'Star is usually very thorough with its planning and execution but commentary from home in the IPL will be a massive challenge.'
The Indian Premier League broadcaster is toying with the idea of introducing "virtual commentary" in this year's T20 league after being emboldened by its successful recent experiment in an exhibition match.
For a live game at Centurion Park in South Africa on Sunday, Irfan Pathan was doing commentary from his Baroda home, Deep Dasgupta from Kolkata and Sanjay Manjrekar from his Mumbai residence.
Being able to commentate from his home for a game taking place thousand of kilometres away, former India all-rounder Pathan called the experience nothing short of "magical".
In a world that is changing everyday due to the COVID-19 pandemic, IPL broadcaster Star Sports has experimented with virtual commentary for a 36-over exhibition game featuring three teams at Centurion Park.
It was not just the commentators as the crew also logged in from all parts of the country with the director sitting in Mysore.
The experiment was fairly successful, notwithstanding a few teething issues. It could be a regular feature in the IPL if held this year, if not for the main feeds in Hindi and English, at least for growing regional feeds like Tamil, Telegu and Kannada to start with.
"It was an extraordinary experience though we were worried throughout because the internet speed can fluctuate and that affects the voice quality. Anything can happen anytime in live cricket and with technology not fully in your control, it can be tricky but Star did a wonderful job," Pathan said.
"Though this was an exhibition game, everyone took it very seriously as they all wanted the show to resume (after months of break).
"Star is usually very thorough with its planning and execution but commentary from home in the IPL will be a massive challenge," said the former pacer, who had to lock himself in a room to not get distracted on the job while his son knocked on the door from time to time.
The idea of commentary from home was created out of necessity amid the current COVID-19 situation, ensuring not just safety of the commentators but also cost effectiveness.
Pathan feels there is no substitute to commentary from the ground but part of the panel commentating from a remote production facility in Mumbai during the IPL is not new and is something that was implemented successfully last year.
The broadcaster produces as many as 10 feeds for the IPL with Hindi accounting for two-third of the overall viewership.
A broadcaster industry expert said that commentary from "anywhere in the world" can be a regular feature going forward.
"Remote production has evolved a lot, and technology has enabled it to be to be at par with on site production if not better. Commentary from home is a step forward in that regard and that way anyone can log in from anywhere. It opens up to the world to you.
"Being on the ground is important but when you have a production in place where the commentator could see everything that he would see from the ground, at times with as many as 25 camera angles at his disposal, he can even see more than he would normally see at the ground," the expert argued.
For the 3TC Solidarity Cup in South Africa, there was no option but to commentate from home. Considering the internet connectivity is not the best in India, all commentators had their internet speed upgraded from 5 mbps to 20 mbps, which is a minimum requirement for live production.
It is much easier to be in sync when you are sitting next to each other while commentating and creating the same chemistry was a challenge from home, said Pathan.
"We rehearsed it a day before the game just to test internet quality. We had screens put but we could not see each at all times, so when to pause and when to start talking was a challenge but we pulled it off.
"At times, there was delay in the feed, so there could be overlapping in that scenario. Overall, we did alright but when you are on the ground, it takes your commentary to the next level.
"Commentary is not just about the game anymore, it is all about the cricketers. There is so much detailing and analysis nowadays. Commentary from home is surely an option but not sure how often we can use it," added Pathan.