Solving Cricket’s Commentary Problem

Harsha Bhogle has written a characteristically perceptive piece on what we can do now to improve cricket commentary. The most radical suggestion is to offer viewers the “no-commentary” option; that is, just enjoy the visuals and graphics without an annoying man injecting his interpretation (or, more typically, silly anecdotes) into your ears. Here are some general thoughts:

1) I am not a fan of the Indian commentary team (except Bhogle, of course), but I will always leave the commentary on when I watch a cricket game. I don’t know why this is; I think we’ve been conditioned to have both sound and sight together (and by ‘we,’ I mean kids born in the 1980s era, not you old radio-only fogies). Do other people feel this way? Would you prefer no-commentary to insipid commentary?

2) Bhogle argues that cricket viewers deserve more choice, since they are, ultimately, the consumers funding the whole enterprise. So if some, like Jarrod Kimber, want nerdy cricket talk, they should be able to get it; and if others want Danny Morrison, they should deserve to die in hell. (My words, not Bhogle’s.) This is part of the overall drive to customization that the Internet has unleashed (the “Daily Me,” as it’s known), and it’s good in that it seemingly empowers particular niche preferences, but it’s bad in that it does, in a sense, fracture the community. Didn’t we all once upon a time fall in love with Richie Benaud and hold his voice as the standard to be met? [Some may argue that the universal Benaud-love was hardly so, and instead catered to a particularly powerful community — old white guys — who had the power and now don’t.]

3) Bhogle seems to think that because the visuals have gotten better (technology wise), the sounds should inevitably follow. That’s not quite right. There are plenty of professions that suffer from Baumol’s cost disease — the famous example is that it takes just as much time and effort for a quartet to play a Beethoven piece now as it did in the 18th century. No, one of the great attractions of commentary is that it is indelibly human. Commentators, as we know, make mistakes; they say annoying things; they go off on useless tangents, and they are also, quite often, insightful. Cricket telecasts have become increasingly artificial — the graphics, the silly 3D replications of a bowler, Hawkeye…Why not resist the perfectionist drive of technology and retain the flaws of the commentator?

5 thoughts on “Solving Cricket’s Commentary Problem

  1. If there were a crowd+on-field noise without commentary option for the IPL (and many T20/ODIs in general), I would switch to it often. I also think having a strong pairing of one commentator for color and one for depth would work for most cases. Only problem is that T20s don’t provide time for depth, and frankly, there doesn’t seem to be a push for in-game or in-season narrative-building. Either the market isn’t there, or T20s aren’t conducive to analysis, or the commentators are lazy.

  2. lou says:

    I like the idea of crowd plus onfield, excellent suggestion. I’m an old fogey so I turn down commentary a lot, it’s just too repetitive much of the time. The IPL commentary is tedious, when you describe everything in superlative or the opposite, relentlessly negative terms, it means that there is no bar to measure anything by.

    I’m an Aussie and the Nine commentary team are utterly unbearable most the time. Except when they get Mike Hussey on as he’s so new that he hasn’t perfected his own line of tedious schtick yet and actually talks about the game he’s watching. It’s like sticking a martian amongst them.

  3. chrisps says:

    Where cricket coverage is funded principally by advertising, the ‘no commentary’ option is unlikely to be tolerated as the commentators play a part in publicising the paymasters’ products and services. The idea may have some legs where viewers pay subscriptions – UK, USA. Like you, I suspect I would keep the commentary on – if only to alert me of some action that deserves closer attention.

    • Alex Braae says:

      Good point there. If there was no commentary how would we know if someone had taken a ‘Karbon Kamaal Catch’ (or whatever the ridiculous fuck it is now)

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