Talented all-rounder Lala Amarnath, when in the All India Radio commentary box, was abrasive and did not suffer fools gladly. If a gushing commentator praised a batsman’s offside stroke and asked for confirmation from the expert, he would snap, “No foot work, sneaky edge through the slips, lucky shot”.
Once during a match, thinking the microphone was switched off, the Lala let loose some choice Punjabi invective. But the mike was on and the comments were heard by thousands of listeners. That ended Lala’s career in the commentary box.
The same has happened to Dean Jones. As the bearded Muslim South African fielder Hashim Amla took a catch to dismiss star Sri Lankan batsman Kumar Sangakara, thousands of viewers heard Jones observe, “The terrorist has got another wicket”. Angry phone calls and a protest from the South African manager later, Jones was sacked.
He left Colombo apologising profusely, but his comment may well go down in history as the worst ever bloomer from a sports commentator. To be sure, the history of cricket commentary is full of such verbal faux pas, but most have made the grade for being in the right spirit.
Way back in 1934, in the Australia Vs England Test at Trent Bridge, commentator Herbert Marshall recited the following ditty on Australian spinner Bill O’Reilly:
As for the O’Reilly,
You value so highly,
You are bowling well.
The BBC received 300 protest letters against the use of the word ‘gorblimey! The BBC’s special team of Test commentators consisted of highly literate and humourous men who were ready with jokes often aimed at themselves.
These jokes were often risqué. Discussing the Chappell family with cricket expert, Trevor Bailey, Brian Johnston recalled that Mrs Chappell spent hours in the family lawn practicing with the boys and asked Bailey if he knew of any cricketing mums in England.
While Bailey was thinking of an answer, BJ wondered if he had heard of cricket mum Penny Cowdrey’s performance against her son’s school. “O, I am told her swingers were unplayable!” observed BJ and ducked for cover as Bailey thought of an answer.
Meanwhile, Freddie Truman whispered, “Would Penny’s swingers have much bounce on a feather-bed?” Fortunately, all these double entendres remained confined to the commentary box.
Indian commentators contributed their own share to these witticisms. Tamilian Ananda Rao, who was connected with the Dasaprakash Hotel chain, was obsessed with the phrase ‘tiffin time’ and as soon as the match began, would count down to tiffin time.
The late Vijay Merchant who also became a commentator was fond of coincidences and often asked scorer Anandji Dossa if he remembered the last occasion when an opening pair went out to bat with a blue handkerchief poking out of the pocket of one and a red one from the pocket of the other.
Mumbai-based Suresh Saraiya was so fond of the word ‘delivery’ in his commentary that for a long time I thought he was a gynaecologist. He was a bank executive.
These were bloomers which gave one a good laugh. But Dean Jones’ was spiteful and in bad taste. It was a sad moment for Jones’ career and for sports commentary.