It seems only fitting that our attempt to cover every moment of Channel Nine’s cricket coverage this Australian summer should have begun in farce. We dived out of bed at the crack of 10am last Sunday, ready for the opening day of the Matador One Day Cup. We checked Cricinfo and, shit, the game had already started. We had forgotten about daylight savings. Shit, shit, shit. Running to the TV we turned to Nine (disabling all of the parental locks we had put on it to stop us accidentally switching over to the Block or something in a moment of madness). No cricket. Ah. We checked their digital channels instead, GEM and GO! Still no cricket. Thoroughly confused, we retreated back to the interweb, where we discovered that Channel Nine wasn’t beginning their coverage till the following Tuesday. So we went back to bed.
Well, actually, we didn’t, because Victoria were collapsing all over the place, and that was too funny to pass up. But it seemed more than a little strange that Nine couldn’t be bothered to show the opening day of the domestic season. Maybe they just really, really wanted to show that old black and white war flick they had on GEM instead. But it seemed reasonable to us that they might want to instead start their coverage with the Tuesday game, a rematch between last year’s finalists: New South Wales and Queensland.
So on Tuesday we did it all again, except this time we were wise to the wily ways of daylight savings time, and were up and ready well ahead of schedule. Except when the game began, no dice. Nothing on TV. Then it dawned on us; Nine weren’t covering the rematch, they were covering the game between South Australia and Victoria that started later in the day. Why? Beats us. We already figured that nothing about Channel Nine’s coverage this summer was going to make much sense, so we had better get used to it now.
So in the end, the beginning of Nine’s “Massive Summer of Cricket” was very much a damp squib. No lead up, no hype, the coverage started bang on with the first ball being bowled, and it was all tucked away on a digital channel that all of about five people probably know exists. But fuck it, who cares, its cricket back on the telly again, and that’s got to be pretty good right?
And, as it turns out, it was pretty good. The game was a close one, with Victoria chasing down 300 in the penultimate over, so that was fun. And the commentary, on the whole, wasn’t too bad. Chummy, sure, but not too bad. It’s a pity there was nobody in attendance, but you kinda get used to that on the Australian domestic scene. The Matador One Day Cup sure ain’t no Big Bash.
Only one of the regular Nine commentators was on show during the first two games of the season (the second was an epic contest between South Australia and West Australia, and by epic, we mean pretty shit), and that was Ian Healy. He was surrounded by a bunch of part timers, in Brad McNamara and Jimmy Maher, who were roped in just to fill out the numbers. The other member of the team was one of the big name additions to the Channel Nine stable this summer, Ryan Harris.
Rhino’s commentary was exactly as you would have imagined it to be: dry, probing, holding a steady line just outside off. But there was a certain raw understated edge to it that, if we are being brutally honest, made us a little weak at the knees. It was like some heady, forbidden union of Hemmingway and Nick Cave. We reckon in another life Rhino might have made a decent living as a late night crooner in a smoky underground jazz club. Although given he is an Aussie, he would probably have just ended up as the lead singer in a Jimmy Barnes tribute band, whipping the oldies into a lather at the local RSL.
In all honesty, he was fantastic. His commentary is perhaps more accustomed to radio work than TV, but never mind that. You can clearly get a sense for his love of the game as he enjoyed all the little battles that were going on, picked up on little nuances that would otherwise have escaped our attention, and generally did a great job. If his knee falls apart again this summer, we really hope he ends up getting more air time.
As for the other part-timers, well, we were less impressed. When Rhino was in the box the conversation stuck rigidly to what was happening out in the middle. By way of contrast, it took about ten seconds after Brad McNamara came in for the first time before the focus of conversation drifted off to talk about the footy instead. Likewise Jimmy Maher’s contribution was…dull. At one stage he described a six as ‘a real drop bear’. There must be a book somewhere on Queensland colloquialisms that might explain what that hell that means. And when the two of them were together, the discussion tended to veer off towards anything other than the cricket. Like recipes involving ‘crumbed cashews’. There were far too many of the sort of chummy in-jokes that we feared from the Nine commentary (that’s 51allout’s bag, surely), but thankfully they both will be gone by the time the real stuff starts next month.
As for Healy, our feelings are actually somewhat mixed. His commentary isn’t very good, it’s far too literal and usually just revolves around describing what we can already see at home: “It’s in the air! It could be out! But it’s not! It’s six!” was one memorable passage. We have no idea how he managed to work alongside Richie Benaud for all these years and not pick up a single thing from him on how a cricket game should be called.
But when he was sat next to Rhino, he at least managed to stick to the topic, and while not great, he wasn’t unbearable. It was when he was commentating next to one of the other guys things tended to go to shit in a very small space of time. On the whole we haven’t quite made up our mind about Healy yet, although we are dreading when he gets put in a box already containing Michael Slater and James Brayshaw.
Overall, though, we came out of our first two days in the company of Channel Nine feeling relatively upbeat. It wasn’t a terribly edifying beginning, played in front of empty stadiums on an insignificant second string channel (our favourite Healy moment was in the second fixture, where he couldn’t remember which channel GEM is on), but that’s ok. We managed to survive the experience, which already beats our worst predictions.