For the few Test cricket devouts here, an India tour of Australia is pilgrimage time. Having witnessed Australian men dominate our boys in the ’90s and then India fighting back on various occasions in the 2000s to create a new rivalry, we began soaking in every Indian tour to Australia, optimism running high. The cricket too, grew upon us, the results got better (we’re still hopeful this series will follow the trend) and moments such as Irfan yorking Gilchrist and Sehwag smashing 195 have been carved in stone.
A crucial element behind this gratification we purists got every four years was the television experience. After being inundated by shoddy home series telecasts with ads that truncate the first/last balls of every over, uninteresting (okay, annoying) commentators and gutkha promotions in the stadiums, the Australia tour was a dip in the Ganga. Star Sports’ coverage, with the Channel 9 logo intact, with the Aussie style scoreboard (wickets/runs), graphics such as ‘today’s attendance’ packaged with sights of seagulls behind slips and spectators lounging with mugs of beer was all part of the experience. And waking up at five in the morning for it (something which will remain unthinkable for other pursuits such as workouts) was the least I could do to teleport myself to Australian time.
However, this began changing, albeit subtly, from the last tour (2008) onwards. Star Sports became Star Cricket, a dedicated channel to satiate the cricket-famished Indians; Richie Benaud bowed out after a glorious innings behind the mike but I still watched on (perhaps the cricket was too gripping to complain about anything). But this time, the telecast has been unmistakably Indian-ised. An erstwhile traditional Australian meat pie is being served with chat masala and I have a problem.
Firstly, there are no Australian references on-screen (of course, it’s not a Channel 9 feed anymore). Yes, to tell us of memorabilia auctions or where the tickets of the next match could be bought from was pointless, but it carried a local charm. The inverted scoreboard is long gone and L-shaped advertisements have begun infiltrating into my screen. And wait, I spotted something right on the Boxing Day morning that made me cringe – some boundary ropes now bear the words ‘Pan Bahar Pan Masala’.
That said, I would still have tolerated this Neo Sports-isation of an Australia tour had it not been for the utterly disappointing commentary team. Agreed, the days of Benaud and Bill Lawry delivering the proceedings with candid grace and thick accents are gone, but er, what we have here is an antithesis of charm. Much has been said about the prince of predictability Ravi Shastri (including this recent article by Yours Truly) so I’ll give just one instance of his latest notoriety: on pacer Hilfenhaus being brought back for a new spell to break a Sachin-Dravid partnership, our man announced, “He has a knack of picking up wickets…”
Umm... as opposed to a knack of putting out bush fires, genius?
Another culprit here is Wasim Akram. True I have relished his esteemed career but the man is nothing but an embarrassment in the commentary box. His insights are peculiar but the grammar-less words in which they come out could make any fan sigh for him. He is often assisted by our Sourav Ganguly, who, having been in the thick of India-Australia rivalry in the past decade, can bring great value to the microphone if he leaves behind his pet terms such as ‘fantastic’ and ‘terrific’ in his hotel room.
At the risk of sounding racist, the saving grace here, are the two goras, Ian Chappell and Tom Moody, especially Chappell with his sharp, if nasal criticisms. Conspicuous by his absence has been Harsha Bhogle, one of the game’s finest commentators, but he’s still on ABC radio on match days, so I stream it after putting the TV monstrosities on mute. Wonder if the BCCI is reading this and decides to ‘buy and plant in’ some fine commentators (Botham? Geoff Lawson? Okay, Shane Warne?) to salvage our viewing experience.
Thankfully, some broadcast elements such as crafty camera angles, hot-spot and ultra-slow motion (wasn’t the ultra slow-mo replay of Sachin raising arms upward with the SCG crowd applauding in the background the most delicious sight of Sydney, ’04?) are still in place and so are the lush grounds and generous crowds. And if Dhoni’s men find their grit and script a comeback in the remainder of the series, I’d have no option but to reset my alarm to 5 am.
But of course, I fear this chat masala will be worse next series. Who knows, some cement/tooth powder ads would infest the Gabba or an Arun Lal and Laxman WTF-Krishnan might get a ticket to Australia for commentary. Or worse, as it has done in the past, the Board might dictate that the games to be played according to Indian Standard prime time. In that case, there won’t be any need to wake up at 5.
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Updated Date: Jan 10, 2012 09:24:56 IST