Johnson column: The Aussie and Kiwi commentators producing cringeworthy moments at the IPL

By Martin Johnson

There’s probably a medical name for it – IPLus overdosus perhaps – but as I told my GP this week: “I just can’t take any more, Doc. Every time I turn on the telly someone hits a six, and every game appears to be between the Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab.” To which he replied: “Don’t worry, lad. You’re not alone. You’re the sixth person I’ve seen this morning with the same symptoms.”

The IPL purports to be a competition of eight teams and 60 matches, whereas it would be more accurate to describe it as a competition between two teams playing the same match 60 times. Cricket’s version of Groundhog Day. But I might conceivably have made it right through the tournament were it not for one irritant too many.

I’m not talking about the ‘pom pom’ girls, boring though it is to see them jumping up and down every time there’s a boundary, or the spectators, who also jump up and down – and wave and squeal at the same time – every time they see themselves on the big screen.

Neither is it the requirement for the cameraman to hone in on those people in T shirts spelling out T A S T Y T R E A T, nor is it that monotonously familiar blast from a bugle which has become the single most compelling argument for the restoration of capital punishment.

It is – as I reckon most of you have guessed already – the commentators, whose qualification for the job appears to be the ability to talk at length about the bleedin’ obvious, and at decibel levels that makes your cat arch its back and start hissing at the television screen. And nearly all of them, for reasons I can’t begin to fathom, are Australian.

The one exception to this is a New Zealander, a country whose reputation for producing quiet and demure citizens has taken a fearful battering from Danny Morrison’s stints behind a microphone.

There is almost nothing in the IPL that is not sponsored or linked to a TV viewers’ poll but they’ve missed a trick with not having “vote now for the Tasty Treat commentator award for the most cringe-making post-match interview.”

In which Morrison would face stiff competition from the two Michaels, Slater and Clarke.

Clarke, as with all these former players, has been hired to enhance the viewing experience with his expert insight, which he did magnificently the other day when the cameras honed in on a popcorn seller in the crowd.

“Give me the ice cream tray every time,” said Michael. Adding, in a voice that oozed knowledge and gravitas in equal measure, “especially the caramel.”

There was a time when I thought that Clarke’s voice was the single most grating sound in sport, but this IPL has thrown up two other Australians with accents that are a cross between a Harley Davison motorbike at full revs, and an air raid siren going off.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Lisa Sthalekar and Melanie Jones possess voices that must have prompted their respective neighbours to rip out all their windows and have them replaced with triple glazing. They both say thought-provoking things like: “The Sunrisers won’t want to lose early wickets…” and generally start talking in the hope that they might eventually stumble upon something interesting to say. Which they hardly ever do.

And so it goes on. In fairness to the commentators they’re at the mercy of the director, whose insistence on regular crowd close-ups obviously requires words to go with them. Cue Morrison, who has clearly developed his technique in this specialised area by watching afternoon game shows. Or old episodes of Tiswas.

“There’s a familiar face. Georgie Katich there with the hat on and the KKR shirt on. That’s Simon Katich’s wife.” Cut to dugout. “There he is! Hey Kato! You’re on mate!” Cut back to the missus. “Give us a wave Mrs Katich!” An invitation Mrs K chose to decline.

It also appears to be written into the contract that the sponsors are woven into the commentary at all times. Ergo, when someone hits a couple of sixes, the camera heads straight for the sponsored car. “What power from Colin DeGrandhomme! Just like under the bonnet of the Tata Nexon SUV!”

This, presumably, is the kind of thing we can expect next winter when England’s tour matches move from TMS to Talksport. It’s time we had a break from the cakes and pigeons, but when Talksport last did it, old school commentators like Jack Bannister were required to say things like: “It’s been another well-organised innings from Bloggs, and talking of well-organised, keep your business looking smart and efficient with Regus Office Furnishing.”

It’s all a far cry from the ancient era of Peter West, Tony Lewis, CMJ, Jim Laker, and Richie Benaud. Amazing, is it not, that Richie and Clarke come from the same country?

Harder still to imagine Jim Swanton covering the IPL. He once edited an audio compilation of great matches, and was at his most magnificently pompous after a clip of CMJ greeting India’s victory over the West Indies in the 1983 World Cup final with “and that must be the most sensational result of all time!”

“Well,” said Swanton, in his best disapproving manner, “let’s just say it was an unexpected result.”

Laker would have finished the IPL single handedly. Jim was not a man given to hyperbole, as you can tell from his 19 wickets against Australia at Old Trafford in 1956, all of which were celebrated with a quiet handshake, and hitching up a pair of flannels that were clearly too big for him.

So it was no great surprise, when he took to the microphone, that the delivery was straight from the Speaking Clock school of commentary.

If Swanton and Laker had been around to cover the IPL, maybe I wouldn’t now be lying in a darkened room, heavily sedated, and the TV donated to a charity shop. It’s hard to say whether this is a permanent parting of the ways, but, at the very least, as the IPL commentators would put it, I am taking a Ceat Tyres Strategic Time Out.

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