Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Commentary conundra

featuring the very welcome return of Ben Roberts, cricket connoisseur.

The recent passing of both Tony Greig and Christopher Martin-Jenkins, along with that of PeterRoebuck a little over 12 months ago has forced a reflection on the poor state of cricket commentary in Australia. Where the sound of cricket musings used to form an addictively pleasant and informative background to the summer, I find myself increasingly easily turned away.

I have almost given up on watching the cricket on TV, even with the sound down. Channel 9 constantly flits about with replays and technology, trying to ensure the viewer has no downtime whatsoever. But this counters one of the great appeals of cricket as a game, the pauses and time between balls allow for anticipation to rise, anticipation in cricket and life is often the greater thrill. The need to play with the technology means that great cricket thinkers the likes of Michael Slater and Mark Nicholas (refer their earlier work) might as well be robots.

Greig never shied away from the technology available, but he always seemed to be giving it a pinch of salt and not taking it too seriously. Funnily enough, Richie Benaud (try to find an article about where the word ‘doyen’ does not precede his name, I dare you.  Double dare you.) still inhabits the commentary box and famously advises - “… put your brain into gear and if you can add to what's on the screen then do it, otherwise shut up.”  Present-day producers might want to reflect on that.

Even the ABC (usually a safe option) is flagging. Their use of current first class cricketers is only ever going to produce cliché and platitude.  Does anyone really believe cricketers from states other than QLD & WA think highly of Mitchell Johnson’s selection? Not likely, they’ve gotten stuck into him (and Jessica) for years in the local stuff for being picked ahead of their teammates. Roebuck’s strong, independent analysis on proceedings is sorely missed.  As a listener, even if you didn't agree, his considered comment made you think. Kerry O’Keeffe’s comedic anecdotes are tiring and without an appropriate foil (like the straight laced Roebuck), fall flat.

Regardless of the medium, the domestic T20 tournaments have allowed sickening levels of hyperbole to enter commentary boxes. Yes, a fringe first class cricketer (who no one except his mum has ever heard of) or a past-it former international (of questionable talent then and now) has swung ridiculously hard at the ball for the sixth time straight in the over and finally connected enough for it to just clear ridiculously short boundaries. But this does not mean that you, a fringe first class cricketer (who no one except your mum has ever heard of) or caller usually employed as an “around the grounds” man during football season, sitting in the commentary box need to burst into unbridled whooping.

Granted he was afforded high cost, fee-paying education that gave him clipped tones and high command of the English language, but Martin-Jenkins could speak ten words that will be recalled for a lifetime where an infinite amount of screeching at an unimportant T20 match will be forgotten immediately; and what took more of the speaker’s energy?*  

Let the greatest game on earth speak for itself.

(Ed. - listen to the latest installment of The Cricket Sadist Hour with Gideon Haigh to hear more on how incisive and talented the ineffable Martin-Jenkins was). 

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