SPIRO: Great day for South Africa and Channel Nine coverage

Spiro Zavos Columnist

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    South African batsman Jacques Kallis. AAP Image/Dave Hunt

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    Graeme Smith won the toss at Brisbane in the first Test between Australia and South Africa and did the right thing by deciding to bat.

    I say the right thing despite the fact that the pitch had a slightly greenish tinge to it, suggesting a certain liveliness, especially in the two hour session before lunch. Also, the selectors had picked four pace bowlers, five if Jacques Kallis’ burly medium-pace stuff is taken into account.

    Smith, like Mark Taylor, is an opening bat. And like Taylor he invariably puts his team first when making a decision about whether to bat or not.

    There is the temptation to avoid those supposedly dangerous opening couple of hours for captains who are opening bats. This was a temptation that Smith rejected like a saint being offered the run of a carnal house.

    There was some discussion, in fact, before the Test about the wisdom of batting first at Brisbane. Ian Chappell made the argument he hoped Michael Clarke would dismiss the adage ‘nine times out of ten you bat and on the tenth you think about it and bat,’ if he thought there was something in the pitch and he won the toss.

    Far be it from me to quibble with Ian Chappell, one of cricket’s finest captains, but here goes. The beauty of batting first is that if the best of the pitch is utilised properly and a very big first innings is accumulated, a side has gone a long way to winning the Test.

    It is a fact of nature that deterioration will set in, especially on the last day, even on a pitch as good as Brisbane generally is.

    And with this deterioration, even a relatively modest run total to win the Test can be really hard to achieve. There are not very many successful fourth innings run chases of over 250.

    Even if a team collapses on the first day of the Test, it can still recover and win. This has been done from time to time.

    But batting first gives a team its best chance of forcing an opposition to bat last. And we know what happens generally when a team has to bat last and try to knock over any total over, say 250.

    At the end of the first day’s play, South Africa has batted itself into a position where it is possible to see them bowling out a defensive Australian side on the last day of play.

    This is why I would argue this has been a great day for South Africa.

    I followed the Test mainly on Channel Nine. And I would assert the coverage was, in a word often used by Richie Benaud, “splendid!”

    We had a (deserved) tribute to Benaud, with a wry commentary from the great man on his 35 years of commentary on Channel Nine, which started with the World Series Cricket matches.

    Benaud made the point that WSC, “changed the game for ever and for the better.” He is being unduly modest. Benaud has helped improve the game and enhance its popularity with his playing feats, his attacking attitude to the way the game should be played and then his thoughtful and considered journalism and broadcasting on cricket in a long career (he is 80) after his playing days were over.

    There are some old-timers, and I am one of them, who aren’t greatly enthused about the enthusiasm and hoopla of the T20 circus games. But in terms of the presentation of the game and paying the players, cricket is a better game to watch, especially at home, than it has ever been by the ingenious work of Channel 9 experts.

    Benaud mentioned cameras from each end, snicko (“one of the best innovations”), cameras broadcasting from all angles, coloured clothing and the high-defenition slo-mo camera shots. All these innovations have come out of the WSC venture and most of them inspired by Benaud’s determination to fulfill Kerry Packer’s brief to televise cricket in a way that enchants the faithful and enthralls those who know very little about the game.

    The presentation of the opening day was up to the very best standards that have been set by Channel Nine in the past.

    Glenn McGrath has been brought in as a replacement for Tony Greig. His informed commentary fitted in well with a commentary team that was strong on analysis and information and lighter (thankfully) in the good-old-boys banter and in-house joking.

    As I was watching, I put a comment or two on The Roar’s continuous verbal commentary. Early on, for instance, I noted the current obsession with bowlers’ special plans for specific batsmen is a nonsense. It is a distraction to the bowlers. And I was chuffed to hear several minutes later Ian Chappell making a similar point himself.

    My point is the obsession with bowling plans places too much emphasis on policy. The emphasis, though, should really be on process.

    As Ian Chappell pointed out, it is generally better for bowlers to do what they do best, rather than get into complicated plans which have them bowling in a way they are not accustomed to.

    Under Craig McDermott the Australian pace attack knocked over a strong Indian batting side six innings in a row. They did it by paying attention to the process of pitching the ball up, getting it to swing and then inducing mistakes from some of the best batsmen on the planet.

    When I switched off after a most enjoyable day of being informed and entertained by a terrific presentation of a cricket Test, I had the sad feeling of what an opportunity Channel Nine stuffed up with its pathetic coverage of the Wallabies Tests. If only there had been someone at Channel 9 with a passion and intelligence for rugby union to match Richie Benaud’s mastery of all aspects of cricket …

    Spiro Zavos
    Spiro Zavos

    Spiro Zavos, a founding writer on The Roar, was long time editorial writer on the Sydney Morning Herald, where he started a rugby column that has run for nearly 30 years. Spiro has written 12 books: fiction, biography, politics and histories of Australian, New Zealand, British and South African rugby. He is regarded as one of the foremost writers on rugby throughout the world.

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    The Crowd Says (19)

    • November 10th 2012 @ 3:34am
      Johnno said | November 10th 2012 @ 3:34am | ! Report

      Mcgrath is a good commentator I find, he is younger than Tony Greig, Ian Chappelll, and Bill lawry , and benaud the last of the old guard. There is something about Richie Benaud he seems to be ageless and flow with the times no matter what generation he just flows with the times.
      Mcgrath and Warney I like warney always has some good stories and Mcgrath does well he is still young enough to be still be relevant to the current game, . Maybe as his new wife is younger I have notice Pigeon has become more Worldly and cultured, as his wife is quite glamorous and works in the art industry.

      Brett Lee has some talant too and always has some good stories to tell and is adaptable. Him and slats work well together on the cricket show. Bingha really interviewed Elyse perry well yesterday , . Bingha has the looks, and style so is adaptable to a female audience which is a win win for channel 9. Bingha does a lot of fashion work he used to work in a men;s suit store, is in a band , is good on the piano to, and on the guitar so has the looks and stlye to get a female audience watching the cricket, something Heals and Tubby, and Slats don’t have the same pulling power as Bingha has for the female audience.

      James Brayshaw is like Slats I find is solid, but both of them will never be like Benaud or Mark Nicholas standard. But Bingha and warney and Mcgrath have a lot of potential , and Gilly i always enjoy when he does some commentating too.

      Like the new technology with nine, test cricket really felt well in a weird way strangely so much more modern. Like a cloud fell over test cricket this year, it is really trying to jazz it self up more and all this new technology is part of the re-image of it.

      I would honestly love if they go to day night tests, coloured clothing identifying each country like ODI and T20 the whites are too boring and old fashioned and traditional., Numbers on jerseys, and having crowd callers scream out next batter up when a wicket is done. Can’t wait for the pink ball to come out going to be great.

      • November 10th 2012 @ 3:41pm
        Bazza said | November 10th 2012 @ 3:41pm | ! Report

        You find McGrath a good commentator,……. it was his first day, in his first gig, as a test commentator for Gods sake, you can’t compare him to anyone let alone Chappell and co until he has some form on the board.

    • Roar Guru

      November 10th 2012 @ 4:02am
      biltongbek said | November 10th 2012 @ 4:02am | ! Report

      Not so sure it was a great day for us, .duminy is out, so we have only 18 wickets in the match and our best spin option is gone.

    • November 10th 2012 @ 7:52am
      lolly said | November 10th 2012 @ 7:52am | ! Report

      Is he out for the whole match, biltong? That’s terrible for him.. and for me. I like watching him bowl.

      • November 10th 2012 @ 1:15pm
        Timmuh said | November 10th 2012 @ 1:15pm | ! Report

        He is out for the tour, and probably South Africa’s home season as well. Reports are saying anything up to six months, and at least three months.

    • Roar Guru

      November 10th 2012 @ 8:13am
      sheek said | November 10th 2012 @ 8:13am | ! Report

      Good morning Spiro,

      While I obviously revere Richie Benaud along with everyone else & respect Tony Greig’s insights & Bill Lawry’s apparently wicked humour, Ian Chappell has been a hero to me since my childhood days.

      Chappelli isn’t everyone’s cup of tea because he doesn’t coat his advice with sugar, he gives it to us straight. Just like Lordy & Topo, among others. And not everyone is comfortable with being given advice unsugared.

      What I love about Chappelli is his practical, commonsense approach to cricket & life. Something that is often lost in our ‘corporate image’ obsessed society of today. I agree wholeheartedly there is this infatuation with policy over process which is all part & parcel of the ‘corporate image’ obsession.

      I see it happening in my own job, which is an emergency service related job.

      Just stick to the basics & the rest will flow from that. Good advice not only for our cricketers but our Wallabies as well!

    • November 10th 2012 @ 8:22am
      James said | November 10th 2012 @ 8:22am | ! Report

      I respect Chappells belief in his own judgement. After all he wrote an excellent article on the modern great batsmen i.e Tendulkar,Ponting etc. And never mentioned Kallis once. I can’t wait for his observations on the the modern great all rounders.

    • November 10th 2012 @ 8:45am
      Marc said | November 10th 2012 @ 8:45am | ! Report

      Sorry guys, Ian Chappell is a bore. His commentary is deeply rooted in the 70’s as with all of his “insights”. All of his anecdotes revolve around himself back in the series of whatever time he was playing and his appeal is limited to males aged over 50.

      Unfortunately, all of the older commentators are a legacy of WSC, having jobs for life as a repayment of the faith they placed in Kerry Packer and his revolution of the game of cricket. Benaud is the only one of this cohort who transcend the generational divide.

      The younger commentary team are far stronger offering genuine insight into the current day locker room and the modern demands of cricket in the 21st century.

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