It would hardly be an understatement to call the Australian international cricket season just past the most dismal in recent memory. Yes, Steven Peter Devereux Smith scored a metric shitload of runs and Jake Ball was hilariously rubbish, but these facts ultimately failed to distract from a schedule dominated by uncompetitive fixtures. Australia thrashed England in the Tests, the only outliers being a day or so at Adelaide and an MCG Test that was the dullest event witnessed by man since the Oscars. England thrashed Australia in the ODI’s, Australia thrashed England in the T20’s and that was yer lot. Thanks for coming.
Not since the West Indies last toured have we witnessed such blatantly uncompetitive cricket. A never-ending series of games in which, if you weren’t convinced of the outcome beforehand, you would be after the first hour or two. And whilst it is fun watching England get pummelled, and vice-versa for the opposite group of fans, after a while utter tedium sets in. For us, it emerged during the Perth Test (about the time Mitch Marsh was clobbering the England attack everywhere) and firmly entrenched itself by halfway through the second day of the MCG Test. Everything that occurred after that was just another footnote in a summer that just seemed to drag on and on and on.
Of course the big problem in this scenario, perhaps the biggest problem, was Channel Nine. We’ve banged on about the utter awfulness of Channel Nine before. Quite a few times actually. Like here. And here. And also here. But we have no hesitation in stating that this was the worst year of Channel Nine commentary we have ever witnessed. We thought the years of James Brayshaw and Good Charlotte cross-promotions were Channel Nine’s nadir, but we were wrong. This year was worse. So much worse. And it kept dragging on, with every fucking game of the summer. We couldn’t have been happier when the T20 series buggered off over to New Zealand, just so we could finally be free of it.
The principal culprit was the budding partnership of Kevin Pietersen and Michael Clarke. The chummiest of chums have brought hubris to a level heretofore through unobtainable. The ‘banter’, the inane prattle, the insistence on being ‘amazed’ by everything, the blatant cheerleading. It was all there, but so much more earnest than ever before. And it will all be back next year. And the year after. And so on into the foreseeable future. We can’t imagine a more soul destroying prospect.
All of which brings us to the actual topic of this article (only about 400 words in). Mark Charles Jefford Nicholas is an integral part of the Channel Nine oeuvre. Whupping it up with the other boys whenever Australia does well, launching into lengthy monologues of depression and regret whenever Australia do poorly. Nicholas has done so, so, badly as the new ‘face’ of Channel Nine’s coverage, we’d honestly prefer a classic early 2000’s CGI (think The Mummy Returns) recreation of Richie Benaud heading the circus instead.
But in South Africa, over the past few weeks, Nicholas has been a man reborn. Sitting next to Michael Holding and Neil Manthorp he has been insightful and thoughtful in his analysis. Often sparking interesting conversations on side topics pertinent to the actual cricket, as opposed to the rambling bullshit which dominates Channel Nine’s fare. He has sounded, shockingly, like an actual cricket commentator.
This, therefore, is the crux of our argument. It is not crap commentators that make Channel Nine the abomination that it currently is, it is Channel Nine itself. Remove the ‘personalities’ from Nine’s benign influence and actual commentators emerge. We’ve long held that in another context Mark Taylor would be a fine observer of the game. Michael Slater has actually done okay working on Sky television. Even Ian Healy would probably even be able to make an insightful comment or two without constantly putting his foot in his mouth.
We’re less sure about the more ‘laddish’ elements of their coverage. Shane Warne is a preening fuckwit whatever the context and Michael Clarke seems giddily eager to follow him down that particular route. As for Pietersen, well, to him understatement is something which happens to other people. Pietersen can often appear eerily prescient when calling the game, but that is because he is so recently removed from it. Give it a few years and we suspect he will be just another talking head banging on about a game that’s since moved on, but unable to move along himself because his enormous ego keeps getting in the way. Another Shane Warne then.
Which in itself is a dismal reminder that KP’s seat at the annual Channel Nine shit fiesta is now locked in. The current South African series is revealing in showing that it could all be so, so different with better management at the helm. One that doesn’t regard reasoned analysis as archaic. But Channel Nine aren’t about to change their spots. To them this ‘works’. It drags in viewers who are not familiar with the game by presenting it as a spectacle (a hilariously difficult act for them to keep up when Australia are getting thrashed mind) and keeps sponsors happy. The long-term damage, though, has already been done. These ‘personalities’ are already so firmly entrenched that we imagine most could never consider that cricket commentary in Australia could ever be anything else. Certainly not anything better. How is that for pissing all over Richie’s legacy?