The game of cricket has always been about stories, fairy tales, and miracles. Nothing is impossible in cricket and that’s what makes it so special. A single man can change the game, at any point, either with a willow in hand or with a 5.75 ounce of a leather sphere.
One man did it with a microphone.
“What I want most from being a television commentator is to be able to feel that, when I say something, I am talking to friends” – Richie Benaud.
The late Richie Benaud changed the game sitting in the commentary box, wearing a beige jacket and a microphone in hand. Through his voice, he made his audience a part of the cricketing experience. He loved his audience, made us his friends and kept us tight. Most importantly, he understood the economy of words and the nuance of a human voice.
“From our broadcasting box you can’t see any grass at all. It is simply a carpet of humanity.” – Television educates new generations about the game and the love towards the game only develops when it can be comprehended in a simple way.
But simple never meant stating the obvious.
“The key thing was to learn the value of economy with words and to never insult the viewer by telling them what they can already see…” – Benaud made his audience realise that the runs scored off a particular delivery aren’t important but the act is. Every boundary fetches four runs but every time the ball rolls over the ropes, it carries a different story with it — some are smashed, some are creamed, some are flayed while the rest are hammered. He made you feel the joy of a six. He made you wince with the agony of a wicket.
However, the beauty of Benaud’s commentary was his understanding of a pause.
“My mantra is: put your brain into gear and if you can add to what’s on the screen then do it, otherwise shut up.”
He was the master of composing silence. His silence gave the audience the room to breathe, think and grasp the game in their own way. He let the game brew, the audience simmer, and the tension build. He drew the audience into the game and made them a part of the on-field action.
Of course, the viewers need to be entertained during the slow hours of the game. That’s where the dry Australian humour kicked in, “Gatting has absolutely no idea what happened to it. (He) still doesn’t know.”- That ball was described in that voice. Shane Warne might have delivered the ball of the century but the grandeur of the event was reverberated by the voice of the silver-maned genius in the commentary box.
Then, when Mike Atherton was hit in the box guard.
Hadlee: ‘And that ball did bounce Richie’
Benaud: ‘Which one, Richard?’
There were gaffes as well.
“The slow-motion replay doesn’t show how fast the ball was really travelling.”
The slip ups made it real. That made it more human and that created an instant connection with the billions sitting in their living rooms. Hence, they paid more attention.
Back in the days, there was something special about watching the Channel Nine’s coverage of a Test match. Waking up in the wee hours in the morning on cold December mornings to watch cricket was a fun fair. The smell of the steaming cup of coffee, the wincing of eyes at the brightness of the sunshine on the television screen, the awe at the magnanimity of the grounds, the magic of the ducks, the zinc cream and the floppy hats and of course, the welcome speech – “Welcome to the Emm Shee Gee for the Boxxing Day Test between ‘Straya and Indeea…” – it all came together to carve a beautiful story.
This season, India stayed put in Australia for good four months. Over those four months, they fought through a gruelling Test series, a lackluster ODI series and then did a complete U-turn to reach the semifinals of the ICC World Cup. Runs were scored, wickets were snared, words were spoken, egos were scarred and then, there was a death of a beloved cricketer.
The quality of cricket on display was mind blowing. Steve Smith and Virat Kohli set the world on fire, Josh Hazlewood emerged as the new McGrath, Mitchell Starc remodelled his ‘body language’ and MS Dhoni kept his white flannels away. There was no dearth of events Down Under; however, there was a drought of stories.
Richie Benaud was a “marvellous” story teller and his demise brings the end of an era of story-telling. Cricket commentary has lost its voice. Cricket will go on and the men in the commentary box will still entertain you but the Australian summers will never be the same again because…“There is no point in looking for that, let alone chasing it.”