IPL Commentary And The Art Of Selling Yourself Short

‘Commentators now feel less like our knowledgeable uncles, and more like greasy second-hand car salesmen’

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Sunil Gavaskar  during match 2 of the 2016 Indian Premier League. (Photo: BCCI)

Bollywood owners were brought in to appeal to cricket widows, music was blasted at stadiums because everybody loves to have their eardrums irreparably damaged, and cheerleaders in short skirts were brought in to appeal to, well, um, why were they brought in again?

In an effort to appeal to a wider demographic, Lalit Modi made some astute marketing decisions for the IPL. Inevitably, these decisions clashed with the purists’ virginal view of cricket.

Some of these compromises were understandable. In the quest to appeal to more people, purists will always feel slighted. However, it seems to be a unanimous opinion among IPL watchers that commentary has been compromised. We understand that it might make short-term business sense for brands to piggyback on boundaries, wickets and catches. But when every ad feels like we’re losing our attention to subterfuge, the commentators feel less like our knowledgeable uncles, and more like greasy second-hand car salesmen.

My criticism lies only partly with the commentators, most of whom have stagnated rather than blossomed in the T20 era. How many commentators go home and hone their trade? How many actively seek constructive, unbiased criticism and work on their flaws? It is a tougher gig than most fans would appreciate, and it requires a great deal of mental agility.

But, it is also a job that is the envy of millions. As such, it should be treated with respect and dignity. I cannot accept that several years on, a few commentators still speak English as if they have learned the language by listening to tapes of Yoda.

Ravi Shastri is back to commentating in the Indian Premier League after his contract as Team Director of India ran out following the World T20. (Photo: BCCI)
Ravi Shastri is back to commentating in the Indian Premier League after his contract as Team Director of India ran out following the World T20. (Photo: BCCI)

Let’s put ourselves in their shoes: IPL commentary is a steady gig, working for a few hours a day, with plenty of downtime. If you can put your hand on your heart and assert to millions that Daikin sell the best air conditioners, or that “the latest Suzuki is a nice, bright car for the modern man, Haydos,” then fair enough. If it puts roti on your family’s dinner table, then who are we to argue?

However, it can be done in a tactful way.

It helps precisely nobody - commentator, brand, or IPL - if we are being subjected to something.

People consume good content. Sometimes, that good content is an advert.

In the past, slick marketing types have told me that I don’t understand the Indian market, and one self-styled marketing guru in Mumbai even told me that “Indian people need things shouted at them.” Well, I would counter by saying that non-stop shouting might occasionally permeate the surface, but it does nothing more than force us to bunker up in our mind’s air-raid shelter.

(Photo: BCCI)
(Photo: BCCI)

There is a subtlety to selling one’s product. How you like your commentators comes down to personal choice, much like which flavour of ice cream you prefer. Some prefer a steady, familiar vanilla that reminds them of better times (Alan Wilkins), some prefer a punchy Rocky Road (Ravi Shastri), and some prefer to have chocolate ice cream smeared all over their faces while being pecked in the ears by seagulls (Danny Morrison).

In 2008, the IPL was shiny and new. It could get away with over-stepping the line. Now, as it approaches its tenth anniversary, we can’t escape the feeling that although it may have outlasted a growing list of contemporary T20 competitions, there is still plenty of maturing for the IPL to do. The commentary box would be a good place to start. At the best of times, it would be unreasonable to expect two people to be trapped in a confined space with Ramiz Raja. Cricket should be enhanced by commentary. Here we are, listening to the club of ex-players of great pedigree, but it is precisely this club who are reduced in taking on a more unfamiliar, chatty role.

This year, the IPL insists on inflicting us with an unlistenable soundtrack that detracts from the cricket. Largely in part due to the fact that for this edition of the IPL, three commentators are now shouting over each other, as opposed to the usual two. Furthermore, these commentators are only allowed to be on air for a few overs at a time, presumably part of the IPL’s evil endgame goal, to make us all suffer from attention deficit disorder so they can inflict fifty more matches per year.

If the IPL is to be a truly progressive league, it will need to be stop appealing to the lowest common denominator, and be brave enough to be smart and esoteric where appropriate.

Now, does anyone know where I can buy a Hero Honda air conditioner for Yes Bank motorcycle?

Nishant Joshi is a cricket writer and a doctor. He tweets @AltCricket and hosts a weekly podcast at soundcloud.com/RadioCricket.

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