Blind commentator calls Sydney Test

Visually impaired swimmer James Pittar stuns ABC listeners with amazing ball-by-ball coverage

Of all the special guests to have walked into the ABC commentary box during their long history of broadcasting Test cricket, not many would have left an impression on the Grandstand team quite like James Pittar did on Wednesday.

Pittar is one of the world's premier long-distance swimmers having conquered swims around the globe, from the UK to the United States, South Africa and Turkey.

His feats in the water, and his brief commentary stint just after tea on day two of the Sydney Test, are made all the more remarkable by the fact that he is legally blind.

Despite his impairment, Pittar has been attending cricket matches for decades, needing only ABC radio's call and the sound of bat on ball to follow the game.

So sophisticated has Pittar's unique method of 'spectating' become, he had no hesitation on Wednesday in taking up ABC's offer to call the ball-by-ball commentary.

With a little help from his co-commentator Jim Maxell, Pittar called three overs of the match with remarkable accuracy, describing dot balls, singles and boundaries and recalling the score with incredible precision.

It left Maxwell and the rest of the ABC Grandstand team shaking their heads in amazement.

"I've met James before so I knew he had the confidence to speak," Maxwell told

"But to sit there and feed somehow off the sound and create the commentary was remarkable and inspirational.

"It reinforces the fact that the effects on radio are important to the listener.

"From that, he could glean just enough information to come up with a story that worked.

"He could hear (the batsmen) call when they were running and just the sound of the bat on ball, there was a cue there as to whether it may be a four or a single or nothing.

"There was one (ball) that went down the leg side, and he didn't hear anything and he said, 'The keeper's taken that one'. That was pretty good.

"His statistical database is extraordinary.

"He was able to keep giving the score, which is easy enough for us because we can see it, but he obviously couldn't.

"I suppose the thought of doing the commentary is a bit easier than the physical presence of various objects when he's done these marathon swims.

"But it was still a pretty brave thing to do."

Brave, but a different kind of brave to the courage Pittar has shown during a swimming career that has spanned more than 20 years and taken him to all parts of the world.

In 1998, he became the only visually-impaired person to swim the English Channel, a journey that took just under 14 hours.

Ten years ago, he swam 11km along the coast of Gallipoli before swimming into Anzac Cove.

He's swum from Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years, to the mainland of South Africa.

And in 2013 he was part of a 66-member team who swam without wetsuits from Russia to the United States ("it was a relay, thankfully", Pittar says).

Not unexpectedly, not all of Pittar's calls on Wednesday were entirely accurate. He joked afterwards that he was "lost" when trying to describe the wicket of Joe Burns, whose lofted drive was well caught by Lokesh Rahul near the long-on boundary.

But it was one of only a few minor errors Pittar made as he focused intently on the sounds of the game that most visually-able fans take for granted.

"I'm just visualising (what's happening)," Pittar explained.

"You get to hear when the batsman says 'no run' and you obviously get to hear it when the ball hits the bat.

"Of course when it doesn't hit the bat, then it's a real guess, it's a guess-a-thon.

"I judge it a bit by the crowd as well, the crowd help me out.

"So if it's a slow clap I know it's probably a single, if it's a big cheer it's either a four or a six.

"The (Burns) catch I wasn't quite sure."

For Pittar, the more measured pace of Test cricket makes it by far the easiest sport for him to enjoy.

He's attended one-day internationals before – he says the conclusion to limited overs matches can be "a bit hectic" at times – but Test matches are where he's most comfortable.

Apart from an obvious love of the game, Pittar says it's the picture painted by his beloved and trusted ABC team that makes his day at the cricket enjoyable.

"I listen to ABC Grandstand and it's fantastic," Pittar said.

"As a blind person, you can't do it without hearing it. People have got to describe it and that's the thing for me.

"Cricket is a great game because you get to hear a lot about people as well.

"We had Drew (Morphett) before talking about a song he heard back in 1960.

"In another game where you haven't got 20 or 30 seconds between the bowler walking back to his mark, it gives you that chance to talk about those things."