You could have struck me dumb as I tuned in to the Channel Nine broadcast of the one day international between Australia and England at the SCG and saw three idiots (there is no other word for it) dressed in comic book and Elvis outfits in the commentary box.
The great Bill O’Reilly had no time for what he called “the pyjama game” of 50 overs one-day cricket.
The sight of players, some of them the greatest in the history of the game, dressed in coloured clothing just drove him mad. In his acerbic and brilliantly worded columns in the Sydney Morning Herald, he would launch sustained verbal attacks on the format which were as ferocious as his bowling attacks on the unfortunate batsmen having to face up to him.
What he would have said about Michael Slater, James Brayshaw and David Lloyd, the three stooges involved in Channel Nine’s desperate attempt to dumb down their cricket coverage, would surely have been memorable.
For my part, it sickened me to see way a channel that created the modern and often admirable coverage of cricket diminish its coverage with a ploy that was an insult to all of us who tuned in to watch a sporting contest that held a great deal of interest, especially in the development of the Australian squad to contest the World Cup next year.
I don’t know what the rationale was for the Mickey Mouse antics of the three commentators. I don’t know what they were talking about. For as soon as I saw their ridiculous outfits, I tuned out until the cricket began.
There is always a danger in competitive sport the determination by broadcasters to turn every event into a spectacle can lead, if the broadcasters are not careful, into the essence of the sport and its real appeal becoming submerged in the puffery of enforced entertainment.
When this happens on a regular basis, the sport is doomed as a sport.
The classic example of this professional wrestling.
Up to the 1950s wrestling had a huge and knowledgeable spectator base around the world. It was one of the first sports that made an impact on television.
However, the advent of a wrestler of limited ability but a genius at show business, the self-styled Gorgeous George, ultimately killed off wrestling as a sport.
It is now an entertainment, with rigged results and phony persona going through their antics.
Channel Nine is on track to doing a Gorgeous George with its cricket coverage.
During the Ashes Test series we had the appalling spectacle of Piers Morgan offering his body as a target to be smashed by a Brett Lee bouncer.
Now, if Sunday’s antics are any indication, Channel Nine are making the commentators the talent (or trying to make the commentators the talent!) rather than the players and the game itself.
As the commentators talked a lot about matters that had nothing to do with the cricket being played in front of us, I thought of the other great leg-spinner from NSW, Richie Benaud, who worked out the modern ODI rules for Kerry Packer and Channel Nine.
Benaud is arguably the best of the television cricket commentators, just as John Arlott had a similar claim to being the best cricket commentator on radio.
Radio suited Arlott’s great ability with words. When Australia could not dismiss David Shepherd (an England opening bat in heavy-footed and powerful driving form and at the time an Anglican vicar and later a Bishop), Arlott remarked: “Australia may well feel like Henry II about the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas a Beckett: ‘Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest’.”
Television, though, is a picture rather than a word medium. Benaud introduced and practised the rule that as the ball was bowled, the commentators ceased their chatter. They and their audience concentrated on how the ball was played.
After the ball had been played or not played, then the commentary could be picked up.
The point to Benaud’s rule is the cricket is what matters, rather than the commentary.
The meaning behind the Benaud rule seems to have been ditched, unfortunately, in the great man’s absence.
Channel Nine should look to the Big Bash to stop the nonsense of making the commentary box the talent, rather than the players and what they do or don’t do on the field.
In its first two years, the Big Bash failed to make the impact the hoopla and the dollars spent promoting it should have achieved.
Too much money and emphasis was spent on promoting Shane Warne as a sort of Gorgeous George of cricket. The coverage, too, was replete with Mickey Mouse antics.
For those of us who admired Warne as a player and found him insufferable as a so-called personality (he has as much dynamism as a personality as one of his hair-pieces), we just recoiled against the format and wouldn’t watch it.
But with Warne, thankfully, out of the way (and back on Channel Nine), the Big Bash has found its mojo.
The format, with the emphasis on the players, the teams and the results, has been a sensational rating success for the embattled Channel Ten.
They have put together a commentary team, too, that is knowledgeable and enthusiastic with a chatty style, unlike the yelling and screaming style now favoured by Channel Nine.
I never thought I’d be saying this, but the Channel Ten coverage of the Big Bash has made this form of the game great fun to watch, which is the name of the television game.
The huge television ratings, on average this year 929,817 against 232,864 last year, suggest the rest of the cricket-loving community is also impressed.
On the other hand, the Channel Nine coverage of the ODI is making watching something of an ordeal, despite the fact that Australia, brilliantly captained by Michael Clarke, are still in the process of smashing the old foe.