My First Five years of Cricket on the Radio
I have been listening to cricket commentaries on the radio since 1978-79. I was such a crazy radio listener that even after the advent of live cricket on the TV, I continue to listen to commentaries on the radio. These include Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, Radio Pakistan, Radio Australia, BBC and of course our own All India Radio(AIR) .
Here’s a recollection of some of my favourite moments on the radio :
1.Tamil Commentary on Alvin Kallicharan’s 98 in 1979 Pongal test
My first recollections of listening to cricket on the radio date back to 1978-79 and to a weakened West Indies’ (WI’s main players were playing the Packer series in Australia) visit for a 6 test series in India. The traditional Pongal test in Madras had a unique offering for players- The TNCA had decided to reward players - those who scored a century or took 5 wkts.
I remember listening to the dismissal of Alvin Kallicharan the visiting captain just 2 runs short of a century off Venkat’s bowling. The sporting(and knowledgeable) crowd, that Chepauk was known for, felt sad for Kalli, as described by our Tamil commentators, among whom Ramamoorthy and ‘Expert’ Rangachari were my favourites. Kallicharan had had played a brilliant knock under pressure. My other favourite WI cricketer Hilary Anglo Gomes fought it out in the 2nd innings with 92. India won that test on a nerve wrecking day 4 to take the lead in that series.
Despite playing a 2nd string X1, the WI had fought tooth and nail in that series. A few new players were discovered in that series (Larry Gomes, Sylvestor Clarke, Vanburn Holder, Faoud Bacchus). Kallicharan had fought gallantly against a strong Indian team and led his rather raw team well, but with the return of the first team players, he lost his captaincy and shortly Kalli and Clarke went to South Africa on the rebel tour and never played for the Windies again.
2. David Gower’s double hundred -The English Summer of 1979 under Venkat
Later that same year, I listened to my first overseas cricket commentary -this time again on AIR.
Indians were visiting England in the 2nd half of the English Summer (after the World Cup disaster- India had even lost to Sri Lanka in WC 1979) under Venkataraghavan and we had our AIR team taking us through ball by ball (I think it was Suresh Saraiya and Ravi Chaturvedi) the entire series. The moments I remember distinctly on that tour was the emergence of a young David Gower with a double hundred in the first test of the series.
(Despite the advent of Harsha Bhogle in the 1990s as a radio commentator, my AIR favourites remain Suresh Saraiya and Ravi Chaturvedi for the excitement they brought me, at a time when I didn’t have TV at my home)
3. Karsan Ghavri’s 2 in 2 balls - Alan McGilvary and Radio Australia-1980-81-India in Australia
My earliest memories of Radio Australia date back to this series. I was greatly excited to wake up at 530am on Friday morning of the 1981 New Year Sydney test match-the first in the series… to listen to Alan McGilvary, Jim Maxwell and Dennis Compty along with experts from Norman O’Neil. I remember listening to every single ball of the Greg Chappell double hundred, to the Dennis Lillee vs Gavaskar fight, to Sandeep Patil’s brilliant knock and felling by Len Pascoe and to every ball on that final morning of the 3rd test when Kapil Dev bundled out a strong Aussie batting line up.
I particularly remember running home(10minutes at a stretch) at the ring of the lunch bell on the penultimate day of the Melbourne test to listen to the last few overs of day 4 when Karsan Ghavri removed John Dyson and Greg Chappell in successive balls. I also remember a class mate of mine-Subash(Chandra Bose)- who was also a big radio fan and we both discussed, that afternoon, the possibility of an India win the next day, especially with Greg Chappell gone.
From that year for the next 15 years or so, the mornings of November to February were spent with the little 1955 National Panasonic transistor. I listened to every single test played in Australia till Radio Australia finally stopped broadcasting to India in the mid/late 1990s…
(almost 20 years later, I had the opportunity to meet Jim Maxwell, Tim Lain and Mike Coward in Bombay on the eve of the India-Aus 2001 test)
4. Waking up at 4am to listen to the Wellington test in 1981
I was studying in Coimbatore then. It was my cousin’s wedding (She is currently in Dubai-interviewing - leading personalities - and writing for leading publications around the world) in Madras. There were about 10 of us(relatives) who took the night train to Madras. While all were asleep the next morning, I (9 year boy) was up by 4am to listen, on the Blue Mountain Express, to India’s tense run chase (Kapil had brought India back with a terrific 2nd innings bowling performance to bundle out NZ for 100 the previous day). Sandeep Patil seemed to keep India in the hunt for a while that morning but consistent Kiwi bowling helped them win by 50 odd runs. The test series was also of special interest to me as it was the series where Tirumalai Echambadi Srinivasan made his one and only test appearance. It was said that he had a great technique but hearsay has it that he didn’t get along well with Sunny Sir and that was the end of it for this TN lad.
5. Botham’s Ashes on TMS
My earliest memories of cricket on the BBC World Service goes back to this series-the famous Botham’s Ashes of 1981. Beginning that year, for the next 15 years till BBC stopped live TMS to India, I listened year on year to the TMS (Test Match Special) team including Peter Baxter’s ‘Old Test’ highlights during Lunch break( in which I had listened to some memorable test matches of 1960s and 1970s). I distinctly remember Dirk Wellham (one of my favourite Aussie players) on debut in the final test of the series struggle on 99, including being dropped , before finally reaching a debut hundred. He couldn’t keep up his debut performance and soon lost his test place.
6. Jeff Dujon’s debut as a batsman for the WI
I remember, vividly, listening to Radio Australia - the 1981-82 Australian Summer
The first test of the summer saw Pakistan, a team that included Javed, Majid, Wasim Raja and Imran in the middle order, being bundled out on a Saturday afternoon for 62 at Perth.
2nd half of that summer, I listened with great interest the emergence of Jeff Dujon(one who later was to become an all time great wicket keeper)- He started off his career as a batsman (Deryck Murray was the keeper in his debut test) with four successive knocks of 40 plus and a fifty in his fifth innings and I remember listening to each of these knocks. An elegant and stylish batsman and a gentleman cricketer, Jeffery Dujon was to become one of my favourite WI cricketer of the 1980s and 90s.
It was a well fought series and I enjoyed for the first time on the radio the battle between Lillee/Thommo - Richards/Lloyd and Roberts/Holding - Hughes/Greg Chappell- a series that ended 1-1.
7. Commentary in 3 languages- September 1982
My first memories of Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation was an unofficial series that a 2nd string Australia played there- John Dyson, Yallop etc.
Though played in Madras, I listened on SL BC Sri Lanka’s first ever test against India, the test where Roy Dias scored two splendid gems and Mendis hit a six to reach his hundred. The commentary was in English and Sinhala with Tamil commentator mentioning the score in Tamil at the end of every over-possibly the only country where commentary for a cricket match took place in 3 languages.
Those days SL BC used to broadcast a sports round every day between 345pm and 4pm called ‘Vilaayatu Arangam’. For many years, I used to listen to commentary on SL BC including domestic matches played in Sri Lanka.
8. A Great catch to end the Melbourne Test Match-December 1982
Botham’s heroics had helped England retain the Ashes a year and half ago. Now Aussies were at it in their home territory seeking revenge. England had a new captain in Bob Willis. Australia had taken a 2-0 lead after 3 tests and the two teams arrived in Melbourne for the boxing day test match. The test began on a Sunday.
After a very even first innings, Australia had taken a slender 3 run lead. England got off to a shaky start in the 2nd innings but crucial knocks late by Pringle and Taylor( he was 41 years when he played this knock) took England past 280 which seemed unlikely at one point, when Botham was out.
Set 292 to win, Australia looked well on its way with a 4th wicket century partnership between inform Hughes and David Hookes. But Australia suffered a sensational mid afternoon collapse on Day 4 with newcomer Norman Cowans ripping the middle order. With 70 odd left to get, Australia just had the gritty AB, who I admired right from his debut series against England in 1979-80 and Thommo(he was rarely fiery with the bat). It was an afternoon/evening of exciting cricket commentary on Radio Australia with the Aussies fighting back. Bob Willis, as the Radio Australia experts explained during that last session on day 4, adopted a very negative tactic giving away easy singles to Border, who had till that day struggled in the series with an highest score of 30 odd in the four tests.
Thommo somehow survived the day with Australia requiring about 30 to win on the final day but with just the last pair at the crease and with Allan Border still fighting to regain his form in the series.
The final morning was a tense affair. I was with the transistor sitting on the steps to the first floor at my house in Coimbatore. It looked like Aussies would do it that 5th morning with Border battling it out and managing his first half century of the series.
With 3 runs to win, Botham found Thomson’s edge and to his dismay found Tavare grasping the opportunity only to find Geoff Miller running behind to take the rebound behind Tavare. It left AB heartbroken. It was a classic catch to end the test match- a win that gave England some hope(of retaining the Ashes) going into the Sydney test.
It had been my best test match commentary at that time. I missed many a heart beat that 4th afternoon and the 5th morning(early morning in India).
9. TA Shekhar’s debut - on Radio Pakistan-January 1983
I was in Udumalpet – a small town about 70kms from Coimbatore – for the pongal vacation at my grand mother’s place when I first listened to Chisti Mujahid(with his cheeky voice) on Radio Pakistan, describing each ball of that record equaling 451 run partnership between Javed Miandad and Mudassar Nazar in the 4th test of that series including the moment when Imran most(in)famously declared on that 3rd morning.
Later that series, in fact the next test match, I remember listening to Tirumalai Ananthapillai Shekhar’s (he had actually been called in half way into the series- after I think Madan Lal was injured) misery in his debut test when the Indian slip cordon let him down. And he never quite recovered from that.
10. AIR in the West Indies-1982-83 –Through the night on the radio
It was a comeback series for Venkat. Two teenage Indian spinners went there too- LS and Maninder. AIR covered that series in two parts every day. Part 1 was live ball by ball till tea and then a full ball by ball recording of the last session from 530am the next morning.
We were in Sabina Park for the first Test-those days Sabina Park was a very quick wicket( and remember was home to ‘Whispering Death’. The first time I was listening to a series in the West Indies. All excited I would do all my home work and studies by 8pm to switch on the radio around 8pm. On all the days I would listen till tea and then wake up the next morning at 530am for the post tea session.
On day five of that test,(after assistance from rain the previous day) it looked like India were easily going to save the test match. But a fiery Andy Roberts spell, immediately after tea,- he took the last 5 Indian wickets- broke the middle and later half of the Indian batting. So here I was waking up at 530am to listen to the post tea session. A WI victory- Impossible I thought but with every description of Suresh Saraiya and Ravi Chaturvedi, I was losing hope… Richards smashed the Indian attack- a half century in 30 balls and despite a late Kapil burst, the West Indians had won scoring 170 plus in just 25 overs.
The 2nd test too was a heart break. After Sandhu ripped the heart of the WI batting, (3 wkts down for 1 run), Lloyd and Gomes struck centuries to master mind the Windies recovery.
11. World Cup 1983
I was in Hyderabad at the time of the World Cup- had just moved in from Coimbatore. In fact , I was on the train to Hyderabad the day Trevor Chappell slammed a century as Australia comfortably beat India. BBC did not broadcast all matches live- We could get only a few matches on the special frequency on the world service.
Listened to that famous World Cup win on BBC World Service with Farookh Engineer, one of the expert commentators, voting Cheeka as his MOM but as it turned out Jimmy got the away for his all round performance. That night on the BBC still stands etched in my memory.
12.Another fantastic WI run chase- 1984 Lords
One and half years after a slam bang final day to beat India at Sabina Park, the West Indians repeated the feat against England. The home team had had the better of the first four days at Lords and declared on the final morning on reaching 300.
That afternoon saw exhilarating batting performance from Gordon Greenidge who raced to an unbeaten double hundred as WI chase 340 plus on the final day in just over 60 overs. That afternoon, I could visualize every shot of Greenidge with Henry Blofeld’s racy description of Greenidge’s cuts and pulls.