Writing in his latest blog for PakPassion.net, Fazeer Mohammed joins the debate on what makes the ideal cricket commentator and also offers his praise for India captain, Virat Kohli.
By Fazeer Mohammed (6th February, 2018)
In a technology-driven era of high-definition resolution, multiple cameras, drones zooming all over the place and players wired for sound, you might think that the commentator is almost an irrelevance to television coverage of cricket.
Yet it appears the opposite is true. Everyone seems to have a very forthright opinion on the quality of commentary these days and much of it appears to be very negative.
But to be fair to the commentator, he or she just can’t win with the audience because it is always possible to find something objectionable. Some want the measured delivery of a Richie Benaud, others prefer the antics of a Danny Morrison. Commentators are pilloried for being too critical or chastised for appearing to bow to the will of the game’s power-brokers.
At the end of the day it really is a matter of personal taste. Do you want to be informed or entertained, or somewhere in the middle? Do you appreciate a bit of controversy or historical context brought into the discussion, or do you want the pompous know-it-all to just focus on the cricket out in the middle?
There is even the issue of post-colonial bias, where everything is measured on the assumption that the English are the very best so many commentators are tripping over each other in getting all their favourite English expressions out in a half-hour stint. When voices from other parts of the world try to be themselves they are lambasted as second-rate, yet when they copy the famous names they are dismissed as poor imitations.
Cricket audiences are different all over the world. A commentator may be loved in one country and despised in another, either for reasons of style or personality or factors that have absolutely nothing to do with cricket or commentary.
We are in an era of television commentary dominated by former players. This is often lamented by some observers who prefer the broader context and worldview of professional broadcasters. However the only reason this trend continues to grow to the point where trained broadcasters are almost totally squeezed out is because this is what the viewers want.
For countless millions of fans, it doesn’t matter how skilled or how knowledgeable a commentator is, reputation as a former player of some significance counts for everything. Absolute rubbish from an outstanding former player is accepted as authoritative. Excellent perspectives of a commentator with no playing background of note are considered irrelevant.
That’s just how it is, so those who enjoy bashing commentators and lamenting what they perceive to be continually declining standards need to acknowledge their own biases and preferences first of all, while at the same time appreciating the reality that many cricket boards expect commentators to be public relations officers and not independent observers.
And on the topic of biases, my own preference is for two fellow West Indians in Michael Holding and the late Tony Cozier. Michael knows the game inside-out and is always forthright in expressing his opinion on any issue in the game while Tony was the epitome of the consummate broadcaster – professional, articulate, knowledgeable, versatile and with the good sense that only comes with experience of building a story around the television images.
One contemporary cricketing image that tells its own story is Virat Kohli in full flow. Commentators usually exhaust superlatives in describing an innings of the Indian captain, especially One-Day Internationals, a format of the game in which he has developed a dominating, match-winning reputation that harkens back to the legendary Sir Vivian Richards.
Like the incomparable “Master Blaster” who stood head and shoulders above other excellent players in a strong batting West Indies line-up of the 1970’s and 1980’s, Kohli blends quality with aggression and artistry with arrogance to the extent that he intimidates opponents at the crease, especially when he is leading the chase towards a challenging target.
Like Richards before him, Kohli’s combative manner often makes for some awkward moments in the middle but that is all part of the package of a personality who leads from the front with bat in hand and as captain of a team that has become increasingly assertive and is prepared to stand toe-to-toe and match insult with insult against any opponent.
That abrasive side may not appeal to every follower of the game, although there can hardly be any serious challenge to his status as the finest ODI batsman around. It is not just the weight of runs but the style with which they are accumulated and the clinical, calculated manner in which he engineers a run-chase so effectively.
Very importantly, and this is something true of all exceptional talents in all disciplines, Kohli never appears satisfied, is never one to be making all sorts of excuses on the rare occasion that the job is not accomplished, and seems to always have an air of impatience, as if there is so much more to achieve for himself and his team and so little time to get it done. Virat Kohli, in my view, is truly a class apart.