I've just been watching a little of the Djokovic-Stepanek match at Wimbledon. John MacEnroe has just informed me that Djokovic "has literally fallen to his knees". Part of me delights at the first correct use of the word literally I've ever heard during sports commentary; we are normally bombarded with all sorts of erroneous literals such as "he's literally got ice in his veins" or "he's literally sweating blood out there". On further reflection I was more irritated; why do I need a commentator to inform me what is obvious from the screen. I can see that Djokovic had fallen to his knees (literally), why did I need someone to tell me?
I often think that a good test of a commentator is that if they were a friend sitting next to you on the sofa, would you find their input useful as a clear enhancer of the match experience or would you consider them to be an irritating statto, endlessly pointing out the bleeding obvious? I know which category most commentators fall into nowadays, but do play the game, either by asking a friend to remain silent whilst the sound is turned up or to listen to what your friend has to say with the sound turned down.
It wasn't always like this. Dan Maskell was like your Grandad asleep in the sofa, awakening just in time for a quickly fired off "I say" at a winning shot before going back to his slumbers. Whispering Ted Lowe might have spent 90% of his snooker commentary career in the pub for all we knew, so rare were his pearls of wisdom. But pearls they were, and just like a couple that actually get on, the long silences weren't embarrassing. They were happy to let the play speak for itself.
Radio commentary is always going to be about making the listener feel as though they were there, but TV commentary is harder. The pictures speak for themselves and the commentator is there to provide knowledge and atmosphere. I've had to turn off Wimbledon now (or at least turn the sound down) due to the morass of utter crap that was being forced into my ears. I now know that Stepanek divides his time between Prague and Florida, the name of the third best Serbian tennis player, the name of the girlfriend of Djokovic and the names of the most famous newscasters on American TV. It's just listening to two grown men talk boring pub chat. Literally.
Football commentary is similarly afflicted, with the retirement of Barry Davies and the impending 100th birthday of John Motson. We're now subjected to the Danny Baker-esque Robot Wars-style commentary of Jonathan Pearce on the beeb and the Prince Phillip of the commentary world Peter Drury on ITV.
Where's Sid Waddell when you need him?