Farewell cricket on Nine, but the spark was lost long ago

There are plenty of good memories: Richie Benaud proclaiming “Shot!” as an exquisitely hit cover drive made its way to the boundary, or the childish frisson when the score approached 2/22.

Not to mention the infectious exuberance of Lawry as he jousted with Tony Greig, who would then say something that would make your unreconstructed uncle blush at Christmas dinner.

Lawry was in the chair for one of my favourite TV cricket moments: Michael Bevan scoring a four off the last ball in a one-day international in 1996 against the West Indies.

“Down the ground – it’s four! That’s victory for Australia; what an effort!” screamed Bill as the crowd went bananas.

The last of Nine’s original fab-four team, Ian Chappell, was always sharp with his insight into a captain’s thoughts, before he began meeting his KPI of recalling an anecdote every over.

It seems bizarre to think this now, but the 12th Man, Billy Birmingham, made a string of No.1 albums parodying these guys. Like many, I spent my childhood reciting them.

One of the commentary greats: Richie Benaud.

One of the commentary greats: Richie Benaud.

Even the dodgy memorabilia had its hokey charm. Call now to get your hands on one of 10,000 signed copies of Steven Smith’s groin protector. A real limited edition to hang in the pool room. Now it’s time for classic catches. Text your entry to win $5000 in cash.

But like a loveless marriage or a cheap landlord who won’t fix a broken hot water service, we should acknowledge that the spark was lost some time ago.

Viewers like me have long fumed that the action on the field had become secondary to everything else on the Nine broadcast.

The commentators had sunk into self-indulgence, yukking it up about past achievements rather than analysing the game. Nicknames were de rigueur: Michael Slater became ”Slats”, Mark Taylor was now ”Tubs”.

When something worth discussing happened in the middle, Slats, Tubs and co reached for cliche rather than thoughtful examination.

Presumably because of anxiety about filling dead air, topics of conversation would veer into wildly uninteresting places. The nadir, so deep it can be found somewhere near the earth’s molten core, was Shane Warne spending five minutes discussing pizza toppings.

They jettisoned the guest commentator, a long-time convention that introduced viewers to the likes of West Indies great Michael Holding and dampened the temptation for home-town bias.

Channel Nine's commentary team.

Channel Nine’s commentary team.

Photo: Supplied

Female callers weren’t hired, despite most other broadcasters having brought in at least one. Meanwhile, the much-loved Benaud and Greig had passed away, and Lawry had gone part-time.

A promo shot of the team released before the Ashes only fuelled the criticism that the team were “pale, male and stale”.

As one wag on Twitter noted: “To be fair, one of them is wearing a hat.”

With Nine gone, disaffected fans will now look to Foxtel and Seven in the hope that things can be better.

There have been tastes of what cricket can be like outside its union with Nine, most recently through Ten’s well-received coverage of the BBL.

The broadcast felt fresher and more exciting, although it did tend to skew towards the hyperbole that comes with the bright lights of T20 cricket.

It also introduced some interesting new voices into loungeroom, such as Ricky Ponting, Brendon McCullum and Mel Jones. All three will be on the shopping list of the new rights holders.

And while many will be happy to see a change from Nine, they might also be wary that Seven’s involvement will brings its own irritations.

If their coverage of the tennis is any guide, get ready to hear plenty about what’s coming up “after the cricket”.

Tom Cowie

Tom Cowie is a journalist at The Age covering general news.

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