January 9, 2008

Of Bhogle, Tony Greig and ARUN LAL!

At the end of every bilateral series, Cricinfo comes up with scores out of 10 for each player based on his performances in the entire series. I thought I would conduct a similar exercise for commentators. The only difference is that unlike players, commentators are not subject to the vagaries of form and hence these ratings reflect my opinion of how good or bad a particular commentator is in general.

Harsha Bhogle 9

A contradiction to the popular notion that only ex-players are qualified to comment on the game, Bhogle is a breath of fresh air in a usually staid commentary box. In fact, the average user can relate more to him simply because he has not donned international colours for his country. Consequently nothing he says is tainted with the overbearing authority or arrogance of an ex-player, thus allowing the viewer a chance to disagree with him. Armed with a marvellous vocabulary, Bhogle is eloquent and always fair in his assessment of a player/ team. A point deducted for a tendency of getting a tad over-excited at times.

Barry Richards 8.5

I have not had the privilege of listening to Barry Richards very often. In fact, the recent India-Australia was the first time I heard him for a significant period. What comes across effortlessly is his ability to read the game and an uncanny knack of predicting what the bowler or batsman is going to try next. I believe he leaves his co-commentator as impressed as the audience with his sharp cricket brain. Coupled with this is his fearlessness in disagreeing with his colleagues while on air. Diplomacy at the best of times is, well, boring. Difference of opinion entertains, sometimes almost as much as the action in the field. Deduction in points because of his voice which can be grating at times and his reading of the Indian pitches is as good as my ability to code in BASIC.

David Lloyd 8.5

‘Bumble’ Lloyd is turning out to be the heir apparent to Henry Blofield and is taking over Boycott’s mantle of India’s favourite English commentator. With a strong Lancastrian accent, he matches Boycott in the accent stakes and has people in splits without having to refer to his grandmother on air. Anyone who heard his modernized rendition of the legend of Robin Hood during India’s test in Nottingham will testify. To top it all off, his favourite football club is Accrington Stanley which sounds like a Quidditch team Harry Potter would support. Oh by the way, when he talks about cricket, he shows why he was coach of England once.

Geoffrey Boycott 8

Another one from the old school. Boycott is so full of brazen opinions that he makes Ian Chappell look like a boy scout. A legend in India for his honesty (and his Yorkshire accent no doubt), he is never shy of taking the mickey out of his colleagues. The ego is all too apparent even when he is talking and sometimes tends to detract from the action. There is never a dull moment though, when he is in the hot seat. It’s either anecdotes from his playing days or hilarious comparisons between players he doesn’t like and his “moom”. His verbal duels with ESPN’s (ex) resident jester Navjot Singh Sidhu made for some great moments.

Ian Chappell 7

Chappell is the epitome of the “ugly” Australian. He usually has a controversial and loud opinion on all things cricket, and everything else too, I would imagine. He makes it plain that only ex international players are qualified to comment on anything that goes on within the field which means there is a hint of the dismissive in his voice when he is paired with Harsha Bhogle or Alan Wilkins. He is considered one of the shrewdest captains of his time and the reason can be understood from his razor sharp insights into the game. Lately though, he has developed a couple of not-so-endearing traits. One is his proclivity to delivering judgments on a new player immediately and then refusing to back down, even in the face of evidence which goes against what he thinks. An example would be Matt Prior during the English summer. The second is frequent sentences which begin with “when I was playing”. Invariably things were better when he was playing and cricket is going to the dogs now – a la Bishan Singh Bedi.

Tony Greig 6.5

Greig, surprisingly comes off as very different from what he was portrayed as a player. The genial, friendly attitude is in sharp contrast to his confrontational antics during his playing days (“We’ll make ‘em grovel” probably being one of the most offensive and definitely the dumbest statement ever made). It would not be a surprising if he has high blood pressure – so excited does he get by things that would seem mundane to most. A sharply run couple is akin to a stick of dynamite placed beneath his chair, while a six, well, it would seem that horses have to be summoned to prevent him from jumping right into the field on such a momentous occasion. Given this habit, he occasionally comes across as a male version of the dumb blonde, but the same habit also enlivens a soporific match and keeps the adrenalin flowing during an exciting one.

Ravi Shastri 6.5

A trier, much like during his playing days. Shastri is well spoken and can elucidate when the mood takes him. Suffers from a lack of original input and his incessant use of clich├ęs – “jyest what the doctor ordered” being his favourite – is designed to draw tears of frustration from a piece of cardboard. Despite these shortcomings, he is fair in his assessment and doesn’t shy away from airing his opinions. ‘The Shaz and Waz show’ during India’s tour of Australia in 2003 highlighted the man’s earthy side and endeared him to the audiences. Arguably the best Indian ex-cricketer in the commentary box.

Nasser Hussain 6

Nasser Hussain started off as one of the most irritating commentators on air; opinionated and extremely biased, basically an English Gavaskar. However, he is emerging to be one of the better speakers on evidence of the India England series. Wearing his English heart under his shirt rather than on his sleeve, Nas’ insightful remarks added significantly to the pleasure of watching the India England series. It did help that almost every time Hussain found a flaw in Rahul Dravid’s field placing, Dravid changed the field to exactly what he was advocating. On present form, his ratings will only rise with each passing series.

Sunil Gavaskar 3

Gavaskar clearly suffers from a big hangover of his playing days. Always on the defensive and always on the lookout for any perceived slight to India or an Indian player, he can be an embarrassment at times. A Tendulkar inside edge is talked about for the purity of its technique for 5 minutes, so God forbid Sachin hits a six when Gavaskar is on air! People go for a fifteen minute walk and return to find him still talking about the straightness of the bat, the placement of the feet and the determination (for God’s sake!)in the eye. Jokes which would struggle to elicit a smile from one of those ‘laughter clubs’ and a flatness of voice which would put an elephant in a coma, Gavaskar is best listened to with the mute option activated. Great player though.

Rameez Raja 3

Raja suffers from a paradoxical malady. An inability to communicate clearly coupled with the constant need to say something. His sentences are usually garbled and grammatically horrific – a sure passport to multiple dates with the cane when he was studying in convent school. He tries too hard to prove a point, and on the few occasions when he is right, repeats it enough number of times to convince the audience that the time has come to end it all and jump off a high rise.

Laxman Sivaramakrishnan 3

Siva reminds me of a ventriloquist’s dummy – in that he serves as a mouth piece for the “main man” (read co-commentator) -“Stand and Deliver” being the sole concession to “originality”. Suffers from Tendulkar-mania much like his Indian counterparts and is usually found sitting on the fence over any other issue – ready to tumble whichever way his colleague goes. Zero voice modulation, which is unlikely to earn him any public-speaking awards.

Arun Lal 1

Mr. Lal earns a point because he can listen to himself and yet not consume 700 sleeping pills. If we ever get the news that he uses ear plugs, he’ll get a zero. I am sure it was an unfortunate encounter with Lal that led Goscinny and Underzo to create Cacophonix. Few people were as unsuited for a job as Lal is for commentary in English. He can compete with Raja in the garbled stakes, cross swords with Gavaskar over who worships Tendulkar more and is in a league of his own when it comes to non-stop drivel that necessitates copious consumption of Prozac.

Special Mention

Sreenivasan Radhakrishnan (Neo Sports Anchor) 0

I honestly have nothing to say.