Australia is a sports-mad nation. Many of us would have spent countless hours of our youthful years throwing or catching a ball.
We would have had visions of ourselves all grown up with honed skills in our preferred sporting activity ready to deliver for our country on the international stage.
We played sport because we loved it but we also had that young optimism that one day we would take the place of our idols and continue their great legacy.
We didn’t want to just enjoy what the greats did. We wanted to feel like we were a part of it. Even as we grow up and that dream begins to, or has already, become too farfetched, we still want to be a part of the experience and the broadcasters know it.
That would explain why most referees and umpires wear cameras on their heads and why our national cricket captain has a hands-free microphone more commonly seen on American Idol or the X-Factor. It would also explain why there are more cameras on a footy field than there are on the set of a National Geographic documentary. The sports-viewing experience is becoming more and more interactive with every passing day, and while it sounds like a positive development there are reasons some of us feel more cautious than excited.
Looking to the news of the cricket world in the past week we are presented with a couple of noteworthy examples of how the broadcaster has overstepped the line, looking more like a pitch invader than the live coverage team.
In the fifth ODI match between India and Australia at the SCG, the brash Virat Kohli was denied four runs when his lofted backfoot cut shot was fielded not by a man wearing green and gold, but by a metallic spider on strings invasively hanging above his head. And while ardent Australian cricket fans would have loved the outcome, the young Indian strokeplayer had every right to feel aggrieved.
In this instance the high-tech camera affectionately known as Spidercam had deprived a national team in an international contest of valuable runs on the board.
And if that weren’t bad enough, Channel Nine again found themselves getting a little too close to the action in the following T20 match. As a mic’d up Steve Smith shaped up to take strike, the commentary team asked questions of his comfort level, match situation and so on, giving the television viewing audience an insight into what it might feel like out in the middle.
An arguably distracted Smith uncharacteristically struck out in a match-defining moment. The dismissal ignited a post-match debate on whether the broadcaster’s access had gone too far.
Smith being the diplomat that he is, downplayed the incident, placing no blame whatsoever on Channel Nine. However if we have to ask the question of whether the broadcast (a tool used to telecast the match, not be a part of it) is interfering on the sporting contest, then it probably is.
When the opposition captain starts suggesting fines to the broadcaster for interference then perhaps it is time to acknowledge the sport is being impacted by these technologies, as MS Dhoni said late last week.
“I have always felt there is a need for balance. At the end of the day it is a spectator sport, people watching on television, but at the same time four runs can matter, especially when it is a close game. Those four runs can be crucial. Everyone gets penalised, why not have the same system for the Spidercam? Say, ‘Okay if you get hit, 2000 dollars per hit.’
The opposition to the current telecast trend by the Indian side is not subtle. In addition to Dhoni’s comments, a fired-up and arguably unsporting Virat Kohli, made chatting hand gestures to Smith after his ‘distraction dismissal.’
In saying this, it is hard to deny the success of the interactive experience as demonstrated though the recently finished Big Bash League.
Kevin Pietersen and Brad Hodge for the most part looked very comfortable in their roles as providers for Channel Ten. The microphone performances clearly worked well in a competition that is as much entertainment as it is sport. Perhaps more telling though, was Pietersen’s request to be left alone by the on-air panel while in bat until he was comfortable at the crease.
Whether we agree with one side’s opposition or not, the question is do we really need to be this involved in the contest as it happens?
There are some things that the viewer just doesn’t need to be a part of. When we go to the zoo we can appreciate the beauty and power of a bengal tiger without jumping into the cage with it.
We love our sport. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be as close as possible to the action but when vital plays can be attributed to an overly-infatuated broadcaster rather than the players on the field, then perhaps it is time for the fan experience to get back behind the boundary ropes before crowd catches start actually counting as dismissals.