Channel Seven and Cricket Australia’s spat has been ongoing for so long now that some doubt whether the fractured relationship can be fully repaired in time for next summer’s cricket season.
Channel Seven has been seeking a price reduction on their reported annual $70 million contribution to the broadcast deal with Foxtel in the shadow of the pandemic and has more recently launched action in the Federal Court over schedule changes to the 2020-21 cricket fixture.
The relationship has become so strained that Nine newspapers reported this week Cricket Australia had considered formally sounding out the chances of a reunion with Channel Nine had Channel Seven declined to pay its latest fee instalment, which the broadcaster eventually did.
Informal talks have reportedly stopped, but if the opportunity were to arise, Channel Nine would be silly not to bid for the rights. Cricket is a natural drawcard, and summer on the station could feature both the cricket and the Australian Open tennis. It could also assist part-owned streaming service Stan to get its sports arm off the ground with more subscriptions.
But if Nine were to create more advertising and subscription possibilities, it must move with the times. Of course the broadcaster would prize Test matches as a major drawcard as well as ODIs and T20s as integral parts of the Australian cricket calendar, but the BBL and WBBL will be crucial in bringing in women and children who are the future of the game.
Channel Nine’s cricket commentary team in the 1980s and during the height of World Series Cricket were considered cricket’s best coach, an educational forum for young and old to learn about the game. But its cricket coverage descended fast into something resembling dressing room chat between mates, becoming less about the analysis of the game in the process
If Nine were to return to its golden era, it must introduce a new commentary team for both the BBL and international matches.
The first signature Nine must go after is Adam Collins. Collins is an esteemed freelance cricket writer who calls Test cricket for SEN radio in Australia and appears on BBC Test Match Special in the UK. Collins has Bill Lawry qualities and an excitable voice with the ability to say the right things at the right time.
Cricket commentary has gone down the path of packing the booth with past players, whether they be expert analysts or ball-by-ball callers, like Adam Gilchrist on Fox Sports. But as the old saying goes, not every good player makes a good commentator.
The second signature would be Shane Warne. The way Warne analyses the game is second to none, and in his recent autobiography, No Spin, he said, “I’d never have left Nine but cricket is in my blood and I love commentating so much that there was no option”.
The other commentators Nine should sign to make itself the home of cricket for years to come include Mel Jones, Lisa Sthalekar, Michael Slater, Ian Healy, Matthew Hayden, Mark Nicholas, Geoff Lemon, Danny Morrison, Brendon McCullum, Alyssa Healy, Meg Lanning, Elyse Perry, Gideon Haigh, Glenn Maxwell, Aaron Finch and Tim Paine.
The future of Australian cricket lies in the hands of the broadcaster, and if Cricket Australia were to switch partners and Nine were willing to change its 40-year philosophy for the next 40 years, the future would look very bright indeed.