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Radio frequency

By Srikanth Natarajan

My earliest recollection of a Test match that I followed was when I was probably 8. I had the privilege of growing up with two grand fathers and an aunt, who were all huge cricket buffs. My paternal granddad was the Late Prof S Sivasubramaniam, (big granddad) a tall and quiet man, peaceful and calm and when he spoke you clung on to every syllable he said. His unmarried brother Late S Ganapathy (small granddad) was a short man with a temper to match; he had an iron hand and my skull is a good testimony to that iron hand!

My aunt had infinite patience to put up with me as I did everything possible to disturb her botany studies. I loved her well sharpened pencils and would always want what she had. She would part with it, probably her way of getting rid of the menace!

Cricket was on the radio.  All India Radio and BBC. The Philips radio did an awesome job of delivering every ball played and the elders would stand around it and listen to it. I would not follow it ball by ball but would be prancing around in the hall with my own rubber ball, trying to bowl a quick one and then play a cover drive, take a run and be the fielder, all rolled into one smooth motion.  Every now and then I would interject and ask the score and why nobody was getting out. Small granddad would make a noise now and then and it would only grow louder when the commentators changed and we got somebody who would take us through the game in Hindi.  There would be times when the commentators would get carried away in their own conversation that they would forget that a match was going on and suddenly you will hear one of them exclaim, he’s out! That would get to my small granddad and he would explode! I don’t remember all the names but there was Sushil Doshi and Ravi Chaturvedi who first introduced me to Hindi numbers, something that I struggle with even today.

Coming back to the cricket, my earliest recollection was the West Indies touring India in ’79; I will never forget the Pongal Test in Madras. The Alvin Kallicharran led Windies did not have Lloyd and Richards but came with the likes of Norbert Philips, Vanburn Holder, Clarke, Gomes and Bacchhus. Since there was no TV, companies would print flyers with pictures of both teams, the schedule and your own personal scorecard, and these would be sold in stores.  I clearly remember Kallicharran batting on 98 and big granddad and me listening to the radio; I told him that Kallicharran was going to get out. He smiled and said, ‘He has scored 98, he needs only 2 more.’ The next ball Venkat got him. And I was running around the hall as if I had got him!  India won that Test and I remember the Tamil commentators going berserk over Kapil Dev’s batting. Yes, we had Tamil commentary! Those black-and-white pictures from Sportstar and Sportsweek and Sportsworld are still etched in my mind. The Hindu would cover every test with great pictures and the scorecard would be perfect; Deccan Herald and Indian Express would always have some error in their scorecard.

My first exposure to the BBC was during the ’79 tour to England. David Gower was the new English star along with Ian Botham and we had the one man who could hold the fort – Sunil Gavaskar. After that 221 at The Oval, Sunny had a fan in me  for life. Gooch, Boycott, Gower, Botham, Willey, Miller… the names even now roll from my tongue. We had Chetan Chauhan, SMG, Vengsarkar, GR Viswanath, Kaps, Venkat and Bedi. The radio would pick up everything from the motorcar that went down our road, to the rumble of thunder, and all other stations nearby. Power cuts would be frequent and you would have to tweak the dials again to get back your station.

The other test I remember was when India went to the West Indies in ’83, just before the World Cup. While the Philips had a niche for itself, there was a Bush Banjo that was portable and moved around the house depending on the time of the day; it could be at the kitchen for my mum and aunt to listen to all those songs requested by Army jawans. Then it would make its way back into the living room or to one of the bedrooms. When I went to bed the previous night, the match was all set to end in a draw. At 3 AM I wake up and switch on the Bush; Gordon Greenidge and  Viv Richards  blew us to smithereens and  won the game for West Indies from an impossible position. I think they scored at a seemingly impossible 6 or 7 per over to win that one. I went to school totally depressed.

The craze for the game was so much that I once even took the Bush Banjo to school when England visited us in ’81, and got the score during the breaks.  Of course there was always that one idiot who will turn on the radio during the class. The rest was history.

The 9PM news was something that the elders enjoyed; for me it was  the end of a day, homework done, dinner done and the ritual of preparing to go to bed. The electronic beeps (pips)  leading to 9PM on the radio had a comforting touch to it. My favorite part of the evening was there and my thrill was guessing who the newsreader would be; would it be Latika Rathnam, Surjit Sen or maybe Susheel (the news read by Susheel today, never would say his second name).

The joy of radio is very much alive today. My phone has an app called TuneIn that allows me to listen to perhaps every station on the planet that has some sort of a connect to the Internet. It was on this app that I rediscovered the pleasure of radio cricket commentary. India’s entire tour to Australia in 2011-12 was on ABC Grandstand.  Crystal clear digital even when I was on the move.

ABC Grandslam had our own Harsha Bhogle, and along with him was Kerry O’Keefe and Jim Maxwell. Former Aussie fast Terry Alderman was there too; Now the Aussies are a tough bunch and are known for their straight talk but what they also have in surprisingly large doses is sarcastic humour. I think sarcasm is the second language in Australia. Boy, can they can make you laugh or what!  In between the deliveries, this bunch not only brought alive the events of the day but also shared anecdotes, jokes, analysis and statistics and regaled us with discussions on music, food, movies, personal habits and much more. Our current crop of men on TV has a long way to go before they can become such masters. Radio commentary is not what the doctor ordered for them.

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Lead image from here

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Srikanth Natarajan is a sports nut who has a passion for reading old newspapers and history. Growing up in Bangalore with a steady diet of sports magazines and street cricket, he leads sales for a leading IT organization. Follow him @sriknata

4 Comments

  1. Deepak Deepak

    Excellent recollection of Cricketing anecdotes bro. I can recollect every moment of these times as I have witnessed it during my holiday visits. Cant forget you running around the hall & doing all-in none, the Bush Banjo (think it had a brown case in leather), small granddad’s icy stares & our 6 feet tall grandpa standing in full concentration net to the radio. Yes radio commentary was a class. Great write-up.
    Keep it rolling.

  2. Anand Anand

    Awesome article Srikanth! Brings back the nostalgia of the days of the transistor radio, Sushil Doshi and Dicky Rutnagur. Looking forward to more.

  3. Vivek Bhandari Vivek Bhandari

    Brilliant article! I have read it at least 3-4 times 🙂

    Though I didn’t grow up with the radio, so to speak, but the radio was always there in my home, somewhere or the other. And yes, the commentary was descriptive as that let the listeners to visualized everything on the ground.

    My father has told me several times how they (his friends and him) used to wonder what a “patki hui gend” was and how it is so dangerous when the West Indians bowl to the Indian tailenders :). For those who have no idea about this, it is pure hindi description of a short ball 🙂

    “The electronic beeps (pips) leading to 9PM on the radio had a comforting touch to it.” This was fun. I remember it used to come just before 6 seconds before the bulletin. And the last one was loong “teep teep teep teep teep teeeeeep” 😀

    Today’s radio commentary still has the same feels; however, this is not the same with TV commentators especially in Hindi. Most of them try to be like the most popular one 😉

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