Cricket broadcasting in this country is showing serious signs of ageing and must move with the times, writes
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.
Stalwart: The Nine Network’s veteran commentator Richie Benaud heads a team of former players for the summer cricket broadcast