Getting The Caramel Going

With its gibberish subtitles, India v England cricket on Channel Four is a sweet experience

Ravi Ashwin, cunningly lobbing sweeties at our batters

A CERTAIN SORT of English person is really quite excited at the moment because, for once, we can watch our national team play cricket on the TV without having to fork out for the privilege.  

The four-match series against India is currently being screened free-to-air on Channel Four – the first time we’ve seen our heroes in action abroad for nowt since the mid-1980s.

It’s difficult to express the uplift in mood that these pictures from sunny Chennai have given to the lockdown-weary, snowed-in and Brexit-battered people of these isles over the last five days – especially as England wasn’t having its arse handed to it, for a change.

And, having been denied the chance to travel pretty much anywhere because of Covid-19, there’s something more than usually awesome about having satellite pictures of the world’s best players beamed 5,099 miles, straight into your living room.

Denied stimulation of all sorts in lockdown, it’s been particularly poignant to watch our captain, Joe Root, smack 258 runs off India’s formidable bowlers during the course of the first match.

It was even better watching our plucky spinner Dom Bess dismiss the mighty Indian captain Virat Kohli for bugger all in the first test, and then follically-challenged Jack ‘The Nut’ Leach bamboozle Rohit Sharma with his mastery of dip and turn.

But perhaps the very bestest thing about Channel Four’s coverage is the way that its live commentary subtitles mangle both the game and the English language in the most surreal manner. It’s really worth the price of a subscription on all its own.

At first, I was irritated when I couldn’t find a way to stop gibberish like: “Runs coming at a decent lake” scrolling across my tablet screen.

But then the subtitles came up with “Getting the caramel going” (meaning to describe a delivery called the Carom Ball). All at once, I was won over by the hidden whimsy of it, imagining Indian bowler Ravi Ashwin cunningly lobbing little sweeties at our batters. 

Sinister, pithy, batshit crazy”

Sometimes the mis-transcriptions took on a sinister tone, for instance seeming to fit up England’s Joffra Archer for an imagined vehicle crime in: “Archer going for (a) Your Car first up.” (*1)

Generally, however, the errors were benign, and even pithy: “Caveman Bumrah fresh” seemed to be the last word on the tiredness or otherwise of Indian fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah.

Others, meanwhile, just came out bat-shit crazy, such as: “God in and a play with a broken jaw”, or: “That was a very optimistic hole”. (*2)

At one point, the subtitles even got the name of their own channel wrong: “If you are tuning in for the Channel Far Sunday Brunch programme…” But, at better moments, they even hinted at a surprisingly broad knowledge of the state of cricket in developing nations.

“Vostok did well to get rid of Virat Kohli”, they pronounced at one point (obviously thinking about the Russian mystery spinner Vlad Y. Vostock, who has reportedly signed up for the Northern Superchargers in The Hundred this summer). (*3)

Soon afterwards, the feed was informing us that “Dom Bess took a five-for at Gaul recently” (*4), making me think that cricket in France was far more popular than I suspected.

There was even the bombshell that cricket was trying to make a comeback in the US for the first time since its modest 19th century heyday, when the subtitles referenced “the Atlanta market Joe Root is going for.” Or maybe they just meant ‘landmark’?

I picture a kid on work experience, heroically bashing out the subtitles”

I’d hate to think that I’m ripping the piss out of a real person – I sometimes picture a kid on work experience, bashing out the subtitles heroically fast, but betraying a fatal lack of cricketing chops – in pointing out these on-screen glitches.  

However, I’m inclined to hope that only a machine could get it so badly wrong, with such a tin ear for the accents of the Indian commentators, in particular.

Obsessing about the Channel Four feed has, meanwhile, made me think more generally about cricket and the English language, and what wonderful, exotic, things they both are.

I love the fact that, while it’s snowing here, there’s still a game of cricket being played half a world away, in 90-degree heat.

What’s more, commentators born in India are describing the cricket to us in jargon-heavy English – like Yorkers, Silly Points, sweeps, and Carom Balls – and I’m writing about it all in English, for a blogging audience that’s mostly based in America.

Something about that – what Melvyn Bragg once called ‘the adventure of English’ – tickles me, and also makes me feel teary-eyed about the cleverness and endeavour of human beings.

When the Black Lives Matter protests erupted last year, we here in the UK had a brief – actually, much too brief – debate about how we might own up to the more brutal and murderous aspects of the British Empire.

But at least cricket shows that some things about the Empire – like the way we codified lots of complex, compelling games, and gave them to the world to run with, along with our quirky, ever-changing language – have gone out and done some lasting good.

“Oh, this game of the gloved lighted quicker!” as the subtitles put it.

(*1) What the commentator actually said was: “Archer going for a Yorker first up”. A ‘Yorker’ is the name for a tricky to hit, late-dipping delivery

(*2) wtf???

(*3) The Hundred is a new English cricket tournament, but I’m being silly: Russia has virtually no native cricketers and certainly no top-class spin bowlers.

(*4) This one should have read “Galle”, in Sri Lanka. And cricket will never catch on in France, either. Especially after Brexit.

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