Prem Panicker

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Prem has been writing about cricket since 1996 -- and sometimes wishes he hadn't.

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So yesterday I was reading this column by one of our legendary former players and it freaked me out.

Here it is.

What strikes you about it -- besides the fact that the background music is the sound of an axe being ground -- is how neatly it divides itself into two parts. The first part talks about how stupid the 'so called experts' (having observed the gent's style for the best part of two decades, I'll make an educated guess that his target is someone, or a few someones, who are part of the panel on one of those TV talk shows) are in calling for the inclusion of Ravichandra Ashwin. And the second half of the column is about how Ashwin is a real talent and deserves to be included.

Duh!

Putting the signature stamp on this is the throwaway line: "Remember these 'experts' wanted Greg Chappell as India's coach too." Nice. Plays right into the anti-Chappell ethos that is still prevalent even as his successor, having finished a full stint, counts down to departure.

But in the spirit of providing timely reminders, here's one of my own: Remember the columnist who wrote the above was part of the panel that selected Chappell as national coach -- an inconvenient fact quietly omitted from his screed.

I could go on. To point, for instance, at where the column sneers at 'so called experts' who think they know more than those whose business it is to run the game. Which would explain why these idiotic 'so-called experts' were crying themselves hoarse about corruption in the IPL, while those who were running the 'game', including said columnist who was both member of the governing council and cheerleader in chief for the league, knew different. Of course,  it turned out later that the so-called experts were right after all -- all was not well within the IPL. Turned out, too, that those who were running the game were asleep at the switch -- or, self-confessedly, did not know what they were doing. It also turned out that those who were 'running the game' while being clueless about what was going on were however insistent on being paid for nodding their heads -- not merely the money they had been promised on paper, but a larger undisclosed sum they had agreed on in a private deal with Sharad Pawar.

Now that I've written thus far, I'm beginning to wonder why I bothered. Maybe it is just the pent up irritation consequent on being force-fed nine hours of 'commentary' every day -- a class of commentary Avirook Sen, writing in DNA, recently spent some acidic ink on in a column aptly titled 'The good, the bad and the Sidhu'.

I point to the dangerously unfunny Indians on show, chief among them being Sunil Gavaskar.

For a couple of decades now, Gavaskar has made the repetition of banalities a lucrative profession. This is obvious to anyone listening to him.

If a pitch has low bounce, for instance, you can expect Gavaskar to say something like: ‘This pitch has low bounce, which indicates that the ball will keep low after pitching and will not bounce very much.’ (Actual quotes by Gavaskar are too boring to repeat.)

Gavaskar’s status as a legend of Indian cricket has vaccinated him against criticism, and to be fair, he grew in the commentary box during the days when the only adjective authorised for use to describe a stroke was “magnificent”; at least until “tracer bullet” was introduced.

The pity of it is that the Shastris and Gavaskars know better; they know what makes for good commentary, what insights gleaned from their own playing days can be harnessed to better inform the viewer. While on that, read the opening grafs of this story I once wrote -- a perfect depiction of the commentator's art, from no less than Gavaskar himself.

It is just that they cannot be bothered to take the trouble. And why should they, when they can sleep-walk through cliche-filled stints, secure in the knowledge that theirs is a lifetime sinecure, with no threat on the horizon?

Shastri's 'tracer bullet' reminds me of this joke about a bloke who used to write Western novels, back in the day when novelists were paid a cent a word. Compelling stuff it was, too -- only, contrary to the tradition that says the hero of every Western should be able to draw fast, and shoot straight, this writer's hero was a lousy shot, taking six bullets to nail his man while the protagonists of books written by his peers took just the one shot.

So someone asked him what the hell was up with that -- why was his hero so damn lousy with the six shooter? Pat came the answer: 'Are you kidding me? Why should I kill the villain with one shot, bang, when by going bang-bang-bang-bang-bang-BANG, I can kill my man and make five additional cents into the bargain?'

I wonder how much you get paid per 'tracer bullet'. Just idle curiosity on my part.

Now pause right there, and check this out: the sound of a tracer bullet. If you aren't following @krishashok on Twitter, this is a sample of what you are missing.

If commentators were in fact paid by the word, Sidhu would have been topping the Forbes list by now, by the way. He never yet saw a question he couldn't convert into an opportunity for some nautanki, and seems gloriously impervious both to the increasing exasperation of his colleagues in the box and the increasingly desperate attempts of his mild-mannered host to get him to shut up. I don't know what college he studied in or what exam he last appeared for, but I'm fairly confident it couldn't have been one of those multiple-choice types where you only get to tick boxes -- Sidhu is the only person I have met who takes more words to say 'yes' than Tolstoy needed to tell the story of Anna Karenina.

Oh, and in passing? Someone needs to drop a word in his ear, gently reminding him that he did not invent that saying about statistics being like miniskirts, blah-blah. Not only does he trot it out at any conceivable, and some inconceivable, excuse, he increasingly gets miffed if someone else uses the line, and butts in to complete it. He might need a gentle hint that the original comment ('Statistics are like bikinis -- what they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital') was made by Aaron Levenstein, professor emeritus at Baruch College and legendary for his ability to sum up complex insights into pithy, memorable one-liners.

Just for your amusement, here: The Commentators' World Cup, a delightful essay by Dan Norcross who, with the rest of the Test Match Sofa gang, have been keeping a lot of us safe from tracer bullets.

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