The sight of Australia unceremoniously sweeping up the remnants of England’s lacklustre effort at the Gabba last month will linger long in the memory both of those playing in the match and those who witnessed it. England were blown away by Australia, and the margin of the victory – a whopping 381 runs – seemed to flatter the tourists. This is the first time that Australia have led an Ashes series since 2006/07 – a series they went on to win 5-0.
So far in this series, the Australian cricket team, their fans and their media have tried to whip up the same fervour and ‘reason for winning’ that was present 7 years ago, and they’ve somehow succeeded. Back then, their cause was the final flings of some of their best ever cricketers: Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer. All were due to retire at the end of that series, and they wanted to go out with a bang.
After what feels like an eternity of waiting – the 2013/14 Ashes Series is just a few hours away. Preparations have been under-way since the two nations locked horns in an ODI series after the Ashes, which was followed, for Australia, by a visit to India for 7 more ODIs. But all of that is past now – this is the real thing.
It is important to state straight away – England are favourites to win this series. They haven’t lost an Ashes series since the 5-0 hammering in 2006/07, whilst Australia have only won one Test match in the whole of 2013 – against Sri Lanka at the Sydney Cricket Ground in January. However, home conditions (and home press) give a definite advantage to the hosts – and Alastair Cook and his team have been quick to acknowledge that this will not be a walk in the park.
Without playing well, England beat Australia during the English summer, though the 3-0 scoreline probably flattered the hosts. Lots of excuses were proffered by the Australians: the transitional period from Mickey Arthur to Darren Lehmann was an early one, whilst the constant accusations of Stuart Broad being a cheat were repeated time and time again. This Australian whinging – which was supposedly an English pastime – has swiftly become a frequent Antipodean occurrence.
In a very loud world, there are few greater pleasures than total silence. The absence of noise, or, to be more precise, unwanted noise, is a rare treat. For a cricketer, walking from the boundary edge to the middle is quiet. Often it’s almost silent, as you cross the demilitarized zone before you reach the front line on the square. A commentator is not paid just to make noise, but rather to make the right noises – to be emotive and respectful to the atmosphere, without crashing it with their own voice. Some – Richie Benaud, John Arlott, Christopher Martin-Jenkins – had this difficult art down to a tee. For others, it is harder.
On Wednesday evening, I was watching a live feed on the Cricket Australia website of England bowling out the Cricket Australia Invitational XI. It was filmed on one camera – a throwback to a time before mass media, when for half of the overs you had a front on view of the bowler running in. There was no commentary. It was utter silence. It was utter bliss.
I decided to see how well the TMS commentary on the same game would match up, and to my surprise, it was almost perfect. Aggers and co. went about their merry way with a sense of irreverence that was befitting a warm up game at an almost deserted SCG, which was excellent. And as is the nature of radio, they were talking more often than they weren’t. Though whenever they were silent, it was a second of harmony.
Jump forward to this morning. After watching the first 38 runs of Sachin Tendulkar’s innings against the West Indies yesterday, I couldn’t stomach the idea of another early morning to see how many more he would score, even if the fates were on his side, and he scored a century. So when I awoke to see that he had been dismissed for 74, I went straight to YouTube to find a video of his final dismissal.
Tendulkar edges it, and Darren Sammy takes a very good catch at slip. Silence in the stadium. The shock of over a billion Indians is tangible as Tendulkar turns to leave the crease for the last time. As he leaves, the weight of the nation’s expectations lifts off his shoulders. No longer is the pressure on him, and his shoulders, though slumped, seem less heavy then usual. Suddenly, the roar from the crowd erupts, as they celebrate the Little Master one last time. Whereas the wall of noise that greeted him when he first emerged on Day 1 was excitable fervour, the adulation which adorned his curly head when he left the ground was emotional and raw.
Until Sunil Gavaskar opened his mouth.
Immediately, the moment was ruined. The Indian commentator – who in 2011 was reportedly being paid Rs 3.6 crore annually by the BCCI to toe the official line and promote the views of the Indian cricket board – took over describing the moment as Tendulkar left the ground, and decided that that special moment, as the roars of 33,000 people carried Tendulkar up the stairs to the dressing room, was the best moment to remind the viewers that, just like in this game, Darren Sammy caught Tendulkar at slip in a Test match in 2011. As the crowd’s cheer became the perfect accompaniment to the end of a brilliant career, Gavaskar crashed it with his harsh voice, telling the unrelated story, before returning the present to send Tendulkar off with a gushing and cringe-inducing “Sachin…Ramesh…Tendulkar. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
A good commentator knows when the pictures do the talking, and when silence is golden. And on this occasion, the pictures did the talking.