Exclusive interview with LS: “As a cricketer I should have played much more”: Laxman Sivaramakrishnan is an encyclopaedia when talking about cricket as he has brilliant knowledge about the game. He very effectively describes what is going on in a match and enlightens his viewers with something out of the box. His wonderful voice has an identity of its own. Humble by nature, combined with the most pleasing personality and finally the man who makes cricket come to life… is this great cricketer turned commentator Siva, as he is fondly called. He first made heads turn when he was just 12 years old as he scalped 7 for 2 in Chennai’s inter school championships game. He further made his debut against Delhi in Ranji Trophy and claimed 7 for 28 in the 2nd innings and from there onwards there was no looking back as he went onto represent India too. CricFit.com author Binaisha M. Surti met him at the Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai where he spoke to her on various aspects ranging from how he took up bowling to who are his favourite commentators and finally why former cricketers have that slight edge over others when it comes to making commentary a career option.
You started playing cricket from a very young age so when did you realize that this is the game for you?
Siva: Actually I started playing school cricket when I was 12 years old and by the time I was 14 years I was in the India under 19 team so all this happened for me in the span of 2 years. When I was in the India under 19 team, I knew that this was the way forward and then I played my Ranji Trophy match when I was 16 so it was a quick climb up and it did not take me too long to realize that cricket was going to be my career.
What inclined you towards the art of bowling and what made you want to become a leg-spinner?
Siva: I was the youngest in the family and further youngest in my neighbourhood so people did not give me an opportunity to bat and they would ask me to bowl. At that time we played Tennis ball cricket…and when you play Tennis ball cricket it is difficult to turn the off break and much easier to turn the leg break and that is one of the reasons why I took up leg spin bowling…I was forced to bowl by my seniors since I was the youngest kid and I quite enjoyed getting the older people out. It was good fun and challenging too. I derived a lot of enjoyment in getting a batsman out so that showed me the way saying that I must be a bowler.
You made your Test debut at St. John’s at the age of 17 years. At that point of time you were the youngest Indian Test cricketer. How was that experience and did you feel a certain amount of pressure to perform and make a mark?
Siva: At the age of 17 you are not thinking too much as you are more excited than being nervous. I was excited to be playing against the best team in the world ever…the 1983 West Indies side was the best team and I remember having batted for an hour against their fast bowlers so it was a great experience. St. John’s is one of the most flat tracks you will ever get. I probably made my debut as a bowler on the wrong pitch because I bowled about 25 overs, conceded 95 runs and did not get a wicket in my Test match debut. But I thought I bowled reasonably well and there were a couple of chances that went down and I went wicket less in my very first game. It was a great experience and privilege since I played at the age of 17 against the best in the world. Not many people get this chance.
During the World Championship of Cricket in Australia, you finished as the top wicket taker. Share with us some memorable moments of that tournament?
Siva: First of all I never expected to go to Australia for the World Championship of cricket. We had just finished our England Test series in which we unfortunately lost and I was the highest wicket taker in the series. Then after that there was an ODI series against England in which I never played so I was not a part of the one day side of this particular series. Further going to Australia, Mr Vasu Paranjpe…very popular in Mumbai and one of the best coaches that I have come across had a word with Sunil Gavaskar who was the captain of the Indian team for the World Championship of cricket and suggested to him that he must take me on the tour because the team need wickets in the middle overs… and he told him with the big grounds in Australia Siva will be able to get those wickets for the team in the middle overs. By doing that you make sure that there are no partnerships building. This is why I was given an opportunity and I played in MCG Vs Pakistan and picked up 2 wickets, from there onwards there was no looking back. I was given the liberty by Sunil Gavaskar to bowl freely and go for wickets and there was no question of trying to restrict runs and it was the question of getting wickets in the middle overs, which happened for me right through the series.
How has the journey been from being a cricketer to a commentator?
Siva: As a cricketer I should have played much more as I made my debut in 1983 and then I last played for India in the 1987 Reliance World Cup. Then came Anil Kumble and so did Hirwani make an impact. Kumble played for a long time and he was a match winner for India. Commentary has been a second innings in cricket for me and I have done 15 years of commentary so far. I really enjoy it and look forward to a few more years of commentary that I can do as I enjoy doing Test matches when the spinners are bowling as there are a lot of things to talk about. Television commentary is all about educating the viewers about what more you can add to the visuals. You are just not talking, it in fact is the value that you add to the picture. My very first Test match commentary was between India and Bangladesh in the year 2000 and my co commentators were probably the best in the world at that point of time…Ian Chappell, Tony Greig, Ravi Shastri, Michael Holding so I thought at that point of time if I don’t make a fool of myself, if I do not sound silly then I would have a career in commentary and that is the way it happened. I have been lucky to have done 15 years of commentary so far.
How do you look at the transformation that cricket has undergone so far since the introduction of the shortest format i.e. T20 cricket?
Siva: It is really great for the game as you get different kinds of crowds coming in to watch. In fact each format has a different audience. The 3 versions that cricket is producing is attracting different crowds and all of them are enjoying it and the players are reaping the benefits as well. One must give a lot of credit to the players because it takes a lot of fitness to be able to play all 3 formats. They work really hard because almost 9 months in a year they are playing cricket, they are away from their families and they are sacrificing so much. It is a game which is hard on the players physically and mentally as they sacrifice a lot, spending time in the nets, travelling and then being away playing for long durations. I personally enjoy all 3 formats and the players are doing a terrific job.
You have done commentary in all 3 formats, which according to you is the most exciting?
Siva: All 3 are different. Test match cricket for me is talking about the intricacies on how bowlers are trying to get batsmen out, it is one of the things that I will always enjoy. While the T20 format is more of entertainment. When you sit at home and watch T20 cricket, it would be most likely that one is sitting with friends so the most important thing in this format is to grab the attention of the viewers. If the cricketer has hit a 6, 4 or has taken a wicket than the excitement needs to be shown in your voice, grab the attention of all who are watching, keep the interest going by keeping it lively.
Who has been your role model in the field of commentary and what have you learnt from him?
Siva: I always looked up at Ravi Shastri as we have been friends since so many years. Ravi took up commentary after he finished his stint as a cricketer so I wanted to try the same. I played my last first class season for Baroda in 1998, I fractured my finger and then I could not play any more cricket so I had to retire. Then I chose to do commentary. I did commentary for a channel for 2 years then Ravi suggested my name and I went on to do the Test Match between India and Bangladesh. I look up to Ravi Shastri for advice and even now we speak to each other on a regular bases. We have been best of buddies and he suggested that I concentrate on commentary as he thought that I was doing a good job and that is how I have stuck with commentary for so many years.
How was that first game like where you commentated in?
Siva: This was the India Vs Bangladesh Test match…and I was a bit nervous as I was not that youngster of 17 years making my Test match debut and at that time all my co commentators were all established and were big names. In my first match itself I decided to set a bench mark for myself to see if I had a future in this line… but I did have a nervous beginning.
50% ability but 200% determination. Is that a fair assessment for being a commentator?
Siva: Firstly, you have to be very spontaneous and have good command over the language because you never know as to what will happen in the next ball. The importance of being a commentator is to add value to the visuals, talk about the intricacies of the game which will enlighten the viewers and it is good to have a sense of humour too…When I commentate with someone like Sunil Gavaskar, even though he is so senior I know I can still fool around with him or probably crack a joke or pull his leg. A little bit of laughter and a little bit of fun is good for people sitting at home. It also depends on your co commentator as to how well you can work with him.
You have commentated with so many fellow commentators. Who are your favourites?
Siva: My favourites would be Sunil Gavaskar, because I can really joke with him on air, Ravi Shastri too is another person I really enjoy working with. I also love working with Ian Bishop as he is one of the best commentators in the circuit right now…he in fact does not talk much but when he says a few lines he makes a real impact and further we have a very good rapport when we work together. He too is very good and an intelligent student of the game.
Have you had any “oops moments” on air while commentating?
Siva: Well in live commentary everybody makes mistakes…in fact during one of the Test matches that I was doing, Mahela Jayawardene was batting on 97 and played a shot towards mid- wicket and I called a 100 but some fielder had stopped the ball, he got 2 runs and was on 99 (Smiles). So all these things happen, it is a part and parcel of commentary…you immediately apologise and carry on with it.
Why is it that only ex cricketers get a chance in the field of cricket commentary and not any outsider?
Siva: Well I think just for the simple reason because there is a lot of credibility as a former player as we have played the game, been in the centre and gone through the pressure. You can relate to what the current players are going through. I think this is one of the reasons why former players have that slight advantage over non players.
Laxman Sivaramakrishnan is all set to play the most awaited rapid fire round
What do friends and family call you: L.S
Cricket to you means: Everything
Which other sports do you follow besides cricket: Tennis and Golf
Your all-time favourite batsman: Viv Richards
Your all-time favourite bowler: Malcolm Marshall
Your all-time favourite team: West Indies in the 1980’s
Who has been your biggest inspiration: Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri
Memories of your first match that you played: Memories of my 1st match that I played was the Ranji Trophy debut against Delhi, I picked up 2 wickets in the 1st innings and 7/28 in my 2nd innings…and 7/28 still remains my best figures in an innings on a turning pitch in Chennai. I remember the Delhi batting line up was as good as the batting line up of the Indian team.
Memories of your first game that you commentated in: It was an India Vs Bangladesh match in Dhaka and it was Saurav Ganguly’s 1st Test match as captain and India won that match in 4 days. I still remember that India had conceded a few runs in the 1st innings but they came back strongly in the 2nd innings and did well.
Your favourite holiday destination: U.S.A
Favourite wicket that you have always liked to play on: I love bowling at the Wankhede and the Melbourne Cricket Ground
Favourite place to commentate at: The CCI
If not a commentator or a cricketer then what would you have been: An Engineer
Favourite Cuisine: Apart from South Indian cuisine I like Chinese… though I am a vegetarian
Message to young aspiring commentators: Aspire to play for the country first, try and play cricket…climb up the ladder from the Under 15, 17, 19, Ranji Trophy and then India. Take up the game first if that is not possible then you can become a commentator or presenter.