Cricket without commentary is like a stylish batsman without runs, a fast bowler without wickets and a wicketkeeper without catches to his name. Many fans of the game remember victorious moments due to commentary; Javed Miandad’s last-ball six is as much popular today as Iftikhar Ahmed’s Man of the Moment comment; Shahid Afridi’s six off Stuart Broad is nothing without David Lloyd or Mark Nicholas’s Boom Boom; a shot up in the air means nada without late Tony Grieg’s ‘Up She Goes’ making it all the more memorable. Sadly, all these examples are now considered a dream for fans of the game in Pakistan, because the worse the commentator, the more he seems to be promoted in Pakistan.
The golden era
Before Television came to Pakistan, cricket commentary was at its best in the country. With people like Jamsheed Marker, Omar Kureishi and later Munir Hussain, Radio ruled the airwaves because of these learned and passionate individuals. They knew how to describe whatever was in front of them to a person miles away, without irritating him and keeping his interest alive throughout the match. They carried their good work even after the matches began to be televised, adjusting to the medium like professionals. The legendary Iftikhar Ahmed, Chishty Mujahid, and Shahzad Humayun (in English) and Hasan Jalil, Mirza Iqbal Baig and others (in Urdu) who took over and carried their legacy forward till the 1990s. The high time for cricket commentary in Pakistan was the 1996 World Cup which was hosted by Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, where the world’s best commentators came to Pakistan and the audience emerged as the winner.
And then, Pakistan decided to follow the world by using former cricketers (who were till then experts in the commentary box) as the men behind the microphone, without realizing that cricketers abroad had a better education system than the ones in Pakistan, barring a few like Imran Khan, Mohsin Khan, etc. At first, when Mohsin Khan joined the international panel of commentators for the first Sahara Cup in the mid-90s, he was phenomenal in the Commentary box. From pointing out the bowlers’ mistake to criticising the fielding of both the teams, he made Pakistanis proud through his vocabulary and understanding of the game.
However, when other cricketers were thrown into the commentary box after the successful Mohsin Khan experiment, many failed to deliver. Call it lack of exposure, lack of training or lack of education but not everyone who is fluent in English can be a good commentator; similarly not every good Cricketer would necessarily be a good commentator. The audience understood where the broadcasters went wrong but in the absence of Social media, they couldn’t make the officials realize their mistake. For the broadcasters, they still have not realized that there is even a problem, and have continued to use the same people for Cricket Commentary, who seem to be accountable to no one.
With the advent of Social media, YouTube and access to international matches on Cable TV, cricket fans in Pakistan have become mature. The same kid who used to bear Azhar Khan’s terrible commentary in Urdu and English during his childhood now makes memes of him losing his voice on air; Intikhab Alam might have been a good player but with his voice, commentary should have been the last thing he should have attempted. Yet he continued being a commentator for quite a long time, agonising the listeners along the way. Those who followed him including a couple of former captains turned Commentators might be good for ruining the listener’s grammar, but shouldn’t be allowed to enter the commentary box.
With the new generation growing up listening to international cricketers turned commentators such as Sunil Gavaskar, Sir Ian Botham, Sir Geoffrey Boycott, David Gower, David Lloyd, Michael Atherton, Ian Bishop, Michael Holding, Russel Arnold, and Nasser Hussain, first-class Cricketers Mark Nicholas, Alan Wilkins, and non-cricketer Harsha Bhogle, they know when the person behind the mic is making sense and when he isn’t. Sadly, during the on-going National T20 Cricket tournament, most of the commentators did not make sense. It seems many of them are trying to learn the ropes on the job, and are failing miserably.
They don’t realize that international broadcasters watch these matches when they are available online and if we can’t stop ourselves from laughing at the anecdotes that go on air, just imagine how they would react. It is high time that Pakistan Cricket Board takes commentary seriously and train handful of officials to save Pakistan from further embarrassment at the international level. Ramiz Raja and Wasim Akram are surviving in the international circuit because they have worked hard and proved their mettle; the rest will have to do the same before they even try to imitate these players, let alone think of emulating them.