On the ball
Ishara S. Kodikara
With cricket fever back in town, Esther Williams
and Ruwanthi Herat Gunaratne speak to the men behind the voices
that bring life and excitement to the game-the commentators
Shastri in the commentary box with a colleague.
are glued to your TV or radio, oblivious to the world outside. The
batsman takes his guard. The bowler begins his run-up and your heart
begins to pound. Can he score that vital run to win the match or
will your team prevail? And....... he's out! You jump for joy as
the commentator's voice describes the excitement on the field.
talks apart, cricket can bring us to fever pitch. It is an integral
part of every Sri Lankan's life. And with the ICC Championship Trophy
bringing the cricketing world's greatest names to our doorstep,
the excitement is hard to match. A fortunate few have been able
to "go watch the match" but the majority has to be satisfied
with catching the action on the radio and the TV.
So where would
we be without those voices behind the microphones? The ones that
give us ball-by-ball updates of the action as it happens as well
as a constant enlivening debate on the players and their doings?
If you really consider it - we'd be nowhere without them.
How did they
get involved in the profession and make it to the top where they
are as much household names as the cricketers' themselves? "You've
got to be really lucky," says Tony Cozier. The son of a well-known
Barbados journalist Jimmy Cozier, Tony has been commentating and
writing on West Indian cricket since 1958. "If you really look
at it, there are very few cricket commentators in the world today.
You've simply got to get lucky." This modest West Indian is
amongst the only two cricket commentators who is not a former international
cricketer, the other being that cheery Indian Harsha Bogle.
time when I first began, the commentators were not necessarily Test
players. The players would give the expert comments and the commentators
would describe the game ball-by-ball. That was what the great commentators
of the time did. Now you find that on television, the former players
do all the work. I believe that a need for well-known names in the
field has arisen," comments Cozier.
by profession, Cozier went through both print and radio journalism
before finally settling down to commentating. "I sometimes
come across old and grey cricket fans, who say they have heard me
since they were in school. I tell them that it was probably my father,"
Cozier laughs. But he is not altogether alien to the cricket field,
for he played for two Barbados clubs - Wanderers and Carlton.
What is the
transition from being a Test player to a cricket commentator like?
"For a cricket lover, commentating is just fantastic. You've
got everything going on in front of you. The players are on the
field. Box television sets provide instant replays. It's the perfect
scenario. But when you think of being a commentator it's a bit different
in the sense that you've got to do your homework. You've got to
concentrate and watch ball by ball. But it's a great method of staying
in touch with old friends," says Tony Greig, a firm favourite
with Sri Lankan fans. A versatile cricketer, Tony Greig captained
his adopted country England before leading international players
into the Kerry Packer fold.
Born in South
Africa of a Scottish father, he moved to England at the age of 20
and began playing county cricket with Sussex, going on to captain
England. He retired young and emigrated to Australia where he has
had a successful career as a TV commentator.
the transition it is difficult initially, since you do miss the
game. And you realize that you are somewhat a critic. When I first
began, it was quite difficult being critical. But that happens in
every walk of life. The cricketers themselves should understand
that they are not playing for us. It is the game that counts and
not the comment."
from player to commentator came so quickly for former Indian star
cricketer Ravi Shastri that he had to learn fast. "The fact
that I was a radio buff who listened to lots of cricket commentary
certainly helped," he says.
To be a commentator,
he thinks, "requires fierce concentration and work ethics as
it is a discipline that you need to understand quickly".
of cricketers were slightly different when I first began. They were
of my generation. And I could comment on anything but it would not
affect our personal relationship at all. We'd still be on first
name basis after the game," says Tony Cozier when asked of
the players' attitudes to the commentators. "A lot of money
has now come into the game. And you've got to be very careful."
"When I say good morning and a player does not respond, the
morning after a match, I can tell he is upset," says Cozier.
that he interacts with players quite often. Any comments made, if
not very complimentary have to be taken as constructive criticism.
There are times when he points out to them how to avoid a certain
good players like Sanath come in to bat, there is a kind of expectation,
among the spectators as well as the commentators," says Shastri.
"It just so happens that he might get bowled out immediately.
Things like that are bound to happen."
players asks me why I said something not so favourable about them,
I always ask them to remember the nice things I have said about
them. It's not those comments that they remember," says Tony
Greig. "At the end of the day, you are not playing for the
commentators or the newspaper man. You are playing for your country."
Is it difficult to remain unbiased even when your own country, which
you might have represented earlier, is on the field? "You don't
have to play for your country for there to be a bias. It is quite
natural. And if you did play for your country, the people will naturally
expect a certain amount of bias. It would be incongruous if the
player turned commentator did not feel with a passion as to whether
his country won or lost," comments Cozier.
"I don't believe that you can be an unbiased commentator. It
is natural to wish one's country the best." But how would you
then remain objective? "As you grow older, you learn to be
objective. But I mix being objective with being emotional. The listener
appreciates it all the more if he knows that I truly feel what I
And as Cozier
points out, "The public will always know whether you are being
objective or whether you are being unfair. There will always be
a certain amount of bias. The public will know that, expect that
and will put up with it. But if you go too far - they will get agitated.
Then you know you've crossed the line."
emphatically states that he only tells it as he sees it, regardless
of whether it is his countryman or someone from his hometown Mumbai
who is playing.
and listeners we tend to sometimes believe in the superstition that
the minute the commentator says something complimentary of the player,
he immediately messes up. "It's only a perception. When something
happens five or six times, you naturally assume that, that is the
way it's all going to be. But that's really not true. It has happened
only on a very few occasions," smiles Cozier. "I don't
believe in that superstition."
With new technology
slowly entering the cricket field one cannot but wonder what will
become of the solitary figure at the end of the crease. "I
think technology is not being used effectively. The umpire should
be given the job. Never overrule an umpire. An umpire should be
given the benefit of the doubt just as the umpire would give the
batsman the benefit of the doubt," says Greig. Cozier finds
the situation much the same.
But what of
the divergence of views between the commentators and the umpire?
"Even the viewers watching at home will naturally come to a
conclusion. But it's the umpire's decision that finally comes through.
The television is after all a two dimensional media. And the cameras
are zooming in from many yards away. There can still be mistakes,"
believe that there ever has or ever will be a rift between a good
umpire and a commentator. When an umpire passes judgement it is
based on the human eye, which watches the ball at its natural speed.
So there can be mistakes. A good umpire though will never take offence,"
adds Greig. "The job of the umpire is the toughest in the world,"
remarks Ravi Shastri. "I would rather have as many decisions
as possible made in the centre because I like to respect the skill
of the umpires, knowing full well that they are human and they make
mistakes at times. This is preferable to referring to the Third
Umpire at every stage. The bottom line here is that Umpires who
make the fewest errors automatically get rated. We should respect
his skill, rather than referring to the third umpire all the time."
As the players
walk on the field, viewers back home are presented with their entire
career statistics. Does that mean that the commentators have a lot
of homework? "Well, I've been in the field for many years now.
And it is my job. Those days we'd have a lot of books available
for reference. But now everything is at your fingertips on the computer.
And since I also write a column for a newspaper back in the West
Indies I have the statistics available with me at any given time,"
the preparation prior to a game, Shastri says that being able to
make it real and exciting for all those out there comes from knowing
the background of the player, conditions and knowledge that comes
from being a cricketeer. "It is our job to make a game sound
interesting," he asserts.
the issue of private sponsorship for Indian cricketers, Shastri
who enlisted strong support says, "It was for a cause - it
was a prior contract that had to be honoured and respected."
With so much
international cricket being played, the schedule of an international
commentator can become as gruelling as that of any player. "Oh,
yes, it is. But I try to take my family along whenever I can. For
instance my wife is down with me at the moment and my elder daughter
too is to join us. But you do miss your family very much,"
says Greig. Greig is currently working for Kerry Packer's outfit
in Australia and that is why we don't hear his voice on the local
saw my son until he was three months old," smiles Cozier. "There
was a tournament going on in Australia when he was born and I could
not get back until very much later. I missed the late night feeds
is a hard job that Shastri nevertheless says he enjoys thoroughly.
He usually takes his wife everywhere he goes. As for playing cricket,
he can never be seen holding a bat these days.
One last question.
Any predictions as to who will lift the Champions Trophy in the
final next Sunday? "Australia," both the Tonys agree.
"They are playing very well at the moment. They are the one
team that has beaten South Africa on home soil." Shastri predicts
that for this series the competition is going to be tight. "Australia
stands a good chance but it has to put up a good fight against Sri
Lanka, India and England."
has begun. These gentlemen have to go back to doing what they do
best. Commenting on cricket and loving every minute of it.