The voice of Indian cricket who started today’s commentary
The period before India’s independence was one that witnessed strong growth in different fields and sectors. One such area was sports, which saw an incredible increase in participation, early accolades won, and a general push towards honing talent in different games. Along with the pursuit of medals and trophies on the field, efforts had already begun to make public participation in sports more fun. All Indian Radio was the link between sports fans and their heroes from the turn of the 20th century to the end of the 90s. The source of public involvement during this period was radio and it gave birth to many voices famous known throughout the country.
One such pioneer was Ardeshir Furdorji Sohrabji “Bobby” Talyarkhan, also known as AFS Talyarkhan. He is considered the first radio cricket commentator in India and had an interesting career behind the microphone.
To give some perspective, what Harsha Bhogle is to modern day cricket fans who watch on TV, AFS Talyarkhan was to the ancients who grew up listening to cricket on the radio. While Harsha Bhogle captivated dozens of Indian cricket fans with her fantastic knowledge and use of English, it was AFS Talyarkhan who got the ball rolling for Indian commentators to keep going.
Born in 1897, AFS Talyarkhan started commentating for All India Radio after its establishment in the 1930s. Talyarkhan’s first ever commentated match was in 1934 between a team from the Parsi community and a rival Muslim team at the famous Esplanade Maidan which hosted the famous Quadrangular Tournament. The Quadrangle was a famous 4-team tournament that had evolved into a premier tournament in India with the participating teams being Europeans, Hindus, Parsis and Muslims. Talyarkhan was commenting on behalf of All India Radio, which was heard virtually nationwide by dozens of people. For the next 3 decades, Talyarkhan lent his voice to numerous cricket matches across the country, with radio listeners eventually associating the radio commentary with the notable voice.
One of the most remarkable characteristics of Talyarkhan was that he commentated all day without rest. Apart from the usual meal breaks where no action on the pitch took place, he would sit behind the microphone all day and narrate the events of the game. As described by Ram Guha in his book A Corner of a Foreign Field, “His composure was superhuman, as he spoke without interruption (except for lunch and tea).” Other cricket commentators have described Talyarkhan as “firm, full of life, filled with the scent of playgrounds”.
Another of its characteristics was that Talyarkhan never commented with others in his comment box. He always did the whole match solo and preferred to keep it that way. It was such an important part of his job that he even rejected an extension of his career with All India Radio in 1948 during the India v West Indies series. Indeed, AIR offered a 3-man commentary team which was completely against Talyarkhan’s usual form.
Although commentary has come a long way from what we hear today, there was a time when every word spoken about a game brought joy to a sports fan listening to the radio. Especially with cricket, the radio was the source of joy and sorrow was the cricket fans who waited all day for the match result and updates. AFS Talyarkhan’s legacy has gone a long way in cementing cricket commentary as we know it today. The required standards of attention and passion were all crafted by him in cricket commentaries and this has duly continued into the 21st century.