Sports TV pundits there to entertain us fans
Some years ago, I was asked by management at SuperSport if I would do an analysis on its cricket commentary team.
The basic premise was to listen to the commentators at work, and give an opinion on the good, the bad and the ugly.
What was working, what wasn’t and what could be changed.
Sounded good to me. Except that someone told the commentators about it.
I discovered this when Kepler Wessels told me if I said bad things about him he would sort me out.
He was joking. And it became an ongoing joke.
I’d see Wessels and he’d clench his fist just to remind me he had been a boxer.
I know Wessels was joking. I think.
He once wrote a column for me when I was sports editor on the Saturday Star, until my editor told me to cut it.
We replaced him with John Robbie.
We don’t talk about the column any more.
I never did write bad things about Wessels or, indeed, any of the rest of the SuperSport commentators as the management never followed up and my role in reshaping the country’s commentary was over before it had begun.
Good thing. Wessels still packs a fair punch.
Every former player who has become a commentator will tell you it is the closest they can get to still being part of the game without actually getting involved in the devil’s work that is coaching.
It’s just like the old days – travel, watch sport and get paid for it. And then have a drink at the end of the day.
And they still get interviewed for those stories that begin “Former Bok critical of
” Some media outlets have a permanent fixture on their diaries for stories quoting former players.
They must have gone into a flat panic when they saw that Nick Mallett was not in the SuperSport studio last week.
Mind you, then they did quote Naas Botha and others.
Some commentators are better than others.
Some are liked more than others.
I know people who hate one rugby commentator because of his accent. They just can’t get past it.
It drives me dilly that all commentators speak like Yoda from Star Wars: “Twenty for five, the score is.”
English should not be mangled. And don’t shout.
And don’t guess. Just tell me what I should know and what I may have missed.
Tell me why it went wrong and why it was right.
Make me laugh and cheer, and angry and sad. Entertain me.
In The Times of London this week, Gary Neville, once of Manchester United and now on the telly as a pundit, spoke of what he has learnt: “Punditry is information, it’s using your experience to see things maybe people can’t see at home, and it’s certainly injecting a passion.
“Intelligent analysis delivered with enthusiasm, offering a different view and the odd argument, that sounds to me like a decent TV show.
“Punditry these last five or six years, the bar is raised so much higher than it’s ever been,” Neville said.
“People expect more. You have to keep reinventing.
“You have to stay relevant because after a while you won’t be known by younger fans.
“I always ask: ‘How can I improve?‘ It’s different roles, asking more questions, influencing editorial, even reporting.
“Because, if I don’t change, I’ll get stale and they’ll move me on,” he said.
Commentators are the voices and faces of our sporting lives.
They fill in the gaps when needed and sometimes talk when they should shut up.
They can delight and infuriate.
They can state the bleeding obvious and then slip in a gem of wisdom.
They have the easiest, hardest and most wonderful of jobs.