We have to admit to being big fans of the way Channel Nine has handled the domestic one day cricket so far. Rather than just dump everyone back in the box at once, they’ve gone with a schedule of slowly introducing all their regulars back into the fray, one at a time. Which is great news if, like us, the prospect of coming in from the cold and having to contend with Messrs Slater, Healy et al first day back would likely destroy any further enthusiasm for the summer ahead. Not to mention our sanity. We are such big fans of the practice, we think that if they followed the same system with Mark Nicholas, perhaps bringing him back for just five minutes a day to begin, by the end of the season we might be able to put up with a whole session of his inane natterings. Possibly.
As the one day tournament shifted south to Sydney, Ian Chappell was the first to be reintroduced back into the fold. Chapelli is probably the most loved of all of the Channel Nine commentators, and the last remaining member of the old guard (unless Richie, quite literally, phones in a few performances later in the summer). Our feelings about Chappelli are actually somewhat mixed. To be sure he knows far, far more about the game than just about anyone else Nine will have on show this summer (sometimes it feels like the less you know about the game the better your prospects are with Nine, but we will get to Andrew Symonds in a bit), but are Chappelli’s endless stream of anecdotes about the time he faced John Snow or Michael Holding actually relevant at all these days? Honestly, we have our doubts.
Chappell has famously been incredibly dismissive of some of Australia’s most recent batting products. His dislike of George Bailey is legendary, and he once suggested any batsman averaging under 40 in domestic cricket should just pack it in and go home (which accounts for pretty much all of them these days). Diplomacy is not one of his strengths, which is one reason why people like him so much, but we wondered how he would view a competition that has about three good batsman playing in it; Cameron White, Moises Henriques and Usman Khawaja. Yeah. We use the word ‘good’ in relative terms here.
He actually surprised us by being relatively upbeat. Maybe the last Ashes series realigned his opinion of the trajectory of Australian cricket. It was certainly the most we have enjoyed one of his stints in ages. His mood was probably helped by the fact that wasn’t forced to sit next to one of the gibbering idiots he’s usually paired with, and instead, particularly when sat next to the former Aussie quick Stuart Clark, he actually seemed to be enjoying himself. Can’t remember the last time we could have said that about Chappelli.
Clark himself is a great commentator, much like Ryan Harris but without the latter’s sexy bass tone. He particularly enjoyed subtly taking the piss out of Chappelli as much as possible. Clark was such a natural fit in the commentary box that it wouldn’t surprise us at all if we don’t see him again this summer. Instead Channel Nine will probably rope in Andrew Symonds, largely because of his ‘star’ quality. Symonds talks almost exclusively in clichés, trips over his lines constantly, and his commentary constantly wanders off to topics that have nothing to do with the actual cricket. Our favourite line from ‘Roy’ was when he said the World Cup next year was an incredibly important tournament for Australia. Well, yeah. He is a natural fit for Channel Nine really.
Another regular to get eased back into the fold was Michael Slater. It’s stating the obvious to say that Slater is not a very good commentator, but it surprised us just how much he struggles to describe even the most simple plays. A pull shot that sent the ball flying into the hoardings behind the square leg boundary was described as “helped around the corner, and just makes it to the fence”. Er, what? He was even shown up by Shane Watson when he came in for a guest commentary stint. Watson naturally seemed most comfortable when talking about himself, but he was far ahead of Slater when talking about the technical aspects of the game. When describing his recent injury (where he trod on a ball in training) we loved the imagery Watson provoked by the line “I need to be more careful of balls in my area.” Watson’s general lack of self-awareness give him a very KP-esque quality.
Slater just struggles to do the basics right. In a domestic setting, where there really is nothing going on besides the cricket, he sounds extremely uneasy. Talking about the cricket should be a basic requirement of a cricket commentator. Slater simply can’t do it. At all. Instead he talks about personalities, what’s going on in the crowd, the weather, pretty much anything but the cricket. You can see that his main role in a three man Channel Nine box is to talk to the commentators beside him, rather than about the game. The only time he sounded like he was in his element was when someone cleared the boundary, because then he was free to shout a lot.
The third, and final, regular to make an appearance was Mark Taylor. We have to admit we quite like Taylor. He doesn’t get too carried away (relative to some of his colleagues anyway), seldom gets distracted from the game itself, and comes across as being quite knowledgeable about the game. He is far from perfect but, frankly, we think he is the best commentator Channel Nine has. By quite some distance.
The problem though with reintroducing the regulars one at a time, is that you can’t get a sense of how they interact with each other. We get the feeling that this is where Taylor in particular will begin to fall down, and when sat next to people like Healy or Slater, a lot of what we enjoy about his commentary here will get lost, or simply shouted over. Already we are beginning to dread what the rest of the summer might contain. All we can do is dig in, stock up on the gin and Prozac, and hope that we can somehow ride out the worst of it relatively unscathed.
But for now we are enjoying what Nine are doing with the domestic cricket. Tolerating someone like Slater or Brad McNamara (who tries to introduce the word ‘kebbabary’, which we think he must have invented, into every session he commentates) is a small price to pay really. Especially considering what is to come.