Sport On TV: Are pundits warned to avoid hard-hitting commentary?


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The Independent Culture

So it wasn’t two o’clock in the morning and he wasn’t wearing a funny wig – that was Lasith Malinga – but how many times has Kumar Sangakkara wound up England now?

It may not take much to get Jimmy Anderson swinging but there’s not much point in having a go when your opponent has a hundred to his name, as the wicketkeeper had on Thursday night in The Champions Trophy (Sky Sports 1).

“Sangakkara’s heard it all before,” said Nasser Hussain. “They’re real streetfighters, these Sri Lankans.” Mike Atherton next to him inquired, barely audibly: “Fighting terminology’s OK so long as it’s on the field?” Amid all the big hitting of this tournament, it’s almost as if the commentators are not allowed to talk about David Warner – his very public disgrace has hardly merited a mention. Presumably that’s not because they are worried about reprisals.

Sangakkara is himself famous for his ceaseless chatter behind the stumps. “Cymbals, am I right?” former Lankan Russel Arnold teased Hussain. “That’s what you used to call Sangas in your sledging days?” “I think you’re confusing me with someone else,” replied Nasser after a long silence, as if backing away from a confrontation.

Sangakkara strode to the wicket at about the same time as Warner was being made to duck and weave in the face of the world’s media. His batting was to prove anything but crash, bang, wallop as he stroked his way elegantly to victory.

Hussain and Atherton vied with each other to describe his effortless display: “You have to outdo my ‘calmness’ with your ‘serenity’,” said Hussain as the gentle sparring continued between two old batsmen who were not exactly renowned for their aggressive intent back in the day. They might have been describing their own technique, though others might have used the word “dull”.

For some reason Atherton felt compelled to defend his former methods. He said of the innovations of Joe Root, who looks uncannily like him under the lid: “He’s only been around two minutes in cricket but he’s playing shots others wouldn’t dream of.”

He added: “It’s only a reflection of the era you grow up in. If I was growing up today, you’d learn to play the shots you’d have to play to survive.” But if Athers had tried to play a “reverse ramp” he would probably have ended up hitting himself in the face, which wouldn’t have helped his survival chances at all.

It was like listening to Geoff Boycott – the man who once wrote that he never deliberately tried to hit a six in his career – on Channel Five the week before trying to describe Jos Buttler’s epic cameo: “That’s a hockey shot” and “Ha ha, what a shot that is. That’s tennis!” Whatever it was, it just wasn’t cricket. At least he didn’t try to defend his own reputation for boring play, although to be fair to Atherton a sound defence was always his default setting.

“They won’t do anything silly for a while,” said Atherton as Sangakkara and Tillekeratne Dilshan compiled a leisurely stand. Yet the very next ball Dilshan, the man who invented the ramp shot, came charging down the wicket and was caught in the deep. Is it time for specialist commentators for the various formats of the game as well as specialist players?

There’s not much chance of getting a smack around the chops on the field these days – even the bouncers are slow now (and not just the ones in Birmingham’s late bars). You are more likely to get hit by one of the cameras whizzing across the ground on zipwires. Or be clattered by some dumb drummer dressed in a Grenadier guard costume. That’s if you don’t hit them first. One man’s percussion is another man’s concussion.