By George Abraham
I have been following Indian cricket since 1969. I debuted as a cricket fan during the India vs New Zealand series when the Graham Dowling-led side locked horns with Tiger Pataudi and his team. India won the first Test at Mumbai, New Zealand levelled the score at Nagpur while the third Test at Hyderabad was drawn thanks to rain. Next, the Indian cricket fan was treated to a five Test feast when Bill Lawry’s Australian team visited India. Every match was covered on radio, every ball was described in detail, updated scorecards were read out at regular intervals. Listening to the radio commentary was accelerating and we, the listeners, were literally made to feel that we were present pitch-side. As a visually impaired youngster, I was totally bowled over by the sport, never missed a match. Commentators like Anant Setalvad, Devraj Puri, Dicky Rutnagur, Balu Alaganan literally became the eyes of millions of listeners across the nation. During a Test match, I, like many others, would be carrying a transistor radio wherever I went. Conversations at streetcorners, coffee houses and social events would be about cricket.
Then in 1978, when the Indian cricket team under Bishan Bedi made the historic tour of Pakistan, the cricket fans across the country were introduced to television coverage for the first time. Yes, Doordarshan coverage was by then available nationwide. Now fans could actually see live their cricketing heroes and action sitting in their homes. These were exciting times for the cricket aficionado. I was in college and I remember watching the games along with friends in the common room. Kapil Dev had made his international debut. Seemed an exciting prospect. Fans across the country had the opportunity to watch the flair of Gundappa Viswanath and Zaheer Abbas, the grit and focus of Sunil Gavaskar and Javed Miandad, the flight and guile of Erapalli Prasanna and Bishan Bedi alongside the pace and swing of Imran Khan and Sarfraz Nawaz. Television had ushered in an exciting new era in cricket coverage.
Over the next few years, TV coverage became the preferred mode for fans to follow the sport. The emergence of former cricketers as commentators added fresh colour and appeal to watching cricket. Former legends like Richie Benaud, Ian Chappell, David Gower and Sunil Gavaskar added tremendous value to the cricket viewing experience.
While I did enjoy these developments, as a blind person, I found that I was missing out on critical information. For instance, at the toss, the playing eleven of the two sides are displayed on the screen. The commentators only talk of some key players being featured in the match. As a fan, I would like to know the entire list of players. When a new batsman walks out into the middle or a new bowler comes into the attack, the screen has the display of his career records. Often, the commentators do not talk about it. Ever since the scorecard details are displayed on the screen, the practice of reading out the detailed scores at the end of a session of play has stopped. Very often, when a brilliant catch or an outstanding piece of fielding happens resulting in a dismissal, the name of the fielder is not mentioned by the commentators. During the just-concluded ICC World Cup that took place in England, there were several occasions when one did not know as to who was Virat Kohli’s partner since the commentators kept talking about Kohli’s greatness, his stats and so on. As a blind cricket fan, I was at a loss as to who was at the non-striker end or who was taking strike when Kohli was at the non-striker end. I guess they assume that viewers can see and recognise players and besides the screen perhaps is displaying the details.
The commentators certainly add a huge amount of interesting content by way of their humour, insights, anecdotes and knowledge of the game. However, I believe television companies and cricket boards need to draw up a set of guidelines which would ensure that the coverage becomes more inclusive. There are millions of fans like me who are blind and follow the games on television. Having travelled extensively within the country promoting cricket for the blind, I can confidently assert that there are thousands of blind cricket connoisseurs who tune into TV channels in support of their favourite cricketers and teams. I believe that a little bit of awareness and consciousness of the prevalence of the blind viewer and a willingness to make those minor tweaks in the way commentators engage, could make cricket viewing exciting for all.
Starting October 2, South Africa has been playing India in a three Test series followed by a fairly busy domestic season for the Indians leading up to the T-20 World Cup in 2020 and the World Test Championship which concludes in 2021. There is a lot of cricket and I believe blind cricket fans would love it if television cricket coverage becomes inclusive.
1. Playing squads must be read out at the start of the match
2. Name of the bowler and batsman must be mentioned at the start of every over
3. When a batsman walks into the middle for the first time, his stats must be shared
4. Likewise when a bowler is brought into the attack for the first time in the innings, his bowling records must be shared
5. When runs are scored, the commentators must call out the name of the batsman and the number of runs accrued
6. When a wicket falls, the commentators must mention the mode of dismissal and the names of the players involved in the dismissal
7. When a catch or a brilliant piece of fielding happens, the name of the fielder must be mentioned
8. The updated scorecard must be read out at the end of each playing session
9. When interesting records and titbits are shared on the screen, the commentators must read it out
10. Often Twitter handles and phone numbers are shared on the screen to interact with the commentators and experts, they must be spoken out too
11. The team score and the individual scores of the batsmen at the crease must be spoken aloud at the end of each over
12. When the camera focuses on famous personalities in the stadium, it would be nice if the commentators can mention the names. This adds to the excitement of the action
13. Finally, the commentators must be conscious that their viewers also include passionate cricket fans who are visually impaired and that these fans too are interested in every piece of the action. In fact it might be a good idea for the commentators to from time to time recognise their blind viewers.
These are my personal suggestions to make cricket television coverage more inclusive. I believe it is time broadcasters covering cricket in particular and sport in general realise and recognise that their coverage reaches out to millions of viewers who are blind. It certainly could make business sense to start including them.
George Abraham has been blind since his early childhood, but that hasn’t prevented him from working and living his life like any of us. He worked with an advertising agency like Ogilvy, pioneered blind cricket in the country and now runs Score Foundation which, among other things, also offers a helpline for visually impaired individuals who need support and direction (Toll-free number: 1800 5320469). On Sunday, October 20, George Abraham will run the Delhi half marathon. He can be reached via Twitter at @georgebhai and via mail at george [at] eyeway.org