My affinity for the game of cricket developed in my initial youth when one fine morning I began hopping and yelling with the seniors celebrating the event of Pakistan’s first ever win against England in a Test match at Lords. My journey as a cricketer started from that point forward. In our time, we played a considerable measure of cricket at schools and our neighborhood cricket club ground. In any case, the cricket used to be played in the winter months then and we could scarcely play cricket more than a couple of months every year.
I turned into a fervent audience of radio commentaries and editorials on cricket in the mid-50s. My father who worked in the Public Relations Department brought a big wooden radio set for our family. “Telefunken’ was the name of the radio set and it was a Japanese product. A wet battery was used to power the radio. Nevertheless, it was a significant decent set with such a variety of bands containing both medium and short waves channels. So I was a blessed child who had a chance to listen to the radio editorials of the cricket matches played anyplace on the planet.
Really those were great days for enjoying cricket by listening to the commentaries on radio. Perhaps we the cricket lovers had the power to visualize the game by using our ears and the mind’s eyes. Listening to Radio Australia meant waking up at 2.30 in the morning. We would venture to listen to the commentary from the very first ball. Gradually the radio signals began to fade as the day progressed and we would frantically search for an alternative frequency, cursing our fate. Apart from listening to the ball-by-ball commentary, we would also love to hear the anecdotes, resumes, the jokes and repertories delivered by those great commentators during rain-interrupted matches.
The great radio commentators are steeped in painting a picture or setting a scene and use far more descriptive words than their TV counterparts.
I became familiar with the voices and names of famous cricket commentators step by step. The BBC had a battery of great commentators like Brian Johnston, John Arlott, Henry Blofeld, Chris Martin-Jenkins, Trevor Bailey, Fred Truman.
For Radio Australia there were veterans like Alan McGilvray, Lindsay Hassett, Keith Stackpole, Bill Lawry, Richie Benaud and so on. I also loved the commentaries of two Pakistani cricket commentators like Omar Qureshi and Jamshed Marker in the early sixties. Tony Cozier was also a great commentator from the West Indies.
All India Radio (AIR) which started its live cricket broadcast in 1940 had a host of gifted cricket commentators like Berry Sarbadhikari, Pearson Surita, Dev Raj Puri, Dickey Rutnagar and then Vijay Merchant and Farokh Engineer. Some Hindi commentators like Ravi Chaturvedi, Joga Rao, Sushil Doshi etc. took the game of cricket to the hinterlands, though many of the Hindi commentators had no cricketing background. Nevertheless AIR played an instrumental role in taking the game to the urban elites through English commentaries, Hindi to every home of the sub-continent and regional language to the kitchens.
All these commentators would share their knowledge and experience to the cricket fans in those early days of cricket broadcasting. They were all as popular as the cricketers of those days. It was cricket-education to all those who listened to them. I must acknowledge that I learned about the field position, names of various cricketing shots and bowling strategies just by listening to the commentators.
In the 50s and 60s, I would look forward to a match to be played at the Eden Garden, Kolkata because then I would be able to listen to cricket commentaries in my own mother tongue, Bangla. The Bengali cricket lovers were virtually hooked to Akashvani Kolkata to listen to the doyen of Bengali sports commentary of Ajay Bose, who enchanted the millions of radio listeners for decades with his golden voice and rich diction,
I can vividly recall the mellow sunny mornings in December or January with a Test match being played in the dew covered green grassy turf of Eden Gardens and listening to the live Bangla commentary over the radio. The captivating voices of the cricket commentators gave me a flight of imagination which made me feel as though I had been sitting in the gallery of the Eden Gardens and watching the cricket live. The Bangla commentators were idols in my childhood but unfortunately, I missed them as I grew old. Even now I browse the websites to get information about those voice legends but hardly find anything worth mentioning. Kamal Bhattacharya, Puspen Sarkar, and Premangshu Chatterjee were the brilliant trios who brought cricket into the sanctuary of our homes with their lively description in a lucid language and informal tone. Kamal Bhattacharya was the senior-most maestro among the three Bangla Cricket commentators. He was affectionately called ‘kamal – da’ by every cricket lover of Bengal.
Still, a septuagenarian of this part of the world might hear those clipped dictions of Kamal Da ringing in his ears “Alto kore duti fielder er majhkhane ball thele diye jayga bodol kore nilen batsman ra” – Nudging the ball between the two fielders the two batsmen amble across for a single. So those were the unforgettable occasions. None can surpass the eloquence, matter-of-fact style, wits and humor, factual comments of the commentators like Henry Blofeld, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, and Kamal Bhattacharya. Radio reigns supreme, doesn’t it?
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