The slow demise of Channel 9 commentary team

Dave Richardson Roar Pro

By Dave Richardson, Dave Richardson is a Roar Pro

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    Who knows what goes on behind closed doors but you do get the sense that Channel 9 management are not necessarily mourning the loss of the cricket TV rights.

    With the surprising news that they had nabbed tennis off Channel 7 combined with the fact they had been losing money on cricket, it would only be fair to question their true commitment to the sport.

    Then cue stairwell ranting and ball tampering, the call for cultural change and it must have been clear to all that Channel 9 were goners.

    Cricket Australia knew Channel 9 was part of the culture, whether in a good or bad way and this was an opportunity to draw a line in the sand and use the TV rights as an agent for cultural change.

    And some will say Channel 9 only have the themselves to blame, providing they care that is?

    In hindsight that is questionable.

    Many will say the demise started with the death of Richie Benaud, perhaps even earlier when Tony Greig died in 2012.

    Both are sadly missed but the real game changer was the summer of 2013 when Channel 10 get hold of the Big Bash and took it on a journey that raised questions around the dynamism of Channel 9.

    Channel 9 all of a sudden became like the tired old uncle, taking a nap in the corner after a long Sunday lunch on a winters afternoon. In comparative media terms similar to the BBC in 1999 when the cricket in the UK was moved to Channel 4 after 61 years.

    There was a feeling for new things, new commentators, new gimmicks and gizmos. More shebang.

    It was clear the channel needed to step up to the plate but they simply chose not to do so.

    Once the innovator and leader of cricket coverage in the world they sat on their comfy couch. They re-jigged and re-badged a few things here and there but by and large the overall product remained the same.

    Mark Taylor and Michael Slater

    (WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)

    Even as something as simple as not wearing ties at ODIs and T20s didn’t sit quite right.

    Instead they all looked like the naughty schoolboys who turned up to school without their ties but we all knew they had them in their back pockets.

    They were drifting and then comes an article by Geoff Lemon in The Guardian in early 2015 that names the issue.

    It was an elephant in the room moment and all of a sudden it was open slather to criticise Channel 9 and in particular the commentary team. The end result James Brayshaw, Mike Hussey and Brett Lee being cut loose and a commitment there would be an increased focus on the cricket rather than stories of what Warnie ate when on tour.

    But they missed the point, nobody really minded that chat. People like to have a laugh and like to hear the odd story of yesteryear but that needed to be combined with a new feel.

    The reason to move on three of the team, given its burgeoning size, was probably a good one but it was the investment in the newest members of the commentary team that was problematic.

    There was no sensible rationale to move on the established members of the team. Mark Nicholas is the consummate front man, Bill Lawry the most loved voice in cricket, Ian Chappell a respected elder and leader of the game, Shane Warne an Australian legend, Mark Taylor a former Australian of the Year, Ian Healy generally viewed as Australia’s best wicketkeeper and Michael Slater a likeable lad from Wagga Wagga respected for his attacking skills with the bat.

    They had also been employed for Channel 9 for a long time, Lawry and Chappell since day one of their cricket coverage and if any of them had gone the same way of Brayshaw, Hussey and Lee there would have been an equal measure of outcry.

    The problem was they hung their hat on the likes of Michael Clarke and Kevin Pietersen.

    It was soon discovered that Clarke’s standing in the commentary team is no different to the way the Australian public viewed him as their captain. That is one of indifference.

    Of course, he has insight and knowledge but he doesn’t get the adoration of others and if he was the Channel’s investment in the future it clearly backfired. Ricky Ponting in the commentary box he ain’t.

    Michael Clarke

    (Photo by Nicky Sims/Getty Images)

    The investment in Kevin Pietersen was also miscalculated. He talks in riddles, laughs at things that aren’t funny, says things just for saying something and after a while it was easy to see why he ended up outsider in the English dressing room.

    This obviously makes neither Clarke or Pietersen bad people but they were simply bad choices for Channel 9 in the summer of 2016.

    But that could have been put right for the summer of 2017/18 in their last year of contract and with an Ashes series ahead of them

    But what do they do?

    In November 2017 the commentary team for the summer is announced and it is another miss hit.

    No changes to the team and a meltdown on Twitter about middle aged white men in suits, calls for renewal and the need for both gender and ethnic diversity.

    It was the clincher and the start of the end for Channel 9, especially given their reaction.

    A steadfast straight bat that the commentary team would only include those that have played at the highest level. Code speak that you had to be a male and have played Test cricket (other than Mark Nicholas as we need a good front man).

    It was blatantly poorly conceived and not of its time, with Channel 10, Triple M and ABC Radio all seeing the need to diversify, not least on the gender front.

    And this is the clearest indication that there was never going to be any meaningful investment in their product for future years.

    They were losing money, Tennis was a less expensive option they could make some money on and they knew their cricket coverage had been on the nose.

    When Mark Nicholas signed off on the last international of the domestic season, saying we all hope to see you again next year, he said it with a voice of resigned hope rather than confidence.

    Perhaps he already knew his hierarchy had thrown the towel in.

    Getting hassled by a parent or partner about spending too much time playing video games? Now, you can tell them the story of how some ordinary gamers scored $225k for just seven weeks of work.

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    The Crowd Says (41)

    • April 17th 2018 @ 6:40am
      i miss the force said | April 17th 2018 @ 6:40am | ! Report

      “Cricket Australia knew Channel 9 was part of the culture, whether in a good or bad way and this was an opportunity to draw a line in the sand and use the TV rights as an agent for cultural change.”

      are you serious? longest bow drawn ever

      but you are right on about MC and KP

      • Roar Guru

        April 17th 2018 @ 11:34am
        Matt H said | April 17th 2018 @ 11:34am | ! Report

        I’m pretty sure if they had stumped up say an extra $100M over what Seven/Fox did, then suddenly they would have been part of the new culture.

    • April 17th 2018 @ 6:46am
      chris said | April 17th 2018 @ 6:46am | ! Report

      Good article and some good points. I agree that Ch 9 is seen as part of the culture of what is wrong with cricket today and had to go. A typical boys club with in-jokes and back slapping buffoonery that left the audience on the outer. Will Ch 7 be any better? Probably not.

    • April 17th 2018 @ 7:15am
      Onside said | April 17th 2018 @ 7:15am | ! Report

      It’s the product Dave. Test cricket is an anachronism.

      • April 17th 2018 @ 2:56pm
        Dexter The Hamster said | April 17th 2018 @ 2:56pm | ! Report

        I respectfully disagree.

    • Roar Rookie

      April 17th 2018 @ 7:22am
      Don said | April 17th 2018 @ 7:22am | ! Report

      Ch9 made the fatal mistake of many broadcasters.
      They let the panel show light entertainment side of the sport creep into their commentary during games. They thought that the Footy Show audience was also the cricket audience and that viewers would lap up something that is barely bearable for 2 hours a week for 8 hours a day for 5 days.

      Same happened with NRL.
      They use the same guys and they don’t differentiate the task. Rather than letting the game provide the entertainment and the commentary adding insight, the commentators are trying to provide the entertainment while a game goes on around them.

      Fox Sports runs the same risks. Their NRL and Rugby live commentary crosses into “Footy Show” style when Voss and Maloney are doing games.

      • April 17th 2018 @ 8:56am
        Roger said | April 17th 2018 @ 8:56am | ! Report

        100% correct Don – I’ve been a little surprised that 9 didn’t have Slater and Healy cross dressing during their pitch reports last year.

        Bl##dy awful and by the end they made me yearn for the days of one camera and Norman May, Keith Miller and Frank Tyson.

        • April 17th 2018 @ 3:39pm
          Ironmonger said | April 17th 2018 @ 3:39pm | ! Report

          here here…

          Richie used to talk about the differences in commentating for the BBC and for Channel 9 – 1. in the BBC they were able to go into deeper analysis in between overs as they didn’t have to go to ads. With Channel 9 commentary you are working in the overs with less room for value ad. 2. The commentators for BBC were skewed toward professional journalists so they had more of an idea of the “art” of commentary. Channel 9 more ex-players, so the art of commentary not as prevalent.

      • Roar Rookie

        April 17th 2018 @ 9:30am
        Tom VDS said | April 17th 2018 @ 9:30am | ! Report

        “Rather than letting the game provide the entertainment and the commentary adding insight, the commentators are trying to provide the entertainment while a game goes on around them.”

        Completely agree. I remember hearing Richie Benaud talking about the power of saying nothing during commentary. The viewer can see what’s happening on screen, so as a commentator, you don’t need to speak unless you’re adding something to enhance the viewer’s experience. Compare Richie’s commentary of ‘the Ball of the Century,’ all he initially said was “And he’s done it.”

        I don’t want to think how two of Australia’s biggest cheerleaders, Healy and Slater, would have ruined that moment with their over-excited puppy yahooing!

    • Roar Guru

      April 17th 2018 @ 8:04am
      XI said | April 17th 2018 @ 8:04am | ! Report

      Warne, Slater and Healy are terrible commentators. If you’re looking for people who talk for talking’s sake they are the most persistent offenders.

      • Roar Guru

        April 17th 2018 @ 9:14am
        JamesH said | April 17th 2018 @ 9:14am | ! Report

        Yeah I don’t understand why the ‘established team’ gets a pass. Clarke has an annoying voice but I’d rather listen to him than the guys you just mentioned.

        I also don’t understand why Lawry seems to get a free pass. People talk about how his voice is iconic and synonymous with the summer of cricket, as if just being a part of the furniture is enough. I can’t remember the last time I heard him say anything insightful. Mostly he just gets excited about wickets that aren’t actually wickets.

        And Mark Nicholas is just too much. It’s one thing to be eloquent; it’s another thing altogether to turn everything into prose. There’s a reason people loved Richie, and now love Punter as a commentator – they kept/keep it concise and intelligent, with a bit of dry humour thrown in.

        The one good thing about the new TV deal is that Fox and Seven have a chance to modernise the commentary team and select people who are actually good commentators – ideally a mix of eras, genders and ex-players and non-players. If they stuff the team(s) up then it’s hard to feel any kind of positivity about this change.

        • April 17th 2018 @ 10:25am
          jameswm said | April 17th 2018 @ 10:25am | ! Report

          Lawry is only popular because of Billy Birminghman.

          He is and has always been a cheerleading Victorian as a commentator.

        • Roar Pro

          April 17th 2018 @ 7:08pm
          Barry & Zac said | April 17th 2018 @ 7:08pm | ! Report

          Channel 7 were no better with their footy commentary team!!
          And Bill Lawry is loved because he represents what is good about the game. He is the voice that everyone loves and he has been around for ages. He is well respected and he is VERY insightful

          • April 18th 2018 @ 5:32pm
            ChrisB said | April 18th 2018 @ 5:32pm | ! Report

            What a load of crap. He is not insightful at all (whatever that means). It’s patently obvious he knows almost nothing about the game in other countries, about international players etc, yet this should be a given for a professional commentator. He slipped years ago into self-parody

            • Roar Pro

              April 19th 2018 @ 6:59pm
              Barry & Zac said | April 19th 2018 @ 6:59pm | ! Report

              you’ll have to excuse Barry there, he gets a bit cranky when people disrespect victorians, but i totally agree, bill lawry is just an annoying cheerleader who could give himself a heart attack every time a wicket falls.

      • April 17th 2018 @ 9:30am
        Christo the Daddyo said | April 17th 2018 @ 9:30am | ! Report

        The frustrating thing about Warne and KP is that they are capable of saying some really insightful things. But they get into that Ch 9 commentary box and it all seems to fall apart. Warne repeats himself endlessly, and KP needs to cut that giggle out completely.

        But this just means they’re not getting good guidance and direction. Easy to blame the guys in front of the camera, but I think it’s the direction that’s been lacking of late. Is there any, or are the commentators simply not listening to it?

        Slater and Healy aren’t much chop though – nothing lost in getting rid of them. I’d also be cutting the cord on Chappelli and Lawry – there are only so many times you can listen to them reminisce about their playing days decades ago before it all just fades into meaningless drivel.

    • April 17th 2018 @ 9:32am
      Paul said | April 17th 2018 @ 9:32am | ! Report

      I watched some Sky Sports coverage of the recent Ashes series and the difference in commentary was amazing. There was a good mix of Aussies and Poms as well as Alison Mitchell who was great. They didn’t have a big team but those who were there, added value to the actual game. The half hour summary after the days play was especially good because you had three or 4 guys being brutally honest and it was good viewing.

      Test cricket is not an anacronism and good commentary will only enhance the game. 9 had got it wrong for some years, which is why many of us used to turn down the sound and listen to Skull and co on the ABC. Hopefully things will improve with the new broadcasters – but I’m not holing my breath.

      • April 17th 2018 @ 6:01pm
        Dave SPG said | April 17th 2018 @ 6:01pm | ! Report

        That was BT Sports, not Sky, as BT won the British TV coverage for Australian cricket series.

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