010) and a delayed start to the match enabled the commentators to share their views on this great man on this landmark occasion.  It was a very interesting discussion.

Suresh Saraiya is a popular radio commentator whose voice is all too familiar to cricket-lovers all over the country since 41 years.  For players to play 100 Tests in recent times is an easier milestone than doing commentary for 100 Tests.  It may take about 10-14 years for players but it took this commentator 40 years to reach the century, which  is something remarkable.  Suresh Saraiya commands great respect.  His colleagues in the commentary box were admiring that he does not do the commentary for money.  Such is his love for cricket. 

I first heard him during the Bangalore Test Match in 1974 (click here).  We were all equipped with transistor radios at the stadium to listen to commentary to know identities of players.  We did not want to get answers like 'the one in white pants' going by an old joke when Sir Jack Hobbs was touring Australia and an ignorant spectator got that answer when he asked "Who is Jack Hobbs?".  Hobbs was the best batsman in that time (1920s).

Saraiya was among Tony Cozier (the veteran from West Indies), Anant Setalvad and R.S.Krishnaswamy for that match.  His flowing style, almost like singing, (in the 'Saraiya raaga'!) is unique and is renown for his 'back again' thing, what with his great knack of keeping those 'dead moments'  of cricket esp. between two deliveries of an over alive.  He fills this time sharing some interesting facts and figures and then when the bowler begins his run, he would return to the live action with his typically tuned 'back again'.  

In the early 70s I developed a great fancy for listening to radio commentary.  My grandfather used to listen to the commentary with much attention esp. when his nephew was playing for India (B.S.Chandrasekhar), but I could not understand much cricket at that young age, in the 1960s, leave alone the names of the commentators.  Scores mattered much to me then.

In 1973 I was at my friend Shankar's house in the next street one evening.  With much glee, he told me that he had discovered where BBC was broadcasting its live commentary on the Test Match between England and West Indies. I was so thrilled to hear it so clearly on his small valve-radio on the shortwave band.  I virtually ran home to search for that station (he told me where the 31 metre band was) in our Bush 8-band radio. I located that radio station, as reception was very clear at that time.  Goosebumps of joy!  I marked that spot on the dial and thereafter I became a regular follower whenever Test Matches were held in England. 

My Bush Radio (EBS 51, Made in England) that has given me and family many hours of listening joy.  It has been part of the family since 1958.  Still in working condition, but rarely switched on.

Similarly, prompted by my cricket friends, I found that Radio Australia also broadcast commentaries on the 13 metre band.  Not all radios were equipped with this frequency range.  Both Bush and our  National Panasonic transistor had this. I followed matches live from Radio Australia too when any team toured there.  The commentary team provided such fantastic stuff and also the English language itself that I did not want to miss description of a single minute.  I used to carry the transistor even to the toilet and bathroom!  The commentary was on even while studying for exams.  I had made a wire antenna so that the best reception was possible to receive the commentary loud and clear!  Shortwave reception need a good antenna to receive signals.

Slowly I became familiar with the voices and names behind them and I went to Cloud 9 many times on hearing voices of famous old cricketers!  What knowledge and experience they used to share!  

From the BBC, there were Brian Johnston, John Arlott, Henry Blofeld, Chris Martin-Jenkins (CMJ), Trevor Bailey, Fred Trueman, et al.  For Radio Australia there were stalwarts like Alan McGilvray, Lindsay Hassett, Keith Stackpole, Richie Benaud, Bill Lawry, et al.  It was cricket-education to all those who listened to them!  I must tell that I learnt much just by listening.  I was so much addicted that I have made recordings in bits and pieces of those famous voices.  I'm looking at ways to digitize some of those tapes now as e-technology is galloping!

Tape collection - 6 tapes on the top right are clips from radio commentaries by many famous voices at BBC and Radio Australia.

Alan McGilvray (click here)
- knwon as the 'Voice of Australia'!

Richie Benaud

1981 picture. HM The Queen Elizabeth II, Peter Baxter, Henry Blofeld and CMJ.

I've also recorded a few vintage clips from BBC's "Test Match Special".  Peter Baxter used to present this series on vintage memorable matches when the present match adjourned for luncheon.  A clip describing the live moment when Sir Len Hutton overtook Sir Don Bradman's 334, another clip capturing the moment of Bradman scoring a century, Jim Laker taking 19 wickets in that Leeds Test and a few such ones.

During Alan McGilvray's last Test Match (Eng-Aust, 1985) at the Oval in England as commentator, he was recollecting how the commentary was reproduced when there was a confusion during the famous 1960 Tied Test match at Brisbane.  They did not know it was a tie.  Then later, he said, the last ball of that match was redone in a funny way with the correct scores.  West Indies' Joe Solomon had thrown down the stumps to run out the Australian batsman with the scores level!  I have that clip!  I vaguely remember he also described something about that 'synthetic broadcast'.

Alan McGilvray in his last match at the Oval, 1985..... Fred Trueman with pipe (as always)

The BBC commentary box was more lively esp. when Brian Johnston was on the mike. His sense of humour kept both the listeners and those in the box happy and laughing, while he related old stories from his vast experience. He always had something funny to share during the between-ball time in his ball-by-ball description!  Such was the atmosphere when Johnners was there!

Trevor Bailey and Brian Johnston (Johnners)

So much of fun happened in the box and I quote one from my collection. Denis Compton, a fine commentator after his glorious playing era, often got tongue-tied over cricketers’ names. The man who suffered most at his hands [or tongue] was Alan Connolly, the Australian quickie. Compton always announced him as ‘Anal Colony’, despite repeated corrections! In the 70s, I have heard the BBC commentators struggling to get right the name of Srinivas Venkataraghavan and they never got it right but stopped at 'Venkat'!

Famous Indian voices in the old times were Berry Sarbhadhikary, AFS Talyarkhan, Pearson Surita, Vijay Merchant, Vizzy, VM Chakrapani, Dicky Rutnagar, Raj Singh Dungarpur, Ananda Rao, et al.  I'm told that Talyarkhan used to do the entire match solo!!  Found this 2003 article from The Hindu.  Worth reading. Click here.  Talyarkhan also used to present a weekly 15-minute programme on cricket on AIR Vividhbharthi, something like the famous Binaca Geetmala.

A.F.S (Bobby) Talyarkhan

Those were days when Hindi commentary was restricted to Hockey matches.  Slowly they were introduced to cricket also.  Ravi Chaturvedi became popular.  He paired with ....'back again', Suresh Saraiya when they toured to describe the Indian Tests abroad, Ravi in Hindi and Suresh in English.