You know, I thought captaining Australia was a pretty tough job
But I can tell you, it’s absolutely nothing, compared to looking after this mob
– “Richie” The 12th Man, Marvellous
Back in the “Marvellous” era, Nine’s commentary stable – led by the legendary Richie Benaud – included Tony Grieg, Bill Lawry, the Chappell brothers and various international guests. Viewers loved the Weather Wall, Tony’s ritual of gouging keys in the pitch and Bill’s unashamed Victorian bias. Billy Birmingham immortalised them with the wonderful 12th Man series, at it’s more prolific from 1984 to 1997.
Nine’s commentary has deteriorated since Tony sadly passed away and Richie vacated the Central Commentary Position before he passed this year.
The current commentators include: Mark “I’m not Austin Powers” Nicholas, Michael “Slats” Slater, Mark “Tubby” Taylor, Ian “Heals” Healy, Brett “Binga” Lee, Mike “Mr. Cricket” Hussey, Shane “Warney” Warne and James “I used to play Shield cricket” Brayshaw. Ian Chappell still hangs in there and Lawry is trotted out for the Boxing Day Test.
The majority of their commentators come from Australia’s golden era of the late nineties and early 2000s. It means there is too much “remember when we used to play” boys-club banter, blatant pro-Aussie bias and not as much serious commentary (which is usually a collection of tired cricket clichés). Nicholas does a decent job in the CCP but he’s no Richie.
Compare that to the ABC Grandstand coverage. The ABC has a deep roster of commentators, led by the legendary Jim Maxwell, allowing plenty of variety and flexibility. Usually an international commentator from the visiting team joins in (remember the comedy team of Harsha Bogle and Kerry O’Keefe?) while local commentators appear for each Test. There’s humour and banter between commentators, but it’s far more balanced and understated. A large slab of the Grandstand team is actual journalists and there are regular crosses for Shield updates/news breaks. Nine, by contrast, are too busy plugging the next Test/ODI/Twenty20, the latest KFC meal deal and their “exciting” new programs to worry about Shield cricket or other sport (unless it’s on Nine of course).
So what is Nine’s problem?
During the India series last summer, an injured Michael Clarke settled into the Nine commentary box. While he did a decent job, the fact the current Australian captain was commentating on his team didn’t seem right. Not Clarke’s fault, but it screamed conflict of interest. Heaven help Indian viewers hoping for balanced opinions.
During David Warner’s WACA double ton against New Zealand, a chart of the most runs in Perth Tests appeared. Tubby jokingly complained that he wasn’t in the top ten. A few minutes later, the list was extended, with Taylor shown somewhere in the teens. If this was a one-off occurrence, you could write it off as a bit of fun, but Nine love some self-indulgence.
If the on-field action is a bit dull, you can bet Tubby and Slats will engage in “light hearted” banter about who took the most Test wickets or show Tubby’s catch off Michael Bevan for the millionth time. Then Chapelli will trot out another well-worn anecdote from the seventies. Rinse and repeat until the Aussies do something exciting.
To be fair, the commentators aren’t afraid to make fun of themselves, with their obligatory pink suits during the SCG Test. The usual “doesn’t he look silly” jokes come out, but at least it’s for a good cause.
Nine’s decision to bring their own commentary team for the Ashes this year was widely criticised. There was one ray of light though.
During the Edgbaston Test, Warne, Healy and Ricky Pointing ran a special masterclass in the Ashes Zone. It was fascinating. Warne, bowling off one step, landed them at will, Ponting hit some nice drives and Healy showed 16 years of retirement hadn’t dulled his wicketkeeping skills. The trio actually talked cricket,with Healy giving some brilliant advice for young wicketkeepers and general analysis of the current Test.
With all the silly jokes, blatant commercialism and “remember when Tubby/Slats/Heals/Binga did that thing?” banter, it’s easy to forget the Nine commentators (aside from Nicholas and Brayshaw) played at the highest level and have plenty of experience between them. If they talked more the match they’re working on and less about how good they used to be, it could be quite entertaining.