Radio magic gone, as India’s bullies shut down Jim Maxwell
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The ABC's Jim Maxwell (Image: AAP)
Is there a more insufferable administration than the BCCI? With the Australia-India Test series underway, the most significant exclusion of a Maxwell is not Australian all-rounder Glenn by Mickey Arthur, but Australian commentator Jim by Indian cricket’s bosses.
Let me put this on the record with maximum clarity. Dissing Jim Maxwell is the most grievous insult you can deliver to the land of the stolen pavlova.
Jim Maxwell is so Australian he makes Phar Lap look like an itinerant taco vendor from Vladivostok.
The number 2013 at the top of your newspaper means that Maxwell has now been covering cricket for 40 years. For some, that would be a life sentence.
For Jim, it has been a joy. He has broadcast something like 250 Tests, and smashed more ODIs than Garfield.
Summer officially starts when you snap on the wireless and hear Maxwell’s unmistakeable tones, like sinking back into a vintage leather armchair. Those under a certain age have never known anyone else, those over it can’t remember that far back anyway.
His voice is so rich it seems to be dripping out the speaker grilles and pooling on the floor.
Imagine Harsha Bhogle were denied the right to commentate in Australia. Imagine the uproar, the ludicrousness of the decision. Yet Maxwell, with his wealth of experience, has been denied accreditation to cover the upcoming series for ABC radio.
I just want to repeat that, so you can chew over each word like a Werther’s Original: Jim Maxwell has been barred from covering a Test series for radio.
This is like telling Rudolf Nureyev that he’s not allowed to dance. Telling Phillipe Petit to get off that high wire. Telling James Brayshaw not to talk like he’s at schoolies week on a construction site.
Where no media application should have been more of a formality, the BCCI have treated the voice of Australian cricket like some hopeful work experience kid from a WordPress.com sports forum.
It would have been less disrespectful if they had rolled Richie Benaud in flour and tied him up to a coconut shy.
On what basis has India’s esteemed administration decided to exclude Australia’s most dedicated broadcaster?
Money. The BCCI have a great big pile of it, and like most people with a great big pile of it, they think that pile would be best complemented by smaller piles thrown on top.
The ABC has broadcast five previous tours, yet when they tried to arrange coverage this time, were quoted a vastly higher fee. They reluctantly declined, deciding instead to send Maxwell solo to phone in match reports.
But the BCCI, deeply miffed at missing out on those few extra dollars, channelled a kid with a new Fisher-Price gadget and declined to share. Maxwell could come, they said, but not in a press capacity, and if he wanted to report he’d have to do it from outside the stadium.
The ABC, quite rightly, told them to jam a fig in it.
The result is symptomatic of the short-sighted nature of the BCCI’s decision-making, the impulsive greed of their modus operandi, and the petulant bullying approach they take to satisfy that greed.
They’ve set new heights for financial acquisitiveness over the past few years. Look at the bidding process for the IPL franchises. Or the tie-breaker payments at the player auction, in which secret amounts were paid to the board while the player in demand got nary a cent.
These days, the greed-first mantra is beyond blatant. It’s beyond unapologetic. It’s pretty much written across N Srinivasan’s naked chest in peanut butter as he urinates in your letterbox at 3am while screaming at your kids’ bedroom windows.
The big earner for all cricket boards is selling broadcast rights. The BCCI jack these up as high as they possibly can. This isn’t such a problem with TV stations – by all means get the best price they’re willing to lay down.
But it’s not like there are other radio broadcasters queuing to devote 20 days of coverage to an event best described as niche in its appeal. Australia’s summer of cricket is a big deal, but those like me who want ball-by-ball coverage of every away tour would be markedly fewer. Getting radio to resume coverage will be much harder than having it continue.
Add to that the fact that most Australian households still don’t have cable, and radio has always been the best way to connect them with Indian tours. Exposure is key. If no-one knows your product exists, it doesn’t help its value.
But the BCCI doesn’t seem to know or care. Their dismissive treatment of the ABC is part of a broader campaign to dominate all media around their matches.
They also banned photo agency Getty Images, in an attempt to make Australian outlets buy and use BCCI-supplied photographs. Those outlets have instead chosen a boycott, and will not include any images in their coverage.
“The industry recognises the BCCI media policy is an attack on the news supply network and there is potential other governing bodies would follow suit unless publishers demonstrate their discontent,” said Tony Hale, chief executive of the newspaper industry’s peak body.
I owe my love for cricket to India, to radio, and to the likes of Jim Maxwell. The series that converted me from occasional watcher to adherent was the tour by Steve Waugh’s Invincibles.
It was 2001. I had just started university. Through evening tutorials, I kept one earbud of an honest-to-god radio Walkman surreptitiously plugged in, listening in astonishment as VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid batted and batted and batted throughout that entire fourth day.
The next evening I was at home, unable to help cheering India because of the impossible nature of the comeback.
Staring at the green light of my AM/FM stereo, I sat on the couch transfixed, as Harbhajan Singh and the unlikely Sachin Tendulkar worked their way down the order, were held up by Glenn McGrath for nine equally unlikely overs, then claimed the wicket with Australia in touching distance of safety.
After eight unremarkable Tests that had led to 18 months in exile, the young Harbhajan was recalled for that series when Anil Kumble went down injured. He proceeded to tear the Australians apart, with 32 wickets in effectively five innings.
The third and deciding Test was as gripping as the second. I listened to every ball, India just got home, and I was hooked for life.
In brushing off ABC radio, Srinivasan’s men are losing the chance to capture the imaginations of a new generation of devotees. However exceptional the play this series, it will be lost on most of the Australian viewing public.
We’ll be stuck with the same uncomfortable options, whether that be forking out for cable, living in the pub for four weeks, or hunching over some graphics-crammed illegal web-stream of a shonky Indian broadcast that squeezes three Bollywood-dancing shampoo ads in between every drop-out.
What’s good for cricket inevitably comes a distant last behind what’s good for the BCCI’s coffers. What they don’t seem to realise is that their earnings are only built on the game that they now neglect.
Of all the things that could happen this series, I had been looking forward to the chance of hearing about Parvez Rasool. The off-spinning all-rounder ripped out 7/45 against Australia for the Chairman’s XI only last week.
He has been a revelation in this season’s Ranji Trophy, never more so than against Assam, when he top-scored with 67, took 7/41 to gain a substantial lead, scored 120 not out to extend it, then added 2/70 in helping wrap up the win.
It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Rasool will get a run during this series, which would make him the first player from struggling Jammu and Kashmir state to play for India.
The last time that an Indian bolter came from nowhere to shock an Australian touring side, his name was Harbhajan Singh, and every ripping off-break was brought to us in verbal pictures from Eden Gardens and the Chidambaram Stadium.
It’s a damn shame that if a new generation’s talent gets his chance to do the same, Jim Maxwell won’t be there to carry the story home.
Geoff Lemon is a writer and radio broadcaster. He joined The Roar as an expert columnist in 2010, writes the satirical blog Heathen Scripture, and tweets from @GeoffLemonSport.
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