When most people think Ian Bishop, their minds immediately go to the night of the final of the 2016 World T20, and the words “Carlos Brathwaite! Remember the name!”
It is at best a reductive and at worst a lazy view of the former West Indies fast bowler, who has been travelling around the world as a commentator for nearly two decades, and is now one of the most sought-after voices on the circuit. After a career that ended early because of back injuries but still yielded 161 Test wickets, Bishop has proven to be a broadcaster who finds the right words for grand occasions (that World T20 final) as well as the strange situations (the toss of the 2017 Women’s World Cup match between Australia and the Windies).
He is admired for taking stands against sledging and in favour of running out the non-striker. Known to be as religious as his surname, commentary brought Bishop back to cricket from a point where he wanted little to do with it.
Firstpost spoke to him about his commentary career. Excerpts from the interview:
Unlike many other players, you got into commentary before your retirement. Is that right?
Bishop: I think I first did radio when I got the stress fracture in my back. This was the early '90s (1991). I was injured and there was this radio station in Trinidad that was doing the Test match (Australia in West Indies, 1991) and they asked me if I would be available.
Then at the end of my career (1998), I never really wanted to be around cricket any more. I sort of decided that I wanted to be as far away from it as possible, partly because of the disappointment of not fulfilling my career, but really, I found cricket hard work, and players like myself to be hard work to deal with. So I went into the corporate sector for a while.
Then a friend of a friend who was an agent at the time came to Trinidad and asked me if I’d be interested in doing commentary for Channel 4 (UK) and asked me to do a demo tape. I later found out when I got the job that they had actually gone to Michael Holding, and quietly asked him what he thought of me coming in for that tour (Windies tour of England, 2000). Mikey was the one who spoke kindly and glowingly and that sort of opened up the door for me, and I am very thankful for him for having said that, as well as the radio stations in Trinidad who gave me that first opportunity when I was still a 20-something. So it was by chance, it wasn't design, it’s not that I wanted to go into commentary, it just happened.
You’ve obviously been pretty happy doing it, coming up on 20 years as a commentator now?
Bishop: I really do enjoy watching cricket and if I’m at the ground I sometimes, some of the guys will accuse me of being reserved or whatever, but I don't want to miss a ball. I prefer not talking to anyone because I just want to be focusing on everything that's done; I'm kind of strange in that way. And I like to listen to commentary as well. I like to be in a place where I can listen to the other commentators talking because I think it gives more insight, so when I go on commentary I can feed off what they said.
What is your preparation as a commentator like?
Bishop: I’ve learned as I’ve gone along, let me say that first. But then I’ve grown to realise that each passing year, like every other commentator, I have to research the players more in depth, not just their stats, what they would have gone through, and in multiple team tournaments like a World Cup, whether senior or junior, where there are so many names that you're not that familiar with and research is often hard to come by.
I really admire a certain group of guys, who are gifted, they don’t seem to choose the wrong words for the wrong time. I’m always looking at that, trying to see how I can be better next time I do something. So like a cricketer I’m always challenging myself.
Who are the ones that you admire?
Bishop: There are different people. Obviously Mikey has been great, he's been like a father figure, a mentor in many ways... just his forthrightness and knowledge of the game. Ian Smith is, to me, a fantastic commentator. I had the great fortune to work alongside Richie Benaud for a while, so I got to learn the fundamentals from him and the great Tony Cozier. Tony was one of the greatest teachers, without trying to teach you.
How did he do that?
Bishop: Back then Tony was considered the doyen of commentary, and sitting in the commentary box, he would engage with me, even though he was so much more senior, as if we were at the same level. We'd be able to talk cricket and discuss cricket, and it grew over the years to the point where I could say "Tony, I disagree with that", and he would take no offence! He just said "Ok I accept that, but this is why I feel that way". I learned so much from him.
To call names is always going to be bad thing because there are so many other good guys out there. Simon Doull and Scott Styris are really good young commentators who bring so much to the game. Guys like Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain, they are also very good. There is an ease in the way they approach it, just like when they were playing.
Players have pre-match routines and superstitions. Do commentators have them?
Bishop: Even as a player I didn’t like to have to rush and fuss in the morning. If one item of my clothing is off, it upsets my day. I like to be organised, and I think most of the guys do. I don’t have superstitions.
I know a lot of guys who will be in their rooms thinking deeply, about... for example, you get a message that you’re doing the toss the next morning, you try to imagine: if it’s a toss, what the pitch is like, who am I speaking to, what’s the recent history, what’s the recent history of the ground. You think about how they (the captains) might react. Do they talk a lot, do I have to be short and sharp, open-ended questions, closed questions? So you prepare yourself for not being rigid.
You said you learned as you went along. Nowadays the public is quick to pounce on even one mistake. Do you think there needs to be a school for former players who want to become broadcasters?
Bishop: I think this is something that broadcasters need to help put in place, that former players go through an education process before they enter the commentary box, because right now, there is no course you can take to go learn commentary, and there are so many more skills required than simply analysing or talking.
Commentary is now seeing an increasing pool vying for a limited number of positions. How do you deal with the uncertainty, and in some cases, insecurity, even within a commentary box?
Bishop: Like a player you have to be at your best all the time. It’s easier when you're playing because the statistics will speak for themselves. Here, there are certain commentators who I know are bringing their A game, in terms of what they know and in terms of how they communicate it, and I like that challenge. Because I know that he's going to come really good every session, so I have to be at my best for every session (also). Not to try to outdo him, but to try to bring insight to the listener or the viewer, and I like that. But at the same time you still have to have that camaraderie, because the best commentary boxes are those where there's not too much ego involved.
It’s much like (being) in a team. You want to be the best batsman in the team, but at the same time you have to know what your role is, and not try to get over the other one, because when your egos start being manifest, it can destroy harmony. I suppose with time, it doesn’t really matter to me anymore. I try to prepare as best as I can.
As for contracts, we are freelance, so we’re tour-by-tour. That's why it's important to let your work speak for itself, so you don’t have to ask others for anything. The quality of your work will be passed on by word of mouth, and so the offers will come in. Just as a player, the quality of your work in this field is even more important.