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The Cricket Commentators, Old vs New

by kelsey
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Cricket Commentators

Cricket commentators are a distinct kind of broadcaster. They are paired and work shifts during a game which, depending on the game’s format last from five to seven days. 

This is a sport that needs more explanation than others due to its intricate tactical structure and obscure techniques. There is often a contradiction in how cricket is shown on the screen. 

The less is often the better and it is it is evident when these broadcasters are speaking. The most renowned cricket commentator Richie Benaud once said ‘my motto is to put your mind in gear and if you have the ability to enhance what’s already on screen, take it up, otherwise put it down. 

The important thing is to understand the importance of a well-written and concise speech, and not to offend viewers by telling them what they already know’. 

It’s a defining assertion and if there were an authoritative guide for sports commentators, it would be the first lesson.

Benaud played at the top standard and played as captain Australia for three Ashes wins. He also acted as a commentator from an authority position, with credibility that is beyond doubt. 

The point was to not overflow the air with endless chatter or irrelevant statistics. When Benaud spoke, you were able to tell something important was about take place and our experience was improved. The very first commentators I remember are pretty accurate as it was the lively pair that cultivated my love for cricket. 

Together with Benaud was the shrewd Jim Laker. Like Benaud Laker was a star in his playing career, playing with Surrey and England during the 1950s. He was famously known for his match numbers of 19-90 against Australians in 1956. It was the match was one that Benaud played and contributed to strengthening the chemistry on air.

Laker shared the same economical and relaxed manner, but with a more serious delivery. He was definitely more likely to show the dry humor of Benaud. He could be heard laughing quietly in the background while an absurd joke was passed around. 

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While Sachin Tendulkar was enduring a turbulent time as India’s captain, Benaud wryly observed ‘sections of the Indian media are demanding Tendulkar’s head as well as other parts of his body. It’s not a surprise! It was a matter of working in shifts and had guests who were on hand to provide summaries. The former England nationals Tom Graveney and Mike Smith were always welcome guests also reporter Tony Cozier who had an exhaustive expertise in West Indian cricket.

The entire event was secured and held with the help of Peter West. With such a reverent tone, it could have broadcasting coverage of the royal wedding. 

But his mutterings from the cathedral were a crucial element to the show. I remember the tears-soaked announcement in the Headingly test in 1975’s Ashes series. 

The test was abandoned after vandals brought oil and knives to the field. Test cricket was allowed to rest on Sundays, as Jim Laker joined John Arlott to discuss John Arlott’s John Player League. Arlott seemed as English as an iced tea that was served alongside a Huntley and Palmer’s biscuit. 

His primary medium is radio and soon became synonymous with the legendary Test Match Special. But it was enjoyable to hear the initial 20 overs that were called by Arlott and Laker’s equally measured comments in the 20th over.

The radio broadcast of sports can be an incredibly frustrating and frightening experience. However, the Test Match Special led by John Arlott provided a unique perspective , and proved to be a blessing before live television took place. 

It was the only method to keep track of England’s international tours. Arlott’s love of poetry was evident as he painted vivid images for the listener’s brain. The story of a streaker once was enough to send Arlott into hyper-literary mode: “We’ve seen a streaker on the wicket right now, not particularly shaped, and it’s masculine. And I’d like to think this is the last of their cricket for this day’.

In the early 1990s, the Beeb’s hold on cricket was shattered by Sky when they broadcast the live broadcast of the England tour to The West Indies. 

The exclusive access to coverage of this year’s World Cup were later awarded to Sky leaving Beeb Corporation with a skewed package. Following 1999, the Beeb will not be broadcasting live cricket for 20 years. The times were change; Jim Laker sadly died in 1986, and Richie Benaud moved onto Channel 4 who wowed the world when they won the rights to broadcast jointly along with Sky. A new type of commentator was slowly emerging. Like football players ex-players, former players could often pass through the couch of the pundits to the commentary booth.

David Gower was an outstanding batsman who scored more than 8000 runs in the 117 tests played for England. There aren’t many adjectives in describing the left-handed player’s performance, but his skills easily carried over into a broadcasting career. 

With his self-assured charm, Gower was an instant sensation. He was a captain on the hugely popular The Think It’s Over. He also established his place as the voice for cricket on Sky. 

He formed a memorable team along with Ian Botham as they became the Benaud-Laker team which had been serving the BBC in a way. Both were former England captains They had the advantage of just being retired, which allowed them to provide real insight.

But, they also had young contenders to their title, as Gower later observed “It’s the old’uns against young’uns, Ian and myself versus Nasser and Mike. There’s plenty of intergenerational banter, as well as the usual banter in the dressing room’. 

Nasser Hussain was a part of Sky Sports as his retirement was announced in 2004. In addition to Gower, Botham and the late Bob Willis, he became the fourth England captain to join the commentary team. In the mix was the legendary David Lloyd. 

Bumble was the eccentric, but beloved uncle who brought joy to the gathering. Fifth England captain to be a part of the team is Mike Atherton. He quickly honed his skills as a journalist after retiring but would have his biggest impression through TV. He joined Sky in 2005 and was extremely adept at post-match emceeing interviewing players as well as the presenting man of the match .

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In the year 2019, Gower was dismissed by Sky after the most successful part of 20 years as their head of cricket coverage. He was generally philosophical, however many were puzzled at the choice. 

He was later re-introduced to the BT Sport coverage of the Ashes series from 2021 to 2022. Alan Tyers of the Daily Telegraph applauded the return of his ‘assuring humorous and urbane’ commentaries. 

Ian Ward was effectively Gower’s replacement as the lead presenter of Sky and has proven to be an admirable and skilled broadcaster. However, with the greatest respect, I’m unable to remember his playing days. 

A long and successful county career in Surrey was followed by five Test appearances during 2001. In contrast to his predecessors, Ward was still a player when he started his career in the media. Since then, he has since become a reliable presence as an anchor and commentator

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