Bowling ’em over
The new faces at Fox and Seven are promising a fresh and fun approach to calling cricket this summer, writes James Wigney
AFTER a year like no other in recent memory, Australian cricket is at a crossroads between the old and the new, a point that was illustrated in a recent exchange between Adam Gilchrist and Usman Khawaja.
During Fox Cricket’s coverage of the home team’s recent Twenty20 win against India in Brisbane — one of the few bright spots in a grim run of outs — a roster of ex-players from Shane Warne to Mark Waugh to Andrew Symonds took the Aussies to task for what they saw as unnecessarily highrisk shots or techniques.
But when current batting star Khawaja, then out with a knee injury, joined wicketkeeperbatsman great Gilchrist in the commentary box, he was having none of it, telling his colleagues the game had changed, and they needed to change with it.
And that, says Gilchrist, who is spearheading Fox Cricket’s new coverage, is just the way it should be. When Khawaja was later worried he might have overstepped the mark with some of the giants of the game, Gilchrist put his mind at ease and welcomed the robust difference of opinions.
“That’s the beauty of that type of broadcasting, it allows everyone’s point of view to be put across and it allows the viewer to make their own mind up,” Gilchrist says. “That actual debate about traditional cricket versus the modern innovations in the game has everyone talking and everyone has an opinion on it.
“If we are talking like that in a commentary box, you can rest assured that in a pub or a lounge room there will be people questioning and arguing about the same thing. That’s healthy for the game.”
It’s hard to remember a period of greater change for Australian cricket than the one unfolding now. Not only has the team been in turmoil following the banning of captain Steve Smith, vice-captain David Warner and batsman Cameron Bancroft, but the knock-on effect from that ball-tampering incident in March was a comprehensive review of the game that has claimed the scalps of several top administrators. Add to that the fact that after decades with Channel 9’s Test coverage as the sound of summer, the broadcasting rights have been divided between Foxtel and Channel 7 and it’s a whole new ball game this summer.
That change, says Gilchrist, also offers an opportunity to reset and recalibrate and tailor the coverage to meet the expectations of modern audiences. Until this year’s new deal, cricketing coverage had for the most part consisted of Channel 9’s more old-school Test and 50-over team, led for decades by the peerless Richie Benaud, at one end of the spectrum and the more brash upstarts of Channel 10 calling the fast-paced, high-energy Big Bash T20 competition at the other.
The Fox Cricket approach, which promises ad-free coverage of every delivery bowled, will sit somewhere between the two, with Gilchrist acknowledging the pioneering work done by Channel 9, but keen to implement the lessons learnt during his stint with the Big Bash.
“As the game evolved, I think the broadcasters tried to evolve and certainly at Fox we have all formats of the game covered, so there are opportunities there to make some adjustments here and there,” he says.
“But certainly, as a general statement, it will be a slightly more relaxed and engaging approach that people are looking for and almost conversational as opposed to being more tutorial.”
Gilchrist’s comrades in the commentating box will include former teammates Waugh, Symonds, Brett Lee and Darren Lehman, as well as English imports, former captain Michael Vaughn and rising star Isa Guha. And then there’s Warnie. Gilchrist spent years playing with the revered leg-spinner in the crucial wicketkeeper-bowler relationship, and while the pair didn’t always see eye-to-eye, there was never a dull moment.
“Warnie has always provided us with a lot of entertainment, hasn’t he?” Gilchrist says with a laugh. “You only have to pick up any newspaper around the world at various points in time and you know there is plenty going on in Shane Warne’s life. He’s just a larger than life personality.
“He says it as he sees it and he brings a huge amount of gravitas with his cricket knowledge and expertise and certainly entertainment value.”
Former Test skipper Ricky Ponting says his Channel 7 team, which will cover the Tests and some BBL and WBBL matches and includes Glenn McGrath, Simon Katich, Jason Gillespie, Lisa Sthalekar and Bruce McAvaney, among others, will take a similar approach.
“I think the whole broadcast will be a little bit more fun and probably appeal slightly more to the younger generation,” Ponting says. “Yes, there will be some fun and laughing, but there will be some great critiquing of the Test match game as well. A big part of my role with Seven is being the commentator who
“HE’S JUST A LARGER THAN LIFE PERSONALITY” — GILCHRIST ON WARNE —
“I THINK THE WHOLE BROADCAST WILL BE A LITTLE BIT MORE FUN ”
can talk technique and tactics and what’s happening in the game to try to let the average person understand a little bit more of the game than they perhaps have in the past.”
With the national team still dealing with the shockwaves of the past nine months, it’s also facing one of its most formidable foes, squaring off with cricketing powerhouse India in the fourTest series that kicks off in Adelaide on December 6.
And Gilchrist’s tip: “I am going to say that India start slight favourites on the back of them being more settled with their line-up, however, I think Australia 2-1.”
WATCH THE FIRST TEST: AUSTRALIA V INDIA, December 6, Fox Cricket and Channel 7
FOX CRICKET’S TEAM INCLUDES ADAM GILCHRIST, MARK HOWARD, JESSICA YATES, ANDREW SYMONDS AND SHANE WARNE.