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Rating the summer’s cricket commentary

Adam Zampa celebrates with Steve Smith. (AAP Image/Paul Miller)
Roar Guru
31st January, 2018
38
1288 Reads

Now that the international season is all but over let’s have a look at trying to grade the TV and radio networks that offered their services during the Ashes and the ODIs.

I won’t be waiting until the T20s are finished, because it’s not the form of sport that lends itself to mindless side discussions or cheery anecdotes about this and that – only Test of ODI cricket can provide this sort of coverage.

Two television stations and an unprecedented four radio networks covered the Ashes. Only one of those, namely Triple M, elected to not cover the ODIs. As a result, for those of us in the salt mines, we had plenty of options to listen to. While I did tend to stick with one radio broadcaster, I did make sure to give all four a pretty good bash.

I was also fortunate enough to be overseas for a portion of the Ashes series, where I got to watch the BT Sport broadcast for a few days while combating jet lag.

Firstly, the grading system. I’ll be marking each station out of 20 as follows.

  • Diversity (out of 5) – the composition of the panel in terms of nationality, age/era and gender.
  • Infotainment (out of 10) – much like the endless struggle between bat and ball, commentators in cricket need that balance between informative commentary and, particularly for radio, keeping the audience engaged between balls and overs and during slow passages of play. Things looked at here include the banter, discussions of the finer points of the match, wider discussions about cricket, knowledge, anecdotes et cetera.
  • Delivery (out of 5) – did it all work?

[latest_videos_strip category=”cricket” name=”Cricket”]

Television

Channel Nine
Diversity: 2/5 – This was as pale, male and stale as you could get, and Nine were rightly lambasted before the Ashes for their awfully monochrome line-up.

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They get a couple of points only for the diversity of generations in their team, from Bill Lawry to Michael Clarke, so it is useful to hear the changes in the game when listening to the commentators.

Nationality-wise, despite Mark Nicholas and infrequent Michael Vaughan appearances, the balance favoured Australia. Kevin Pietersen has frankly discarded the English mask and is now – fair enough, his choice – an out and proud South African again.

Infotainment: 6.5/10 – I will be marking TV harder than I will radio as television has the opportunity to broadcast the picture. To be fair, Channel Nine did a good job at this. Their use of technology is excellent. The commentary was informative enough, if not too parochial at times. Only TV can provide visual tactical analysis, and it’s clear that most of the panel know what they’re talking about when using the technology at hand.

Unfortunately the quality of the chatter was let down by Pietersen’s exceptionally limited vocabulary. The number of times he says something and then repeats it with really grated me. Michael Slater should remind himself of the praise he received when he first started out in England for Sky.

Delivery: 3/5 – Sticking with two-man panels was the key here. They could just have easily used the Ashes as an excuse to do three-man panels and play ‘Bash the Pom’, but I’m glad they didn’t.

Despite the issues raised in the entertainment paragraph, one can’t say that Channel Nine were dry. They were for the most part quite engaging and appealed to a broad cross-section of the audience. They must remember, though, that they do broadcast to a strongly engaged international audience and would do well to tone down the incessant jingoism.

Total: 11.5/20 – A passing grade. They badly need a woman on the main commentary panel instead of token support on The Cricket Show. Another Englishman would have helped too. There are plenty of qualified ex or current female cricketers who could easily have stepped up into a full rotation.

Ian Healy needs to go. Michael Clarke needs to cease calling colleagues by their full name at the end of every sentence.

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(AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)

BT Sport
Diversity: 3/5 – Alison Mitchell is a gem, and well done to BT Sport for squeezing her between her BBC and ABC commitments. This was also a very balanced line-up in terms of nationality. However, Geoffrey Boycott was the only person to not play cricket in the 21st century. Another cricket elder statesman could have been cool.

Infotainment: 6/10 – Not too much to separate them from the Channel Nine panel. They’re certainly more reserved than the Channel Nine panel and slightly less parochial, although there were times when Ricky Ponting was just frothing at the mouth to unleash. Graeme Swann was quite entertaining.

Ponting’s tactical awareness behind the microphone is significantly better than when he was actually captain. Michael Vaughan spent more time on BT than Channel Nine and thus was more availing of his tactical awareness instead of just being a punching bag for Channel Nine’s Aussie fanatics.

Delivery: 2/5 – Far more aware that they were broadcasting not just to England but to large swathes of the world; however, compared to what Sky used to offer, they just lacked oomph, especially if you are paying for it. Maybe I just miss the smooth tones of Michael Holding on the airwaves, but they just didn’t quite seem to know how to keep the conversation flowing.

Total: 11/20 – I concede I only got a handful of days with which to make this call, and as they won’t be a central figure next summer, there isn’t really a need to suggest improvements either.

(Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Radio

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Triple M
Diversity: 5/5 – I lost count of how many people were on the commentary team. I’m certain there was someone from every facet of life on there. Old cricketers, ex-captains, recent retirees, comedians, women, state stalwarts – everyone was on it.

Entertainment: 8/10 – They deliberately offered a more banter-driven commentary and didn’t disappoint on that. The commentary team was focused on the comedic offering of cult figure Kerry O’Keeffe, but unfortunately he has lost that balance between humour and tactical insight that made him revered on ABC radio and now favours 100 per cent joke bombardment.

The tactical insight was provided ably by others, and James Brayshaw is a good radio anchor and clearly not needing to impress ‘the boys’ like he did on the Channel Nine team. The obvious partisan commentary worked well because it was equal for both teams.

Delivery: 3/5 – There were just too many commentators – at least 14 by my count. Minimum panels of three and near-constant panel shuffling between ads made it incredibly difficult to understand who was on at any one time, and by the time someone had settled into their rhythm, off they went! I’d keep the same light-hearted style for next year, but just trim back on the pool of commentators.

Total: 15/20 – A really good job.

(Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Macquarie
Diversity: 1.5/5 – Just like Channel Nine, this was pale, male and stale, with a particular emphasis on stale. John Emburey was the only Englishman wedged into the commentary box here.

Entertainment: 5.5/10 – Wedging themselves somewhere between tactical analysis and banter, they missed the mark on both. This was a fundamentally boring panel. While the tactical knowledge is certainly astute, it’s delivered poorly. They are a commercial radio network and should be able to afford bigger and more entertaining names.

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Delivery: 2/5 – Like I said above, this was pretty dry. David Morrow isn’t a great cricket commentator and anchor. The services of Tim Lane were useful but not stellar.

Total: 9/20 – Very poor. Triple M spent so much more on their production and it showed. I stopped listening to this by the Boxing Day Test and tuned in infrequently during the one-dayers. They really missed a beat this year.

(Philip Brown/Getty Images)

ABC
Diversity: 3.5/5 – A good balance of English and Australian commentators, although a bit disappointing that family reasons meant Jonathan Agnew wasn’t a full-time commentator for the ABC. The return of Jim Maxwell was fantastic and a real heart-warming story of the summer. They missed having a quality English ex-cricketer, though.

Entertainment: 6.5/10 – The ABC are known for being a tad dry compared to the competition, and this team didn’t do too much to shake off that perception. They missed Tim Lane – although he added little at Macquarie – but what the big difference between the ABC and any other station was Simon Katich and Dirk Nannes.

They were utterly refreshing in their ability to unleash. Simon Katich’s animus toward the establishment is as strong as ever and he rarely let an opportunity to let it be known slip by, and Dirk Nannes is just a straight shooter.

Nannes’s takedown of Steve Smith after the latter unleashed publicly on Glenn Maxwell was extraordinary, as was his sustained 15-minute critique of the selection panel. Yes, he applauded them for making good calls during the Tests, but he didn’t give them any slack for their subsequent missteps. It’s the type of criticism that the Channel Nine would just never do.

The low-key family-friendly banter that Australians have come to expect for nearly a century was present as well and cheerful enough.

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Delivery: 2.5/5 – They needed an English ex-cricketer, and the unexpected departure of Gerard Whateley along with the planned early departure of Agnew left them quite exposed and short of talent at the microphone.

While Maxwell should be applauded for his return, it’s also clear he’s not in a position to be the binding glue of the panel, especially when he had BBC commitments too. Chris Rogers’s commentary is much like his batting.

Total: 12.5/20 – Solid, but not their best for an Ashes year.

(Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

BBC
Diversity 4/5 – Edged past the ABC on diversity. Ex-cricketers from both sides, two women – Alison ‘everywhere’ Mitchell and the excellent Ebony Rainford-Brent – non-cricketers from both sides and elder statesmen of the game as well.

Entertainment 6.5/10 – I always think it’s harsh when people rubbish James Anderson the bowler, but in the ODI series, with him behind the mic, fire away. He is just not a commentator.

The rest of the team were not too dissimilar from the ABC in terms of content and tone, but they just didn’t have the fire-breathing Nannes or Katich ready to take down anything with a pulse.

Daniel Norcross tries to bring over his unique opinions from the old Test Match Sofa days, but it doesn’t have the same razor-sharp cut without the ability to swear or insult. He must have been begging to call Moeen Ali’s batting what it really was.

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Delivery: 3/5 – A solid performance. James Taylor will be a great expert commentator in time. Considering their primary audience would be asleep for most of the day’s play, they did a good job keeping them awake. James Anderson, on the other hand, ensured that those who needed a good night’s sleep would not be lacking.

Total: 13.5/20 – Just edged past the ABC but a bit behind Triple M.

Thoughts, Roarers?