When you crawl out of bed at the crack of noon, after a hard night of watching Pune getting slaughtered in the IPL yet again, you are not really in a very receptive state for a news bombshell. No, not that stuff about some alcoholic geriatric Scotsman taking up golf full-time, but rather the commencement of legal proceedings by Cricket Australia against Channel Nine. That’s the sort of news that can cause you to spread the Vegemite a little too liberally on your lunchtime toast. This could be a massive development. A MASSSIVE development if James Brayshaw was commentating on it.
The details of the issue are seemingly thus; Channel Nine currently has an agreement with Cricket Australia whereby it needs only to match an offer from a competitor to retain the rights to broadcast the sport in Australia. Cricket Australia has recently been in negotiations with Channel Ten, a rival network better known for screening about 12 hours of The Simpsons each and every day, and whilst Nine presumably could match Ten’s bid, they won’t match a crucial detail. For some odd reason beyond our comprehension, Cricket Australia believes people would actually want to watch Australian domestic cricket and seemingly have twisted Ten’s arm until they agreed it was a good idea too. Channel Nine though won’t budge on the issue, probably reasoning that would take precious screening time away from The Block; Celebrity Edition, and Cricket Australia has interpreted that stance as meaning that Nine’s bid doesn’t meet it’s competitors. Nine obviously disagrees with that conclusion, and so it’s time for the lawyers.
For those of you who managed to make it through that last paragraph, what this all means is that we could shortly be rid of the Channel Nine commentary team. Ian Healy, Mark Taylor, James Brayshaw, Michael Slater, Mark Bloody Nicholas. All gone. No wonder we also managed to break nearly half the plates in our kitchen making that lunchtime toast. Sure there are some we would genuinely miss, like Ian Chappell, and, er, well that’s it really. As much as we all love Richie Benaud, he should have retired a few years ago to be honest. The poor old bastard.
Unless you have been continuously subjected to the monotonous idiocy that is a Channel Nine cricket broadcast for the past twenty or thirty years, it might be hard to understand how good this news potentially is. The world of television coverage of cricket isn’t exactly known for it’s high standards. Sky’s coverage in England is probably top of the pile, even though they employ Nick Knight. Actually, now we think of it, Curtly Ambrose commentates in the West Indies, so they instantly go to number one. Ranged out below them is the coverage available in South Africa, New Zealand and Sri Lanka (which is frequently unintentionally hilarious). At the very bottom, and we mean the very bottom, are Star Cricket in India and Channel Nine.
We are hard pressed to separate those two really. Both can be readily identified by their blatant bias towards the home outfit, the constant backslapping that goes on in the commentary box, and their ability to hold their viewers in contempt in the search for higher ratings. We are unable to contemplate how either broadcast could possibly get worse, and yet to their credit they year on year unfailingly manage to surprise us. Because what Australian cricket viewers really needed was the Madden brothers rammed down their throats at every possible moment. An experience about as palatable as the fast food they endorse.
The problem with Channel Nine, and to some extent with Star Cricket too, is that their coverage is firmly entrenched in the past. The late 80’s to early 90’s to be exact. What few innovations they introduce these days are just novelties, rubbish like ‘The Desk’ that doesn’t really change how the game is commentated upon, just a tacked on ‘feature’ that attempts to make the coverage look modern. If you want to see real innovation you look to Fox Sports (the flashing stumps in the Big Bash really are the best thing ever) or Sky. Channel Nine still seems to be hanging its hat on the fact that it introduced the concept of a camera at each end about forty years ago.
That Channel Nine appears to be so reluctant to change in part seems to be because they are scared of distancing those viewers who cannot comprehend an Australian cricket season without Richie, Bill et al. But even diehard followers, those who still think that Billy Birmingham and The 12th Man represent the absolute zenith of comedic genius, have become disillusioned with the manner that non-entities such as Healy have been shoved into the mix. It’s not overly surprising that many prefer the commentators found on Fox Sports these days, such as Allan Border, Mark Waugh and Damien Fleming, i.e. a completely different generation of commentator to what Nine can provide.
Channel Nine losing the broadcasting rights in Australia would be the absolute best thing that could happen to both it and the sport as a whole. It would give Nine the kick up the arse it needs to pull itself out of the last millennium and maybe, just maybe, convince it that it needs to stop taking its viewers for granted. While those who were turned off cricket by their eminently rational loathing of Ian Healy could safely return. We don’t expect the potential coverage on Channel Ten to be brilliant, they no doubt would pick up a number of refugees from Nine so we are keeping our hopes necessary low, but it would be better. It couldn’t possibly be worse, particularly since their intention to broadcast domestic fixtures (even if it’s only the Big Bash) already reveals a far greater interest in the development of the sport as a whole than anything Nine has shown in the past decade or two.
If Channel Ten becomes the new home of cricket in Australia, and this is still an ‘if’, albeit one that has made our kitchen look like it just hosted a Greek wedding, it could be the best thing to happen to the sport since Steve Peter Devereux Smith. For those thinking this would be a bad move for Cricket Australia to take, consider that the A-League recently claimed to be, with some justification we might add, Australia’s number one summer sport. And Emile Heskey plays in the A-League. We kid, Heskey is awesome. But that is how far cricket has fallen of late. The troubles with Australian cricket are well documented, and a switch to Channel Ten wouldn’t necessarily solve any of them, but breaking free from the self interested boyars that rule Channel Nine with an iron fist, and are intent only on squeezing every last dollar of advertising revenue that they can from the sport, would be a hell of a start.