Monday, November 12, 2007

The Romanticism of Radio Commentary

These days we have 24/7 live coverage of cricket games all over the world, from first class games to international ones, from women’s games to men’s ones. The emergence and proliferation of TVs and TV channels has made it easy for us to watch the games live. For those who can’t do that, there is vivid and detailed commentary as well as analysis available on Credit must be given where it is due – CricInfo has served millions of cricket fans all over the world and the world is a better place with it.

However, I remember the 80s and the 90s when the only available mediums for following cricket were print, TV and radio. The game was not as commercial then so it was not feasible to broadcast games live. Living in Pakistan and even India at that time, there were no sports only channels. For the only local channels, Pakistan Television (PTV) in Pakistan and Doordarshan in India, it was far more lucrative to broadcast soap operas compared to cricket games.

If you were a cricket fan in the sub continent and were really lucky, the state run channel would carry a short highlights clip after the nightly ‘news’. If President Zia and his many chief ministers, governors and generals had had a busy day in the field chairing various boring meetings, cutting inaugural ribbons etc, the cricket highlights would be the last thing shown on TV. If the country was going through bad times, highlights of a lost match wouldn’t necessarily be shown. The backup option was always to quickly glance at the scorecard in the morning paper before scrambling to school.

But true joy came from listening to live cricket commentary on the radio. For me, there is no cricketing memory better than Chishty Mujahid or Omer Kureishi passing verdict on Pakistan Radio, that the old ball in the hands of Waqar or Wasim had started to swing. Hallelujah! The beginning of the end had started! That’s when you closed your eyes and pictured a rampant Waqar steaming in to bowl. The batsmen’s fear, the tension in the air and a warm tingling sensation in the base of your gut that Pakistan’s ascendancy was imminent; all made the air thick with excitement and anticipation. To their credit, the commentators only added to the drama, sucking the listeners in and using a scarcity of words to keep the listeners engaged (its funny how TV commentators these days feel the need to keep talking, even if its crap). The gathering roar of anticipation by the crowd as Waqar or Wasim ran up to the crease was typically accompanied by the following words

“Waqar goes back to his run-up…
[the buzz in the crowd grows]
He starts his run-up
[buzz grows to hum]
Crowe to face him…
Comes in to bowl
[hum reaches crescendo.. ooooOOOOOOAAAAAAHHHHHH!]
[dull thud of the ball hitting the pads]
[loud appeal!]
[high fives all around, jubilant jumps etc]”

Im sure all readers don’t have memories as magical as mine, especially if their team was at the receiving end of the W magic. However, my point is that for me the radio and following cricket went hand in hand. If Pakistan were in deficit, I felt it was my responsibility to turn the radio on and guide Miandad or Salim Malik through till the deficit was wiped out or follow on averted. Visits to family at the other end of town or tuition center rounds were planned such that your could hear commentary for the first twenty overs of the test match. If you got to hear commentary when the ball started to swing, then that was a bonus.

I still remember very clearly, one of Pakistan’s greatest overseas triumphs when Waqar and Wasim combined to bowl out New Zealand for 93 when they needed 127 at Hamilton in 1993. I remember being glued to the Radio, hoping that the ball would swing and that Pakistan would give New Zealand a tough time in their run chase.

What are your fondest memories of associated with following cricket? Has the radio figured prominently? Please share your thoughts by posting a comment

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10 Pitched:

  1. zulfishah said...

    heh... I remember carrying a small FM radio to school for pretty much every important match and listening to snippets of commentary any chance i could get.. sometimes even during class! and this was class 5-6-7 we're talking about, not O' levels or A' levels! I remember listening to so many matches this way... immediately i remember wasim and waqar's 48 run stand to win the 2nd test match in 1992. i remember listening to the last few minutes of the Inzi - Mushie partnership against Australia ('94 karachi), though this was probably on TV as well but we were in school at the time. i even (vaguely) remember the 280 miandad made in england in 1987. I think it all changed during the '92 world cup, and the cutting edge coverage (for that time) of Star Sports really grabbed people's attention, and the potential of cricket to attract television viewers by the hundreds of millions got the ball rolling for the 24-7 coverage we see today.

  2. Q said...

    I also remember listening to the wasim-waqar partnership that won pakistan the 2nd Lords test on their tour to England in the 1992 summmer. I was in Pindi on my summer vacation and the whole family was sitting in the terrace listening to the commentary. Exciting stuff! I remember Wasim scored 45* and Waqar 20*.

    On the same tour i remember i was taking a walk in my neighborhood with a small radio in hand listening to the commentary of the 3rd test when gooch and another batsman had taken Eng to 290-1 or somehting like that before wasim and waqar cleaned up england for 320. Then paks batting started and aamir sohail got out for a duck after scoring 205 in the 1st innings. Some guy also walking in the neighborhood asked me "koi out hua ya nahin" and i replied "yeah aamir sohails out"...i remember his shocked look as he said "KIA?!, abhi to england 290-1 tha"...hahaha...

    Having lived out of pakistan for most of my life, i havent had the privelege of listening to any other radio commentary...

  3. Farees said...

    In january 1992, a 3 day pak sri lanka test series was coming to an end and we needed a certain number of runs on the final day to clinch victory. One hour before school ended my curiosity got the better of me, i slid my transistor radio in my shirt, sucked my stomach in in order to hide it and excused myself to go to the washroom and sat in one of the stalls listening to zahid fazl and moin khan take us to victory. Even though my plan was to just check the score and return but the prospect of pak winning a test match back in the day when drawn tests were prevalent was too much for me and by the time we hit the winnings runs it had been an hour since i had left class.

    Thats how i finally made my bunking debut in class 6.

    Radios would not work in my house due to interference by ceiling fan regulators and that had quite an impact the way i heard radio commentary. I distinctly remember sitting in the lawn listening to the end of the lords test of 92. I also recall countless instances of Pakistan touring australia and me waking up early in the morning on weekends and spending the entire morning in a parked car in the garage listening to commentary on radio.

  4. Soulberry said...

    Chisty Mujahid and Omar...fine commentators those. Chisty had a honeyed voice and Omar was one of my favorites.

    I grew up with radio commentary. Television as a medium was introduced into India in my lifetime. I have seen the days when there wasn't TV in India. Then, my dad's huge Telefunken radio with valves, knobs and all sufficed.

    In the early 70's small japanese radio transistors made their appearance...initially brought in by travelling relatives from abroad, later they began to appear in the local market. They opened up live cricket for us youths in a big way. Now one could play, go to school and still listen to commentary without being stuck beside big wooden radios.

    Soon enough, ear phones too came in and they carried the experience forward. Now, one could wire it up one's sleeve and listen to commentary while the lectures were on!

    Some of the best overall experiences for me in realation to commentary were - man landing on moon on VOA and BBC, and cricketwise - the best overall experience I had was India almost chased 400+ at the Oval with Gavaskar scoring 221.

    Both had other ingredients in my personal experience with the radio commentary at the center of it.

    1969 - when man landed on moon for the first time, it was with my father, huddled around the crackling radio in his study through the night.

    1979 was with friends. I was staying alone those days, family having gone visiting elsewhere, and my house was open to all my friends. A campfire on the roof, barbecues, radio commentary, rain, was fun.

    1969 also was the first test match I had seen live - the Australians were visting India and it was GR Vishy's first test series. At the Kotla, I had a chance to sit at the commentary table too for a while thanks to a commentator who happened to be a friend. For a kid that was an awesome experience. To imagine that what they were whispering into those metallic mikes, sitting there at an ordinary table and chair, was what we were hearing...was an idea that was difficult to comprehend then.

    Lovely article.

  5. Obaid said...

    Wow, thanks for sharing your radio experiences people. @Zulfi and Q, I think for our generation, the 92 tour to ENgland was pivotal. We were all on a high after winning the world cup and it was great to have Waqar back and for the team to continue their good form into a test series, especially in England. I also remember listening to the commentary of the Inzi, Mushi stand in Karachi... I think I was at a tuition center or something

    @soulberry... you bring back wonderful memories of my uncles and dad sharing similar memories with me. Also thanks for linking to our blog! We have to add a section doing the same.

    I remember seeing those huge wooden radios at the houses of relatives but I was born in 1978 and transistor radio sets were common. the small hand held versions with earphones also evolved when I was a kid. Thanks for sharing these wonderful memories...

    who were some of the great radio commentators on Radio India?

  6. Uncle J rod said...

    Great blog chaps.

    My radio moment was the first time Shane Warne got Cullinan out.

    Or any time Kerry O'Keefe talks.

  7. obaid said...

    Thanks Uncle J Rod. You have quite an interesting blog yourself :) I just looked up Kerry O Reefe on wikipedia and now I have to try and find some snippets of him speaking online. He seems to be a character like Sidhu who can be pretty funny as well - but Ive only heard him on TV

  8. NAzhar said...

    oh wow! what a walk down memory lane! some really memorable radio favorite was the 2 W's partner in England....i remember the whole family just kept changing rooms and listening to the commentary as with the tension we couldnt do anything else and just felt by moving around we were doing something :-)

    another favorite moment is Imran and Akram's partnership in Australia in which both scored a century.

    a 3rd one would be the 1987 test match Pakistan won in England.

    having said all that I think Omar and Chisty were very irritating commentators on the radio...i loved the Aussie radio commentators!

  9. Sumit said...

    sorry folks for not joining the romanticist band. it was only after the advent of tv that i realised how shallow and misleading most commentators are. thank god for tv which lets us bloggers analyse the game.

  10. Q said...

    Uncle J Rod - Thanks for your appreciation of the blog.

    Just hopped on to yours, love the name "cricket with balls" :-). And I must say, its a blog with a difference.

    You should read the post on the Aussie sporting excellence here, that should interest you.

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