Thursday, March 26, 2020

Commentators are not neutral anymore?

Has commentary, which defines the best experience for cricket viewers, lost its touch? With more cricket players now being seen in the commentary box, we expected more banters, on field experiences, and interesting anecdotes. We got a few glimpses of these but the touch of neutrality seems to have started to go away. We have been lucky to be born in a generation where we have seen commentators like Richie Benaud, Tony Grieg, Geoffrey Boycott, who went beyond the nationality to serve the TV viewers. The excitement of Tony Grieg whenever Sachin hit a straight drive, or the joy in Richie Benaud’s voice whenever the spinner flighted the ball, or hearing the now famous Line “Prince of KalKuta(Kolkata)” in Boycott's voice, those memories will stay forever in cricket lovers’ minds.
Of late, the standard of commentary has not been what it used to be. Cricket players who retired have joined commentary but few stay for a long haul and make an impact. Also, while commentating the game, they tend to pick up a side eventually. The recent event of the BCCI throwing out Sanjay Manjrekar, may not be due to his non-neutral side, but more because of his trash commentary. He was ultra-critical in his tenure, made unnecessary remarks, which ultimately led to his axe. In the past, Harsha Bhogle faced a little period of ban from Indian commentary due to him criticizing some players. Being a critic is acceptable, but you cannot get beyond the line and spill out unnecessary remarks for a player. The basic point of being a commentator is to cater to the audience and engage them in the game. Picking up a player or a side will lose the charm of commentary.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Winning, the Aussie way

8th March 2020 will forever be a historic day in cricket, women’s cricket to be specific. Not just because it was the final of women’s T20 world cup, but because of an attendance of 86,174 people at the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). It was the highest attendance for a women’s cricket match globally and the highest for any women’s sport event in Australia. It was a day of unprecedented enthusiasm and passion for women’s cricket. However, something not so unprecedented was an Australian domination in the final of a world cup and the Australian women’s team winning the T20 world cup for the record 5th time in last 6 attempts.

There was a lot of hype about this final in India also. The fact that India had reached the final of women’s T20 world cup for the first time was exciting enough, but 8th March being the International Women’s Day and birthday of Indian captain Harmanpreet Kaur made the media report more prominently about this final than it ever did before for a women’s match. India had convincingly defeated this Aussie team in the tournament’s opening match, with young sensation Shafali Verma taking apart the experienced Megan Schutt in the first over with 4 boundaries as well as Poonam Yadav spinning a web around the Aussie batters with 4 wickets. India came into the final on a winning streak throughout the group stage and it was touted as their best chance ever to beat the Australians in their own den and win the cup for the first time.

But what happened in the final was totally anti-climactic, from India’s point of view. Australian openers Alyssa Healy and Beth Mooney batted the opposition out of the match. The pressure of chasing a big score in a world cup final in front of a massive Aussie crowd proved too much for the Indian team and they capitulated to be bowled out under 100 runs. Unfortunately for the Indian fans, it was a painful reminder of another day in March, 17 years ago. Australian men’s team decimated the Indian team in the ODI world cup final on 23rd March 2003 in Johannesburg in a similar fashion. Being a 15-year-old fanboy at that time, that defeat was heart-breaking, on par with the miserable loss in the 1996 world cup semi-final defeat against Sri Lanka. But since that day, if there is anything we have been used to seeing, is an Australian team that plays like a well-oiled machine on the cricket field. The Australian team did have a tough time in the early years of this decade when their team was rebuilding, but they recovered sooner that other teams would have hoped for.

But what is it that exactly makes the Australian teams almost invincible in the finals of a world event? Is it the fault of opposition players, like when Indians dropped the Aussie openers in the initial overs? Or is it the luck of Aussie captains winning the toss and making a mockery of the opposition? One can’t argue about this as in the 4 ODI men’s world cups that Australia has won from 1999 till 2015, they won the toss only once in the final (2007) and in the 5 T20 women’s world cup wins, Australia won the toss only twice in the final (they in fact lost the only time in 2016 after winning the toss). So, the toss is not a deciding factor. As far as the below par performance of the opposition teams is concerned, the pressure of the final match is on both the teams. Then why does an Australian team triumph in the finals, more often than others?