What are the essential qualities of good cricket commentary? How does TV commentary differ from radio?

An interesting interview of Geoff Boycott who never minces words. He is asked about the new England coach and son.

The last q is on cricket commentary and its quality (f there is any). And as he mostly does, answers it with a straight bat. Such comparisons to cricket are useful as we see similar kind of  commentary on economics and markets as well- stating the obvious:

RK: All right, let’s take the final question, from Abhinav Wudali in Canada. He says: First of all Mr. Boycott, greetings from Canada. My question to you is, how imperative is good commentary in the broadcast of cricket?

People tend to tone it up, and are loud and use an extreme degree of superlatives. I mute the channel quite often. What are the essential qualities of good commentary according to you? By the way I admire your Yorkshire accent!

GB: I think you’re a very good judge! Get Test Match Special BBC Radio on your laptop. You’ll get us live there wherever you are in the world.

I think what has changed a great deal, there are so many ex-players now, trying to get a job in commentary. Let’s face it, travelling the world doing commentary on cricket matches is better than working down the coal mines. So I don’t blame them but there are so many. And I think that Twenty20 cricket in particular is hyped up. There’s no doubt about that. There are no subtleties in Twenty20.

With Twenty20 being the way that it is, lots of walloping around, six hitting, fireworks, it’s like going to the funfair. Dancing girls and flames going up and all that. It’s all the fun of the fair, and I think the commentators for Twenty20 get sucked into it. Also, I think they try to outdo each other so they keep themselves a job. Nothing wrong with that but that’s what has happened.

Now, you ask me is that good or bad? That’s not my call, it’s up to the watcher and the listener, it’s your personal choice, like you turn the sound off. I would too. It drives me mad. They keep going on every second ball, “oh it’s another great six and what have you”.

Is it essential in commentary? What are the qualities needed? Again, it’s the individual, but the best advice I was given when I first tried a bit of commentary, when I was still an England player and I got an injury and they invited me on BBC TV. Richie Benaud and Jim Laker, when I first started, mid ’80s, I did an occasional match. They said to me, and I’ve always remembered this and stood by it: on television, the viewer can see for himself, whether it’s a good or bad shot, or good or bad ball. And almost everyone who watches television, likes cricket. Most of them have played cricket at school. Many of them have played club cricket and been very good at it. And some even higher, so they know quite a bit about it, they’re not fools.

So stating the obvious to them isn’t smart, it’s quite irritating isn’t it? So Richie Benaud and Jim Laker said to me, say something that helps their watching or listening. Try to give the listener or watcher some knowledge or some idea or view that can enhance their viewing or listening. Don’t keep stating the obvious, but that’s what they do a lot, I agree. Sometimes, they told me for TV, a bit of silence is good. Pause a little. You don’t need to keep crackling on if there’s a picture. People can see the picture.

But it is different on radio where one has to talk more and create the visual effect as well:

Radio is different. You have to talk more. You have to draw a picture, there is no picture. With respect, you’re talking to someone who can’t see. But give them something more.  I thought those were the best pieces of advice I had, but it has changed. The landscape has changed. There’s a lot more talking and babbling on, and if there’s a silence, you’ve got the director in your ear saying “what’s happened, say something”.

And now you’ve got Channel Nine in Australia, Sky in England and even India trying three commentators at the same time. There’s no time for a pause or a rest for the viewer. I think that’s sad but that’s a personal opinion. I know quite a few people in England who say to me they put the television on to see and they turn the sound off and turn up the radio to listen to something interesting.

Too much cricket being played these days and too many retired players joining the fray. From a one commentator, we moved to two and now three. And most saying the same thing over and over again.

I mean the whole business has increased manifold. And the irony is there is not much value in there. Most get the pitch reports wrong, the strategies wrong and so on. The coverage starts one hour before the match. There are experts sitting on the set, there are others on the match site, someone else does the pitch report, then comes the expert to handle the toss. The match starts with commentators doing rounds. As match ends, there is someone who asks qs of the winning side, someone else does match presentations and then another expert comments on post match presentations.

Deep analysis precedes a match, deeper strategies are discussed during the match and deepest bit is kept for nest match. In the end much of it fails.

We see much like this in the case of commentary on economics/markets as well. Analysis after analysis falling flat to reality..

But then what does one do. As Boycs says, much better to comment than go to coal mines. Perhpas reflecting on the past history of retired cricketers..

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