The elusive search for a cricketer-turned-commentator who doesn’t spout clichés and actually talks in an entertaining and informative manner is over. Two days are no sample size to make a decision on but the search for that good ex-cricketer turned commentator has gone on for so long and has been so wrong in the past that a risky pick based on initial excitement seems warranted.
Matthew Hayden, that stoic and burly Queenslander who epitomized the ugly Australian over a decade is cricket’s next great commentator…by a country mile.
I listened to Hayden for the first time on the pre-match show on the first day of the Hyderabad test. He immediately caught my attention when he was shockingly cliche-free. Years of watching cricket on TV have made me cynical and so used to the clichés that are spouted that listening to Hayden was like listening to someone speak about cricket in a different language. But it sounded and felt good. It was as though someone had skipped the mandatory indoctrination/commentary manual provided to anyone who decides to talk about cricket for a living.
I then listened to Hayden thru various stints on the first two days of the test. He was refreshingly different from anyone else I have heard in a long time in just how self-effacing he was. He humanized himself and talked in great detail about his strengths, weaknesses and memories in a manner few people can. He talked about meeting Venkataraaghavan in Chennai in 1995. He talked about learning to play the sweep shot against spinners. He talked about the time MS Dhoni visited his house for a meal. He described Dhoni the person and how he decompressed away from the game. He talked about playing Ashwin in the nets as a member of the Chennai Super Kings and how it was different from playing other offspinners.
He talked about Biryani and the beaches near Chennai. He talked about bat lengths and reverse swing. He joked about his skills in the most self-effacing way possible and at no point tried to act better-than-thou to the Aussies on the field who were struggling on a day 1 pitch.
He is also a tremendous follow on Twitter as these tweets below should indicate.
Arrived in India.Really looking forward to Test Match Tomorrow. Had my 2 fav foods in India all ready Curd rice and mango pickle! YUM!
— Matthew Hayden (@HaydosTweets) March 1, 2013
@warne888 think we need you back Warney!!! Any chance?
— Matthew Hayden (@HaydosTweets) March 3, 2013
Most TV commentators forget that most of their audience is not blind and can see the pictures and numbers on the screen as well as they can. Good commentary is about capturing the experience at the venue for those watching in their homes. It is about finding analogies and describing personal memories that add flavor while being relevant to the play on the field. It is about doing all this without intruding on the actual action on the field and while also allowing other commentators to get their words in.
Matthew Hayden did all of this and more. He was such a revelation that I am already bummed he is not expected to be part of the series beyond this test match. When he batted, no one was more annoying to watch (as an Indian fan). I am shocked about this as much as anyone else but Matthew Hayden is already my favorite commentator. He is fresh, he is interesting and entertaining. The search for the good commentator is harder than that for a batsman or an administrator. Here’s hoping the powers-in-charge agree and give Matthew Hayden plenty of chances soon.