The first Test between India and Australia starts at Adelaide on Thursday. In the past, whenever India toured Australia, the Indian fans were looking forward to enjoying the experience of watching cricket on Channel 9 more than the action in the middle. Channel 9 was associated with Australian cricket for the past 40 years. Now the broadcasting rights changed hands to Channel 7 and Fox Sports.
India’s famous World Cup win in 1983 took Indian fans’ interest to the game of cricket to a different level. However, it was India’s win in the Benson and Hedges World Series Cup in 1985 which attracted the Indian fans to the new medium, the television coverage.
While most of the Indian population followed India’s incredible win in World Cup 1983 through radio commentary, most of them were more fortunate to watch the Benson and Hedges World Series Cup 1985 on Channel 9. That was the first time the Indian fans were treated to such a grand spectacle along with their most loved game. The eye-catching visuals presented by the Channel 9 crew took the game to the next level.
To top it all, India won that trophy in grand style and Ravi Shastri was adjudged the Champion of Champions. This reinforced the Indian fan’s enthusiasm towards the game.
Those days, the Channel 9 commentary team consisted mainly of Richie Benaud, Bill Lawry, Tony Greig, and Ian Chappell. Richie Benaud was the anchor while Bill Lawry was the opening batsman in the commentary box.
Bill Lawry used to start with “ Very Good Morning to all our viewers wherever you are”. For the Indian fans, starting the day, listening to Bill Lawry’s cheerful voice early in the morning, was music to the ears. Again once the action gets tense on the field, one will find Bill Lawry say “ It is all happening here at the Gabba”.
Bill Lawry used to be the invisible face behind the Channel 9 coverage in the sense he never used to show his face on the TV. He never used to conduct the toss or the presentation ceremony. But whenever the first ball was bowled, it was always Bill Lawry who would describe the action.
There have been occasions in the Benson and Hedges Triangular Series in 1986 when we used to get the live feed a bit delayed and Kris Srikkanth would have been gone by that time and we used to find Bill Lawry describing his dismissal at the top of his voice with a lot of excitement.
For a neutral fan, Bill Lawry might sound like an outright Australian supporter at times, but he was always spot on with his assessments.
Richie Benaud was the anchor of Channel 9. He used to give a brief description of the action that was about to happen before the start of every match. Later he joins his other colleagues in the commentary team to express his views. Richie Benaud’s face was always without any emotions and he never used to get excited by the action in the middle.
For Indian fans, at times, his accent was a lit bit difficult to follow. However, his slow dialogue delivery would make up for his tricky accent. Richie Benaud was the visible face of Channel 9.
Ian Chappell was the best of the lot. He was spot on with his assessment of the game and with his expert comments. Chappell used to speak more about the technical aspects of the game and a learning experience for any youngster watching the game on TV. Chappell used to enthrall the audience with his out of context remarks and used to be neutral with his views.
Tony Greig, as a commentator, was a great entertainer. He knew the pulse of the audience fully well and had the proficiency to take the game deep into the spectator’s heart. Greig was the most exciting and the wittiest of all. His usual utterances of phrases like “ What a player, What a great player “ and “ in the air and into the boundary it goes” used to create a sensational effect.
Greig used to get carried away by the talent of great players like a Kapil Dev or a Sachin Tendulkar. He used to shower a liberal praise on such great players. Again, Tony was always impartial in his appreciations.
When a game goes down to the wire, the one commentator you would love to listen to would be Tony Greig. With his language proficiency, Greig used to run along with the ball similar to a Hindi commentator. Cricket fans all around the world would miss the presence of Tony Greig in the commentary team.
Comparison between the past and the present
Over a period of time, Channel 9 has equipped itself with professional commentators like Mark Nicholas, Mark Taylor, Michael Slater, Shane Warne, and Ian Healy. Though some of these former Australian cricketers, with their wealth of experience, have proved to be an effective expert commentator, they couldn’t create the same kind of impact as a Billy Lawry or a Tony Greig did.
The presence of foreign commentators on Channel 9 hasn’t helped its cause either. At times, when you listen to Indian commentators describing the action on a coverage like Channel 9, you feel like watching a good dubbing movie where the visuals and audio don’t synchronize.
The game too has moved on so fast that now cricket fans all over the world have in-depth knowledge about the game. They have learned a lot by watching so many matches on TV. It was not like radio commentary where, without the visuals, the commentator had to describe all the action by himself. Now the audience understands what they watch and what they expect from the TV commentators is their expert opinions, predictions and their perceptions about the game.
As the Indian fans eagerly look forward to action to begin on 6th December at Adelaide, as a long-term observer of the game, one gets the feeling that the visuals coming from Down Under are not of the same quality as before.
Perhaps some atmospheric presence in the air somehow seems to have a blurring effect on the vision. This point could be emphasized by the fact that the visuals from New Zealand are far more pleasant to the eyes than the ones from Australia.
To sum up, though technology has improved when it comes to presenting the game to the TV audience in a much better manner since 1985, old-timers still feel that the action witnessed in Channel 9 in 1985 was much better in terms of excitement and novelty. The thrill and the fascination will never be the same again.