Shard Ugra has a post up on Cricinfo reviewing the 2012 edition of the IPL. It is a great summary post where she acknowledges the increase in crowds and the improvement in the quality of cricket in this edition. She is also however accurately critical of the TV coverage of the event. She points out correctly that the commentary and studio coverage undermined the rest of the event. I agree with her take and would love to see the commentary improve substantially. It would make the games that much better to watch. Administrators worldwide also want to expand the audience for the sport thru the T-20 format and the IPL is the league often mentioned as the vehicle for evangelizing new audiences. For that mission to be successful, the game commentary has to improve by leaps and bounds.
While Sharda Ugra does point fingers correctly at the bodies involved in the coverage and presentation to television audiences everywhere, she is too polite and Cricinfo is too politically correct to call out individual commentators. But fear not! This blog is never going to be home to the politically correct. So here’s my post ranting about and ranking and rating the various commentators who worked IPL 5.
Disclaimers: All opinions are subjective and commentators are presented in ascending order of performance. Also, I watched all the games on Willow and hence was not privy to any of the pre-game coverage or studio shows audiences in India got to see. Lastly, I don’t remember enough of Robin Jackman, Ackerman, Kepler Wessels or Alastair Campbell at this year’s IPL to have a strong enough opinion of them.
So here without further ado, are my grades for all other television commentators at IPL 5 –
Grade : F aka Should not be brought back as commentators even if they’re the only humans left on Earth
In spite of working games for over a decade, Rameez Raja has a very feeble grasp of English grammar. This would not be a problem if he were describing events in Urdu. Unfortunately Rameez is paid handsomely and gets to travel the world, as an English-speaking commentator whose job it is to describe action on the cricket pitch, in English. Rameez has shown zero inclination to work on his syntax and why should he, when television channels and production companies keep employing him. In a tournament with minimal Pakistani presence or influence, Rameez’s presence was an insult to the fans and viewers of the sport. Even the banal, mundane and highly repeatable exercises of the coin toss, innings break conversations and presentation ceremonies are beyond Rameez’s abilities. As a batsman, Rameez was stoic, slow but dependable. As a commentator in this year’s IPL, he was stoic, barely coherent and highly dispensable.
L Sivaramakrishnan (Siva)
L Siva’s rapid rise, meteoric fall and time away from the sport have the potential to be extremely interesting fodder for cricketing conversations. An honest appraisal of self plus a forthright analysis of cricketers far less talented than him combined with some humor would make L Siva the best ex-cricketer turned commentator on Indian television. Instead what we have is commentary that is so plain, so lacking in insight and so insulting to the vast swathes of people watching that I am shocked that none of his peers have insulted him on-air yet. Siva reads everything that is displayed on the screen. I wish someone would inform him that he is commentating on TV and that 99.9% of viewers can see and read the text displayed on the screen. Siva is also so insecure of his role and in such a hurry to whore himself to his corporate bosses that he describes attempts by fielders to take difficult catches as “would have been a Karbonn Kamaal catch”. He also described a missed direct hits as ‘could have been a Citi moment of success’. With corporate whores like him, why wouldn’t people think the IPL is tainted.
Siva also lacks context. He could flip on his assessments of the pitch, bowling and batting in the mere matter of a couple of boundaries. He also attributes causation to every set of events. If a batsman were to score boundaries of edges he is praised for his courage while the same batsman is lambasted for the same stroke if the edge were to carry to a fielder. Every comment he makes is reactive and has the nuance or intelligence of a fourth grader.
Danny Morrison is loud. I would have a lot of things to say about his lack of thought, his lack of vocal intonation and his portrayal of the village idiot but all of that is overridden by the fact that he is loud. Danny thinks every boundary moves the Richter scale and needs to be described accordingly. He also has no use for the full stop or comma. Every statement is long prose where the start has no connection to the finish.
Sharda Ugra said “The match coverage is directly under the control of the organisers IMG, who in turn are watched by the BCCI, which controls the panel of presenters and commentators for the IPL.” When the IMG and BCCI define commentary as 25% continuous promotion of the sponsors, 25% lack of analytical thought or criticism, 25% treating the viewers as barely literate kids and 25% yelling in semi-coherent English – Danny Morrison, Rameez Raja and L Sivaramakrishnan are what you get.
Grade : D aka should be removed from their jobs for there’s better options available
Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri – I pair these two
doyens of the commentary box cricket field because they share the absolute same traits that annoy one and all. They have done this job for so long that they don’t care any more. They bring nothing new to the table and have such intricate relationships with players, coaches and administrators every where that they will shoot their wives before they actually criticize any one remotely influential. Their clichés are predictable and sad. They offer zero context or history in spite of having witnessed some of cricket’s most epochal moments and changes over the last four decades. At various stages of the IPL, they found themselves defending the city of Mumbai, the team of Mumbai, India, BCCI or the IPL itself. During the crucial climactic stages of a close game, suggestions on strategies are repeatedly conspicuously absent. Why are they in the booth if they are not willing to mae one prediction or one criticism or one tough call?
No one knows why these two are employed any more or why they even want to keep doing this. I always wonder if they haven’t watched enough cricket and made enough money? For the amount of travel and effort that covering cricket today entails, why wouldn’t they put in more thought or effort into their commentary? For ex-cricketers with extraordinary amounts of influence and cachet, these two Mumbaikars are sad, pitiful examples of wasted opportunities. The IPL can do better. Younger, more passionate voices can do a better job. I hope the BCCI and IMG agree.
Pommie Mbangwa – Pommie Mbangwa is the answer to the question “How successful an international player can you be to be a bad commentator employed by the BCCI?” Mbangwa’s bowling career was nondescript. Just like his commentary was and is. He butchers Indian names, game situations and even sponsor cues. Yet for some reason his cheery smile has successfully masked his incompetence. There must be some ulterior motive to the BCCI gainfully employing Mbangwa at the IPL – such as possibly allowing the BCCI to get the crucial Zimbabwe vote at ICC elections. Otherwise his employment makes no sense. Here’s hoping he’s not back for IPL 6!
Grade : C aka not terrible and can improve but I am still not shy of using the mute button
Simon Doull, Craig Mcmillan and Dermot Reeve
None of these three commentators distinguished themselves. Them getting a C grade from me is almost entirely due to the incompetence of names listed earlier rather than anything these three did. Craig Mcmillan and Dermot Reeve showed a sense of humor at various times in the competition. Simon Doull was never too loud or too intrusive on the game action. All three also showed the ability to contextualize situations and games. Dermot Reeve was revolutionary one day cricketer and captain at the county level in the 90’s. It would be interesting to the median viewer to listen to his thoughts and strategies. I hope that is a larger part of his commentary in future editions of the IPL.
I don’t have a lot of profound praise or suggestions for these three. I can watch cricket matches with these three commentating and the sound not turned off. And sometimes that is all I need.
Grade : B aka Mostly good and I watch the game unmuted when they’re on
Lord knows, this blog has been critical of Harsha Bhogle’s writings. My critique of his ambivalence and inability to use his pen and column as bully pulpits for Indian cricket are here and here.
However within the context of the tournament and other commentators, Harsha Bhogle’s work was outstanding. His focus on the cricket, his interviews including a memorable on of Prasanna, his focus on the big picture of Indian and World cricket (like when he focused in on the performance of Yadav,Aaron and Awana as India’s fast bowling future in the Delhi vs. Punjab games) and his ability to find context at all times make him indispensable in the commentary box. While his desire to not criticize several sacred institutional and public personalities annoys me no end, his description of events on the cricket field leave little to be desired. He integrates the corporate aspects of the league seamlessly. He takes a back seat to vocal crowds and critical moments while flagging key events appropriately. American sport does a great job of separating play-byplay voices from the ones who provide analysis. For cricket play-by-play television commentary there is no one better than Harsha Bhogle. He enhanced the IPL viewing experience for me and should be a must-have at all future editions.
Grade : A aka entertaining and informative and someone I listen to and learn from
Sanjay Manjrekar is respectful, direct and concise. He knows context, is hip with social media and uses his time at the commentary booth wisely. He was a technically sound batsman in his day and puts forward uniquely insightful takes on batsman’s footwork and technique. He does not let the format or the frenzy color his judgement on a batsman’s intent, execution. He respects the audience by providing several examples and incidents from past tournaments and series. He also manages to blend in Twitter rants, gossip and corporate sponsorships seamlessly without taking away from the viewing experience.
Manjrekar still has some ways to go in fully understanding the business side of cricket and the franchise building side of the IPL. Too often he forgot how rosters were built and criticized inaction where franchise action would have been illegal. But that is something he can certainly improve on especially with his attitude which (unlike fellow Mumbai commentators) comes across as earnest, humble and keen.
Here’s hoping one of Indian cricket’s batting underachievers gets to overachieve in the commentary booth for a long time to come.
Tom Moody brings everything that an ex-cricketer and ex-coach should bring to the table. He calls his shot and one of the memorable overs of the tournament (AB De Villiers destroying Dale Steyn in Bangalore) was made even more memorable by the fact that Moody was profuse in his praise of De Villiers right thru the Bangalore innings. Moody is very secure in his role and calls out bad coaching, playing when he sees it. He challenges fellow commentators and is more critical of gaffes and incompetence than everyone else on the list. He also provides great context, anecdotes from his coaching days and has a sense of humor about his own skills and talents. He is far from dismissive of the league, the format or India while also calling out peers on hyperbole.
He is a great ambassador for the game and should be a part of all ensuing IPL coverage.
In the comments area below or on Twitter, please let me know what aspects of my ranking and rating you agree or disagree with?