There’s only one way to describe the Channel Nine commentary lineup for this upcoming summer of cricket: Sexy. Damn sexy. Michael Slater, Mike Hussey, that dreamboat James Brayshaw; they just drip charisma, suave sophistication, and lots of other stuff that we’re sure the ladies find simply irresistible. Even Mark Taylor looks the sort of man who knows how to treat a woman just right. Knows how to make a room hot. Or cool, depending on how you like it. All with a click of a button. With most of the old timers absent, the Channel Nine commentary box will once again be the place to be this summer. And they won’t hesitate to let the rest of the world know about it either.
This will be the first summer in Oz where Channel Nine will take to the air with nearly all of the old Packer names absent. Richie Benaud and Bill Lawry are both missing in action and it’s really only Ian Chappell who still refuses to see the writing on the wall and continues to turn up, even though everyone stopped listening to what he has to say ages ago. Chappelli, as the elder statesmen, has ironically enough come to represent how the Channel Nine team has become so divorced from what’s actually happening in the game around them. The commentary box is filled with names who played during the years of Australian dominance (and James Brayshaw). Years that are becoming something of a distant memory these days.
The introverted bubble in which Channel Nine exists is still having trouble coming to terms with the face of the current Australian setup. Chappell’s claim last season that anyone not averaging over 40 in domestic cricket should give it up should make his views on George Bailey’s (he of the 38.13 First-class average) selection quite interesting. The Channel Nine commentators are familiar with a world in which the Aussies rightfully give everyone a right spanking. If that’s not how things work out this summer (and to be honest, it’s not terribly likely), watching them flounder on air to find anything positive to say might well be the greatest entertainment on offer.
Benaud is one who gives the appearance of enjoying the contest for its own sake, whilst Lawry could find optimism anywhere. The rest of the commentary team aren’t so lucky. For them it’s absolutely vital Australia do well. Otherwise, much like the BCCI shills trying to find positive things to say about MS Dhoni’s captaincy, their conversation topics are pretty much limited to what’s going on in the crowd at any one time; we could be hearing a lot of beer snake chat these next few months. The problem is that nobody in the Nine commentary team, with the notable exception of Mark Taylor, seems to have much idea of what goes on in Australian domestic cricket these days, and therefore have no real basis from which to critique the performance of Australian players, other than to compare them to their own experiences as players.
Mike Hussey may find more of relevance to say than most about, say, the inability of nearly every Australian batsman to play spin, but if Australia’s batsmen flounder, the only real insight any of the commentators will be able to offer is to throw out some names of players they saw play in the Ryobi Cup a few months ago (which Channel Nine covered only because Cricket Australia paid them to), and ask why they weren’t selected instead. Warne will no doubt constantly demand the inclusion of his best mate Faulkner, though even he might have seen by now that Nathan Coulter-Nile is probably not the answer to Australia’s problems.
But then nobody tunes into Channel Nine looking for actual insight. They are all listening to the ABC instead who this year, owing to Cricket Australia restrictions, will probably be covering Test matches from floating platforms moored in international waters. Instead Channel Nine will be offering up their usual plethora of gimmicks and other such technical wizardry that would probably look cool to someone harking from the mid-90’s. A Tasmanian in other words. Last year we had the “The Desk” (capitalisation is entirely necessary in this case). God knows what they’ll have this year; probably some sort of interactive dartboard with James Sutherland’s face on it, which will let you throw darts at your television whenever another Aussie batsman throws his wicket away.
So what can we expect from the Channel Nine commentary team this summer? Pretty much what we’ve come to expect from the past few years, except even worse given that Richie won’t be around as much. Suffice to say that without Benaud’s ability to read a game, there will be very little in the way of analysis going on in the Channel Nine box. Instead they will mostly be relying on ‘wacky banter’ to pass the time, with all the thinking being handed over to whatever technological marvel the boffins behind the scenes have rigged up. However ‘Slats’, ‘Heals’ and ‘that dickhead Brayshaw’ could find themselves really struggling for inspiration if things go tits up for their compatriots out on the pitch. Even repeated attempts to flog David Warner memorabilia won’t get them out of that particular hole.