Sunday, November 16, 2008

IN PRAISE OF CRICINFO COMMENTARY

There's something about Cricinfo commentary. There is. Something that TV, even with Bill Lawry commentating at the death overs, cannot equal. There's something to those words that come onscreen, making you imagine what's actually happening.

This reminds me of something I read in an old issue of Sportstar, about how radio made cricket fans in the 1960s and 70s recreate Lord's and Sydney in their heads, imagine Trueman to be running down and Sobers playing it away in the manner the commentator described. The mind had just a few two-dimensional images of the world's greatest cricketers (and not from billboards) to anneal into a virtual cricket stadium. There was a sense of romance in that, wasn't there? It's like what Stephen Fry said about PG Wodehouse... You feel as if you have contrived with Wodehouse to make his humour click. Similarly, you feel like you've contributed to part of the match by imagining the setting, the players' stances, the audience reaction...

And the Cricinfo text commentary is all this and more in an era where we prefer to check mail before brushing our teeth. There is no doubt that watching the game live on TV is still where the action is (and to those of us who are particularly masochistic, going to stadii to watch games is an option too). But for some of us who are internet and cricket addicts both, the Cricinfo Commentary is special.

Imagine this. Tense match on, everyone is jittery. When you look at just text on screen, you conjure up your own images. You read the text and run your own Tony Grieg commentary in your head. You are not restricted by TV contracts, commentator contracts, etc. You can have Bill Lawry and Bob Willis commentating on India v New Zealand. You can have Michael Holding and the fired Navjot Sidhu together for a Pakistan-Holland game. You can have anyone you want, speaking in any level of energy, in any words you want.

And as a batsman takes that one run to move himself from 99 to 100, you can imagine any celebration you like, aided by what Cricinfo tells you. They say he's excited. He might be jumping, hugging his mate, pumping fists, pointing his bat at the media box... There is only so much Cricinfo can tell you, and your mind conjures up the rest... Without being confined by the limits of what really happens. TV is so narrow! You would be subjected to Neo Sport's pathetic commentary, greeted by animated mascots and commentators talking about DLF Maximum Sixes on air. On-screen, you are free of market forces.


And then, you have the sheer anticipation that text brings you. A tense tense match, and all that the text says for the first few seconds is 'Symonds to Yuvraj. Four!'. You celebrate the numerical implications of the boundary. At this point, you really don't care whether he whacked it over mid-off or steered it to third man. Then, when it's sunk in, you go back to the commentary on your screen, and read about how it was a thumping cover drive, and then replay it in your head, complete with crowd reaction, bowler grimace and Ganguly pumping his fist from the balcony.

Moreso for a wicket. Tense match, India bowling.
'Zaheer to Younis. OUT!'. As soon as you see the 'OUT', you're celebrating. You have no idea what happened. Was it a plumb LBW with a peach of a delivery? Was it a controversial Michael Clarke-like cheat catch which will be on the front pages of newspapers for weeks? Was it a regulation 'keeper catch? Was it a brilliant catch by Yuvraj at point? Was it a needless runout? Was it even a hit-wicket? Was it Zaheer's 200th ODI wicket? Was it the best analysis by a left-handed fast bowler whose name starts with Z in a town which has two vowels in its name? Who cares? It's a tense match and any wicket is bloody welcome! After you celebrate, when the details are now on screen, you learn about the dismissal and replay it, again, in the high-definition, no-inch-limiting, screen in your head.

And can you ever dream of your comments or thoughts being mentioned on air? The very first time I sent a comment to Cricinfo, I had it published (search for Chuck). I was thrilled! Which other medium lets you do that?

Maybe the biggest draw for me is the sophistication level of Cricinfo commentary. You don't expect hi-bye cricket fans or zealotic village fans to follow Cricinfo. It takes a very different passion to follow textual commentary rather than be satisfied with the scorecard that updates every twenty seconds.

And of course, you have Cricinfo's resources. Gambhir batting? Want to check his FC record? Sure. From there, you want to see how much he made on ODI debut? Sure. Oh wait, wasn't Mohammad Ashraful, the Bangla opener in that match, the guy who made the century when they stunned Australia? Yes! Where is that match now? Oh, here it is. And from here you remember that Hatty Hayden once held the highest test score. Yes, he did, all the scores are there too. Man, I've just got to see Lara when he got that 375. Why not? It's here on YouTube, just a URL away. And before you're done with the actual over of the match you're supposed to be watching (reading?), you've traversed a few pages of cricket history itself. Reading text commentary can be a highly educational experience in itself.

To me, there is nothing better than Cricinfo commentary. I can do numerous other things too. I can pretend to work. I can sometimes actually work. I can copy-paste scores for other peopel who'd like to be updated, link my phone to the comp and send off SMS updates after every over too.

This, to me, is a new Kamasutra - textual intercourse.