Spin Bowled

Cricket broad­cast­ing in this coun­try is show­ing se­ri­ous signs of age­ing and must move with the times, writes

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - Graeme Blun­dell

WILL the Test cricket on the Nine Net­work this week­end be a reve­la­tion, or an­other il­lus­tra­tion of how the one- time television heavy­weight is al­ways mov­ing, but never get­ting any­where? There’s no doubt sports broad­cast­ing here has to find a way to com­pete with new me­dia en­vi­ron­ments and the con­sumer- cre­ated clips that ap­pear on YouTube.

The rise of the in­ter­net means con­sumers want ev­ery­thing in their lives to be on- de­mand, ex­cit­ing, in­for­ma­tive and vis­ceral. And lo­cal TV is find­ing it hard to work out ex­actly what it has to do to sur­vive.

In sports TV, David Barham, Ten’s AFL fi­nals se­ries pro­ducer, has pointed the way with a clever, of­ten tech­no­log­i­cally witty, se­ries of broad­casts this year and Den­nis Cometti and Bruce McA­vaney led a bril­liant Seven foot­ball cov­er­age through­out the sea­son.

True, Nine’s cricket boffins have given us Hawk Eye, orig­i­nally a tech­nol­ogy used for brain surgery and mis­sile track­ing, which fol­lows the path of ev­ery ball bowled. And also the Speed Gun, mea­sur­ing bowl­ing speeds, the Snick­ome­ter, and more re­cently the mil­i­tary- de­vel­oped Hot Spot, which shows the neg­a­tive im­age of any in­ci­dent where ball hits bat, glove or pad.

But Nine hasn’t cracked por­tray­ing what it ac­tu­ally feels like to at­tend the event, while still of­fer­ing a mul­ti­tude of in­for­ma­tion about the game and its par­tic­i­pants pre­sented with the speed of cy­berspace. It’s a big call, but the Amer­i­cans have been do­ing it for years.

Watch­ing Fox Sports’ cov­er­age of the World Se­ries base­ball re­cently was as­ton­ish­ing It was a con­trolled ca­coph­ony of sound and vis­ual spec­ta­cle that re­al­is­ti­cally mim­icked the con­fu­sion and ex­cite­ment of a live sport­ing event. This was del­uge TV, em­body­ing the present no­tion that the full screen approach to cov­er­ing sports is not in­dis­pens­able.

At times view­ers were treated to a kind of mo­saic pre­sen­ta­tion that ap­prox­i­mated a pro­ducer’s bank of sep­a­rate video feeds, far more elab­o­rate than any­thing I had seen on lo­cal TV, util­is­ing an al­most comic- book aes­thetic. The vo­cal tracks of all the po­ten­tially com­pet­ing sto­ries over­lapped with the in- game com­men­tary in ex­em­plary fash­ion. Brand­ing and pro­mo­tional com­mer­cials were worked seam­lessly into the rhythms of the long games: fre­quently al­most sub­lim­i­nal graph­ics plug­ging spon­sors, ex­pertly voiced by the com­men­ta­tors, shot three­d­i­men­sion­ally around the screen with­out in­ter­rupt­ing the flow of the game.

But Nine’s prob­lem is not sim­ply the tired, pre­dictable aes­thetic it em­ploys. The level of Nine’s rhetoric has been dreary for a while, choked by a tired layer of for­mer player jar­gon.

There are few gram­mat­i­cal flour­ishes, the one­lin­ers are pre­dictable, there’s lit­tle col­lo­quial en­ergy and jour­nal­ism is no­tice­able only by its ab­sence. The in­ces­sant, clumsy mer­chan­dis­ing, too, once a bit camp and twee, has be­come mind­numb­ingly aw­ful. And the once- en­gag­ing Clas­sic Catches seg­ment is a cyn­i­cal and tired for­mula for gen­er­at­ing mo­bile phone rev­enue.

Also, few of Nine’s cap­tain- codger com­men­ta­tors ap­pre­ci­ate the im­por­tance of nar­ra­tive and the role of the hero in sports pre­sen­ta­tion, some­thing at which only the ABC’s ra­dio team ex­cel. Richie Be­naud just lets it un­fold

and is real rea­son to watch the Nine com­men­tary, a char­ac­ter Harold Pin­ter might have in­vented. The slow- mo­tion re­play doesn’t show how fast the ball was re­ally trav­el­ling,’’ is one of his many great lines, al­ways de­liv­ered qui­etly as though be­mused. A cricket ground is a flat piece of earth with some build­ings around it,’’ is an­other de­cep­tive ver­bal goo­gly.

Tony Greig bub­bles over with self- im­por­tance, is stub­born and of­ten petu­lant, volatile and ig­no­rant. Con­vinced, like many old- timers, of his spe­cial place in the or­der of things, he still has a cun­ning old fox- like sus­pi­cion of things.

Bill Lawry, for all the high- pitched de­liv­ery, pos­sesses an oddly af­fect­ing vul­ner­a­bil­ity, which on oc­ca­sions lapses into clown- like bathos. Mark Tay­lor just seems to think faster than he can talk, his voice ag­i­tated and clenched, a man for whom pro­nun­ci­a­tion is one of the dark arts. Ian

the Chap­pell is dour, prickly and so cranky he makes

Cap­tain Grumpy’’ Al­lan Border ( who pops up on Fox­tel’s cov­er­age with the able Bren­don Ju­lian) seem ra­di­ant. Si­mon O’Don­nell is a TV per­son­al­ity who doesn’t have one.

The hope lies in the younger Ian Healy, clear and forth­right, Michael Slater, pas­sion­ate and a lu­cid ex­plainer; and Mark Ni­cholas, a man with a won­der­ful abil­ity to find words un­der pres­sure and who is able to speak in sen­tences.

It al­ways seems ironic that men who once rep­re­sented hope, de­fi­ance and even in­de­struc­tibil­ity have come to mean old- fash­ioned roy­alty: con­ven­tional and in­scrutably ba­nal.

By com­par­i­son the ABC com­men­ta­tors call the story- line of the game. Adept at con­struct­ing ra­dio plays on the run, they of­ten fo­cus on a star whose per­sonal nar­ra­tive can tran­scend the out­come of the events.

Jim Maxwell is good at sto­ry­telling. He al­ways ap­pears sus­tained by a mod­est sense of serv­ing the game, pre­serv­ing a hope for its cul­ture through main­tain­ing stan­dards and re­sist­ing the com­mer­cially gross and de­ceit­ful.

Kerry O’Ke­effe, the one- time straight­break­ing leg­gie from Kog­a­rah, re­mains a star­tling in­di­vid­ual within a tested com­men­tary for­mula of bland voices, cor­po­rate suits and re­ceived opin­ions. He’s the laugh­ing sound of sum­mer.

It’s the use of com­mer­cials as much as any­thing that has de­stroyed Nine’s ver­sion of the game. The con­stant in­ter­rup­tions de­stroy any emo­tional in­volve­ment for the viewer and frus­trate the kind of nar­ra­tive com­plex­ity ra­dio broad­casts of the game still of­fer.

At a time where dis­may with free- to- air TV is at its high­est point since it be­gan, Nine needs to find ways to pre­vent ad­ver­tis­ing un­der­min­ing the in­her­ent live­li­ness and spon­tane­ity of the game. Last year seemed re­ally sloppy, with seem­ingly lit­tle at­tempt to punc­tu­ate each act with an ap­pro­pri­ate out, cut­ting to com­mer­cials.

And the in- house pro­mo­tions, also once a bit droll, look like des­per­ate pleas for help from a dy­ing TV sta­tion. It is sim­ply shame­ful to force dear old Richie to read tor­tured com­mer­cials for

. And you can tell Richie, im­pec­ca­ble gent though he is, hates ev­ery mo­ment.

At a cer­tain point in a life in TV, you can sense him think­ing, all shame sim­ply dis­ap­pears.

CSI Mi­ami

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Stal­wart: The Nine Net­work’s vet­eran com­men­ta­tor Richie Be­naud heads a team of for­mer play­ers for the sum­mer cricket broad­cast

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