In many ways the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the ABC, is just like its British counterpart. It is an editorially independent national broadcaster that spans both television and radio, rejects outside corporate sponsorship, and is a home for radical communists and other lefties who plot to overthrow the government via the means of subliminal messages inserted into children’s television shows. The similarities end when it comes to resources though; the ABC is purely funded by the Australian government, and that funding has been slowly declining (in real money terms) over the past 30 years or so. To put it into perspective, for almost three times the population of Australia, the BBC receives almost ten times the funding of the ABC.
The obvious repercussion of this disparity is that while the BBC is capable of sending journalists around the world, where they usually just end up getting their footage from a local zoo as opposed to doing any actual work, the ABC operates within more modest means. As a case in point, the commentator in question in this article was sent, on his own, to cover the Australian tour of Sri Lanka last year on his iPhone. Such is the level of penny pinching required at the ABC, James ‘Jim’ Maxwell has in the past covered rugby union, rugby league, golf, hockey, and table tennis. On top of this he edits the annual ABC Cricket Magazine, and we wouldn’t be surprised if he helps out answering the phones at the ABC in his spare time.
In addition to all of this Maxwell sometimes finds the time to cover the occasional game of cricket as well. In fact he’s covered over 230 Test matches at last count, and God knows how many ODI’s. In the process he has gone past the number reached by his predecessor, and in many ways the doyen of Antipodean cricket commentators, Alan McGilvray. Maxwell never had much of cricketing career, having never made it out of grade ranks, and certainly can’t claim to have shared a 177 run partnership with Bradman in a charity match like McGilvray could. But nevertheless his reading of the game is both astute and, somewhat rarely amongst Australian commentators it must be said, even handed.
In fact Maxwell’s greatest attribute, and perhaps the secret behind his longevity, is that his commentary doesn’t give the impression of being an excuse to wheel out endless anecdotes from his playing days, or to fire barbs at his enemies within the game, but rather is born from an actual enjoyment of the contest. And the fiercer the better. It’s no surprise he has nominated the Australian win at Sabina Park in 1995 as his favourite sporting moment. For Maxwell cricket is at its best when the bowlers are at the batsman’s throat and there is a real contest between bat and ball.
On the other hand, Maxwell is not shy of criticising flaws within the modern game, and dead batting tracks are clearly at the top of the pile. Other pet hates include slow over rates in Test Cricket, the ICC’s continuing reluctance to introduce T20 Cricket to the Olympics, and Channel Nine’s habit of placing its cameras right in front of the ABC commentary box. For all of that though, Maxwell is adroit at keeping his commentary from veering too far into outright criticism, something that some of his former colleagues, Peter Roebuck in particular, were occasionally guilty of.
Maxwell’s relationship with Roebuck represents a melancholic counterpoint to his commentary career. The two were firm friends, Maxwell played a part in convincing Roebuck to emigrate to Australian shores, and Maxwell was the last person to speak to Roebuck in his hotel room, mere moments before his suicide late last year. Whilst the controversy over Roebuck’s lifestyle continues, the sight of Maxwell fronting the ABC cameras the following morning, struggling and ultimately failing to maintain his composure, added a poignant human element to such a tragic episode. The eulogy that Maxwell delivered before the commencement of the second South African Test, a mere five days after Roebuck’s death, must stand as one of the most moving pieces ever heard in a cricket commentary box.
For the duration of the Australian tour this summer English listeners are treated to Maxwell’s presence within the TMS team. It is a role he fills during Ashes series and his interplay with Aggers and co is a joy since, unlike a lot of Australians we could name (*cough* Matthew Hayden *cough*), Maxwell is just as capable of being on the end of a joke as he is at handing them out. His reading of Australian cricketers is also happily devoid of the jingoistic hyperbole found on Channel Nine; Maxwell revels in David Warner’s explosiveness but is just as quick to criticise deficiencies in his technique and temperament. All of which means his commentary serves as an invaluable introduction to an English audience of the new faces within the Australian set-up.
Indeed it is hard to comprehend a better ambassador for Australia on English shores than Jim Maxwell, short of sticking a microphone in front of Barry Humphries and asking him to describe Steve Smith’s gait. His appreciation of the game as it should be played, with no quarter given, flows over into his commentary, where he enjoys giving as good as he gets when surrounded by Englishmen in the commentary box. He probably wouldn’t even complain about Blowers dribbling on his shoulder inbetween overs.