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The story and the storyteller

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Harsha_Bhogle_commentator_commentary_cricket_India_BCCI“I tell the story, I am not the story”, stated Harsha Bhogle – overwhelmed by the response he received from his fans and cricket lovers, after being removed from the IPL commentary panel.

The removal, however furtively planned, is out in the open and many cricket lovers have been rightly dismayed by it. The BCCI is acting like any organization which browbeats naysayers or those who disagree with them. While this habit of theirs is a known fact, every new occurrence of it only accentuates the richest cricketing body’s behaviour in such matters.

The BCCI will not care very much and the matter will eventually die down. A different debate for another day.

Coming back to the story, Harsha begins his post by reminding us that ‘He is just a commentator’. Very true, and it provokes a topic worthy of discussion once again.

His absence is not going to be missed with the same effect as that of an absence of Virat Kohli or MS Dhoni, but his voice will be missed and the absence is already being felt.

A voice behind an action is a universally occurring sequence - a norm. The voice lends meaning to an expression, or action. It is informative and resolves ambiguity. In an event, it always follows an action – a cover drive, a dropped catch, a fore hand cross court, a curling free kick, for example.

Likewise, commentary in any sport. It is the voice behind an action. Voice isn’t the protagonist, action is. Voice only plays the supporting act.

It is when the roles get reversed that frustration bubbles up for the viewer. Sadly, some commentators – many, even, one could say – take their role too seriously and end up doing their best to spoil the show.

 

Cricket doesn’t need an audio intervention every ball. There is no need to screech over a dab towards third man as if the roof has been blown away by the shot. A gentle push to long off needn’t be elaborated and exaggerated like a piece of elastic that fails to return to its original shape.

Let the push be a push and a dab be a dab. Commentators would be better off if they pick the moments to let cricket live for and by itself.

The game of T20 is played at such a pace that even commentators fall short of words in their attempt to keep up with its speed, and hence end up extending their monotonous scream until the bowler is at his mark, ready to bowl the next one. Perhaps they guess that the viewers care little about what they are being made to listen to, as the action fluctuates enough with every ball keeping their attention anyway.

But when time is bestowed upon them, even a good commentator can easily spoil an engrossing session of Test cricket with brags and an unrelenting quest to be more entertaining than the action. Once he chooses to stamp his authority, there is no place for the viewer to hide. If there be a mute button which would let only the sound of the leather hitting the wood to flow out then many irrelevant voices could be shut out.

That said, there are a few voices you would love to listen to as often as you would love to watch a sumptuous on-drive.

Richie Benaud was one such voice: never disturbing the game being played, instead giving life to it with his voice. Robin Jackman’s voice could make even a somnolent session interesting. David Lloyd’s modulation often brings a smile to the viewer’s visage. Michael Holding’s thoughts on cricket are highly respected. Among others - Nasser Hussain doesn’t hesitate to shoot his guns, Mike Atherton is to the point, Ian Chappell is shrewd and canny, and Ian Bishop is a calming influence.

 

For Indian viewers in particular, Harsha Bhogle is a breath of fresh air. He thinks thrice before commenting on a player, and even when he does he leaves the comment with a touch of optimism and a feather of sympathy. There are enough reasons to be disappointed at not having him at the IPL.

However beautiful the painting, a good frame does make it look better; however melodious the song, the background score does make it sound better. They go hand in hand, complementing each other. So too it is in sport – voice and action.

The most recent example was that of Ian Bishop’s commentary when Carlos Brathwaite hit the winning runs at the T20 world Cup finals. He owned the box as much as Carlos owned that last over. The amalgamation of voice and action was at its best.

Some days I wish Richie Benaud could come back to air that Kane Williamson back foot punch, and on other days I wish there is no one between me and that Darren Bravo cover drive.



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