Gaffes galore

The MCC skipper George Mann was bowled by the South African Tufty Mann. An unplayable delivery it was, pitching on the leg stump and taking the off bail. John Arlott immortalised himself with "Mann's inhumanity to Mann".


CRICKET'S chroniclers will tell you that the first ball-by-ball commentary, like Test cricket itself, had its origins in Australia. Not quite cricket, that. Research reveals that it was Sanjaya who gave a blow-by-blow account of the Mahabharata war to the blind king Dhridharashtra. This was long years before Len Watt described over steam radio the `Testimonial for Charles Bannerman' at Sydney in 1922.

From Sanjaya to the present day purveyors in India, the fall in standard is steep. One heard in the fifties, Vizzy going back in history on what happened in 1936 etc and suddenly waking up, and saying that in the meanwhile a couple of wickets had fallen, or the infliction in recent times of a `harsh' commentator who bhole eighteen to the dozen, ranting and running faster than even the ball! Verbal diarrhoea of sorts.

Sometime back one of our commentators resurrected with regret, Abid Ali whose death he had announced with sorrow earlier on.

And we have `desi' commentary in Hindi, educating the Hindi ispeaking natives in Queen's English. Third man is not theesra aadmi or short square leg chhotaa chowkhunda taang nor leggie isspin taang chakka; also no ball is not nahin gaind. Fine leg is also not khubsoorath paire... For the purist, the beginning of an over is `unki sesh aarambh ho gayi', and the end of the over `unki sesh sesh ho gayi' The maiden over is `unki kumari sesh ho gayi'. The anti-Hindi southerner and the easterner will willy nilly learn Hindi and the anti-English Hindi `waallah' is forced to pick up `thoda kuuch angrezi'. Entertaining national integration, no?

John Arlott made commentary listening a pleasure, like a fine bar of music. He could paint pictures with words. One could smell bat oil. Alston slipped into a spoonerism of sorts while handing over the mike saying "over to Old John Arlott at Trafford". Arlott had a turn of phrase and a poetic ring eg; "Away goes Lever chasing his shadow" as play was drawing to a close. Or this one, "A sandy haired Englishman bowls to a crimson turbanned Sikh, with an Indian Prince at the other end". It was Snow bowling to Bedi, with Pataudi at the bowler's end.

The MCC skipper George Mann was bowled by the South African Tufty Mann. An unplayable delivery it was, pitching on the leg stump and taking the off bail. Arlott immortalised himself with "Mann's inhumanity to Mann".

When the streaker streaked at the Mecca of cricket, Arlott quipped, " the old ladies in the crowd are seeing what they haven't seen for years". His description of Asif Masood whose knees bent during the run up as "Groucho Marx chasing a pretty waitress"!

On a visit to the Middle East, Freddie Truman learnt that his host had 198 wives. According to Arlott, Freddie is supposed to have quipped, " Golly, another two and he can claim the new ball!"

Pakistan are on tour of Australia, the year, 1981. When Greg Chappell was bowled, Zaheer Abbas shouts "Faquih, you got him!" Chappell took umbrage mistaking it for a common Anglo-Saxon vulgarity. Only much later did it dawn on him that Zaheer was referring to his bowler Ejaaz Faquih.

Brian Johnston was guilty of a similar gaffe when he said "play has ended at Southampton but they will play till seven o' clock at Edgbaston, so over to Rex Alston for some balls." Pakistan are on tour, the year, 1962. Barry Knight was batting when Rex Alston said "There is a bowling change and we are going to see Afaq at the Nursery End". Could he have been misconstrued or did Alston deliver it on purpose?

Jim Swanton, a character among commentators, invariably stayed with Governor Generals or dined with Prime Ministers or High Commissioners, prompting his colleagues into "Jim is such a snob that he won't travel in the same car as his chauffeur!"

The election of the Pope was on in Rome. The conclave of cardinals met at the Vatican to elect a Pope. A vast crowd was waiting in St. Peter's Square to see the puff of white smoke signalling the election of the new Pope. That was also the time when a Test match was on at Lord's and Brian Johnston was commentating when he saw one of the chimneys of the Old Tavern belching smoke. When the cameras panned on the chimney, he announced in all seriousness "Ah, I see that Jim Swanton has just been elected Pope!"

Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie narrates an apocryphal tale attributed to Jim Swanton. On the first honeymoon as Jim and his wife were getting into bed, Ann's foot touched Jim's.

"God, she said, your feet are cold!"

"It's alright, darling, in bed you may call me Jim."

Brian Johnston has several gaffes to his credit. One suspects that it is not unpremeditated. At Headingley, 1961, Harvey is fielding at leg slip. Brian commentates: "Harvey is waiting with his legs wide apart, waiting for a tickle." At Leicester, it is "as you come over, Ray Illingworth has just relieved himself at the pavilion end."

In 1969, Alan Ward makes his debut against New Zealand at Lord's. Off his fifth ball he hits a terrible blow on Glenn Turner's box. Turner is put out. After a few minutes he staggers to the crease at which point BJ delivers himself, "it looks as if he is going to try to continue. Very plucky of him. One ball left!"

Peter Pollock playing for the Rest of the World slips and twists his ankle. Brian Johnston is irrepressible. "He is in excruciating pain. It is especially bad, as he is here on his honeymoon with his pretty wife. Still he'll probably be all right tomorrow, if he sticks it up tonight." Dennis Compton, in the commentary box, collapses at this.

Michael Holding bowling to Peter Willey. BJ's double entendre is again at its devastating best. The bowler's Holding the batsman's Willey. There was the commentator who said of Bob Cunis, the New Zealand fast bowler, "Cunis, a funny sort of name. Neither one thing or the other."

Charles Fortune, the South African commentator, was covering Len Hutton's tour of Australia. Typhoon Tyson spearheaded the MCC attack. Jim Burke alone stood as a rock against the Typhoon. Charles Fortune was commentating "It is Tyson to Burke... Suddenly, it is "Byson to Turk."!

Ian Botham is as irrepressible in the commentary box as on the field. He told the listeners that he wouldn't send his mother-in-law to Pakistan. When Pakistan won the World Cup one of them couldn't resist retorting, `who wants your mother-in-law any way?'

What about other sports? The special mark of distinction is not reserved to cricket alone. Wimbledon it is. Rain, the spoilsport. Slight delay. Rex Alston, commentating in a ladies match, drops a brick: "Louise Brough cannot serve at the moment as she has not got any balls".

A commentator ecstatic over Juantoreno, the winner of 800m in Montreal Olympics, describes him "every time the big Cuban opens his legs, he shows his world class".

The champion motorbike rider, Barry Sheene, was described by a lady commentator as the glamorous sportsman with that throbbing power between his legs.

Henry Longhurst was describing the difficulties of a particular green. A pretty lady golfer was bending over and measuring her putt. The camera panned with a close up from behind. Longhurst is reported to have said, "this is one of the tightest and yet most satisfying holes in the world of golf!"