Since I was very little, I have been listening to cricket commentaries. At first, between my school and S. Thomas’ College when once I was too ill to go for the Big Match. Then, between what I took to be my team, the newly named ‘Sri Lanka’ and whoever it played with. Those matches were rare, sometimes played here, but mostly over there.
Since I was very little, I have been listening to cricket commentaries. At first, between my school and S. Thomas’ College when once I was too ill to go for the Big Match. Then, between what I took to be my team, the newly named ‘Sri Lanka’ and whoever it played with. Those matches were rare, sometimes played here, but mostly over there. Here the tones of the radio commentary were similar to those during the Royal-Thomian, well enunciated, clipped and gracious, always thoughtful about the weaknesses and strengths of each side. When our team played away, the radio would cackle angrily at the shortness of waves, and most often it seemed to me, as a child, to conspire with electricity itself, or something like it, to make ‘us’ lose. We often lost, but like so many millions of others, I remember the heightening excitement of a commentator’s voice as the ball reached the boundary or the fielder’s hand in mid flight, or the deep fulsome voice of admiration as the classic cover drive was played.
Later, Sri Lanka began to play Test matches and international limited-over games with other ‘Test’ playing countries. It was, as those old enough to remember would, almost simultaneous with television here. In those days, we didn’t have satellite or cable and seventy five odd channels at home to choose from. There were I think two channels, and if there was a Test match, it was on the clearer one for sure. And, again, it was our commentators who described things, some losing the plot at once, simply doing what was done on radio earlier, but others like Michael de Zoysa, really adding value to the moving image in front of us, and the ebb and flow of the game it reflected.
Then in an era of the international channel, things changed again. Cricket was a package now; its commentary came equally well wrapped. Each voice was more distinguished than the other; he had played more, had a better record and at times, was surprisingly well spoken. In the very old days, when still even an international match on live satellite was rare, and watched on rented equipment in a rented room a murmur of awed pleasure would course through a circle of spectators, when someone said, “Richie Benaud” in reply to “who is commentating?” We didn’t do well as a country in this department either; our best offering, for years and years, was a hale, hearty, baritone whose most memorable line ever, remains, “I couldn’t agree with you more.”
A pity really, because in those days, and we are not over them yet, the voices he was agreeing with were engaged in the slow and subtle but constant and persistent denigration of my team, “Sri Lanka.” Now this is not about criticism where it’s due, and it’s due a lot, for surely, we’ve had many arid times. Sometimes it seems we are just on a horrid run, as we have been of late in Test cricket, with of course the mighty exception of the second Test at Durban. A commentary should nonetheless be balanced, each offering, as a cricketer might, not simply partisan views for ‘his’ (rarely ‘her’) team, but also a self critical evaluation of errors and weaknesses of his side, and fair praise of the other. Christopher Martin Jenkins, I think, even though never a full time commentator, and more a cricket journalist, in those very old days, sometimes
Now a number of cricketers who played for Sri Lanka have retired, some have taken to commentating; since the usual rule - broken and so proven only by the exception of the Indian non-player, nerd commentator Harsha Bogle – is that international playing experience is desired to be part of the TV team. Well, fair enough.
Sanath Jayasuriya, then, began to feature on this team, after he, with some reluctance, retired from the other team. It is not his enunciation, articulation, or use of the definite article that draws my ear to his voice when he speaks, but the deep, careful, and concisely put meta descriptions that add value to the images we see. No doubt he was a far better batsman, but as a commentator, he is quite good. Suddenly, the voices in the box, in their slow, subtle way, are turning their attention to this man’s English and beginning to make fun of it. Since we are all so very well colonised, still, even though we may have read C.L.R. James’ Beyond a Boundary, watched Ranatunge point his index finger at Umpire Emerson, and heard Sangakkara’s Cowdrey lecture, many have begun to follow this finger pointing at the so called ‘bad English’ of a good commentator, just like some prefects in my old school used to look down their noses at what we called ‘broken English.’
Really, I think it’s silly. Jayasuriya’s cricket, let us not forget, is only as broken as his batting. If that was good enough to change the game forever, perhaps broken things can push boundaries, and he deserves a chance to be heard. If the man’s words make sense, and they do, and he can speak sense to partisanship, I for one think he should carry on.