How lax commentary is failing cricket


'Test Cricket' by Chris JohnstonDuring the cricket series between Australia and the visiting South Africans, commentators frequently referred to a 'crisis' in Test cricket. Gazing around the grounds at what they considered to be smallish attendances, some commentators suggested that people were spurning the game in its 'purest form', represented by five-day Test matches between national elevens.

Such comments suggest that the radio, television and press experts have priorities that are at least short-sighted and perhaps even cynically commercial.

Some commentators seemed anxious to get the Tests over so that the popular 'forms of the game' could proceed. This attitude is offensive to the dedicated fan of cricket. These other 'forms' — the 'one-dayers' and Twenty20 matches are not 'other forms' but quite distinct and different games.

The late, great 'Tiger' Bill O'Reilly, champion leg-spinner, had little respect for games limited to 50 overs per side, so he would probably turn in his grave to learn of the even shorter version.

O'Reilly said Test cricketers should be spared the indignity of playing limited overs games — what the commentators today describe as 'adapting'. O'Reilly thought that if spectators were excited by quick slogging, it would be preferable to invite a couple of teams from the wheat belt areas to the city. These bushies would have great strength in their upper bodies and would be accustomed to playing on hard, fast, bouncy pitches.

In all probability, O'Reilly would see the arrival of Twenty20 as an attempt to make the 50-50 one-dayers look sophisticated. He would certainly feel vindicated by the way in which some players who have had no first-class experience can dominate Twenty20 matches.

And just because crowds might be entertained by such games does not mean that already overworked Test players need take part. That they do participate currently has more to do with the demands of advertisers, who must have identifiable heroes to associate with their products. The commercial imperatives of the summer and the staging of Twenty20 games threaten the dignity of Test players by treating them as junior sales personnel.

During the Tests, commentators were preoccupied with the likelihood of one senior batsman continuing in the Australian side. Eventually, Matthew Hayden announced his retirement as a Test player, but only after he was omitted from the one-day and Twenty20 teams.

It is strange that commentators ignore the evidence of the advertisements. When a player's star is on the rise, he is in demand for advertising. When it is waning and he is not considered saleable, he quickly falls from favour with administrators and selectors as well.

Perhaps the commentators are afraid that if they acknowledge such influences in cricket, they will be reclassified as finance journalists. To their credit, the television lads openly embrace their roles as salesmen of memorabilia and viewing time.

That Australia did not win the home series against the Proteas does not mean that Test cricket is in crisis or that the standard of Australian cricket is necessarily slipping. The South Africans had a resilient spirit and played exciting cricket. It is unfortunate that commentators took their eyes off the ball so often that some rare cricketing feats were not placed into historical perspective.

Some commentators did not seem overly concerned to research the records. In the Sydney Test for example, two players made their debuts for Australia and the Australian bowlers included two left arm quicks. Commentators should have been able to indicate whether such occurrences were unique, rare or common. If there were other instances, it would be interesting to know when these occurred and who was involved.

Commentators performed just as badly during the Melbourne Test regarding the record partnership by J. P. Duminy and Dale Steyn, and Steyn's remarkable all-round double of ten wickets and a half century.

The Duminy/Steyn effort was acknowledged in the world context, but no mention was made of the partnership passing records by South Africans anywhere, in Tests in Australia and at the MCG. Nor were parallel records for all national teams or for Australian players forthcoming.

While this list might seem to produce a mass of statistics, it is informative to hear which players have held records previously and how long these have stood. Ignorance of cricket history means ignorance of Test cricket traditions and ignorance encourages homogenisation with other games such as one-dayers and Twenty20.

The unveiling of a sculpture of famous barracker 'Yabba' speaks not only of a time when the SCG had a 'hill' for spectators, but also is a reminder of a time when grounds were relatively silent. Today crowds are subjected to all sorts of unwanted noise, and have little option but to talk when they ought to be quiet. The traditional, courteous hush during the fast bowler's approach has been eliminated, yet such developments receive no comment.

Like cricketers, commentators can lose a sense of their responsibilities. They seldom serve the game and barely serve the public. When Alan McGilvray was commentating, he created a word picture of the scene in the middle of the ground. He described the weather and the field setting at least once an over and gave the name of bowler, batsman and fieldsman every ball.

Today's commentators seem determined to speak about anything but the cricket. Their lunches, last night's frivolities, films and politics all feature strongly but their favourite subject is themselves. Perhaps they compete for commentators' records, such as the longest period spent without mentioning the names of the bowler or batsman in a first class match at the SCG, or the most uses of passive voice in a single session anywhere.

Their comments certainly reflect a degree of uncertainty about what the commercially minded administrators might want next.

Much more than the Australian players, the Test cricket commentators are in crisis. They would serve the game better by regaining their dignity and would do this best by concentrating on the marvellous Test cricket they are privileged to witness.

Tony SmithTony Smith was a fanatical cricketer from age 10 to 40. He has represented Parramatta District in the Telegraph Shield and Coonabarabran in the Far West cricket Council Competition. Tony's highest score was 138 not out, best bowling effort was 9 for 16, and most catches in an innings was four. Tony holds a PhD in political science.

Topic tags: cricket commentators, test match, twenty20, one day international, south africa, proteas, australia



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Existing comments

How very true. The commentators are annoying and frivolous. Radio is better.
Jostle | 27 January 2009

The trend towards self-obsession is seen at its worst in these cricket commentators.

They are boring beyond belief, feather tickling and a turn off to the game of cricket. The attitude towards commercialism pervades all ABC offerings and I for one just switch off mentally and physically
Judy | 27 January 2009

I've noticed the commentators use the phrase 'this form of the game' with almost ludicrous frequency. It makes me wonder if they are contractually obliged. It's as if they feel a need to constantly reassure fans that, be it a Test, ODI or Twenty20 match, 'it's still cricket ... just a different form of cricket'.

For my own part, as a 20-something and a recent convert to cricket (my wife is the sports nut in our house), I find Twenty20 to be entertaining but not very fulfilling to watch. I'd prefer the saga of a Test match any day(s)!
Charles Boy | 27 January 2009

Ah yes, but in all fields of knowledge, everything happens and was invented today and yesterday just didn't occur. Of course there's the problem of history and its appreciation by the today minded generations. However there was the greatest comic commentator of all, Charles Fortune who would miss a dismissal because he was analogising about the gulls at Newlands when he was commentating on an Adelaide Test.
philip herringer | 27 January 2009

Crisis? What crisis?

Crisis in sports commentary? Or crisis in cricket?

What's it matter? In the primary sense of the word, a crisis is the decisive stage in the course of any process. Nothing to worry about there. Another sport is being modified for a variety of reasons.

A secondary meaning is the point in a drama where hostile elements are most tensely opposed to one another. That sounds to me like a good game of cricket at any level and in any form.

The critical question for me is when my grandson asks me to switch off the TV or radio and join him in some bowling practice on the local oval. The day I reply, No, is when cricket will be in crisis, in the third abused sense of the word, heading towards death!
Joe Quigley | 27 January 2009

Tony – fair points, but I beg to differ. I think Mark Nicholas has been a great addition to the Channel 9 team in recent years, a professional communicator who brings a wonderful style to the broadcast. Ritchie is still amazingly astute. Mark Taylor is a much improved commentator this year – relaxed, sharp in his quips. And, when you are painting the weather-boards, nothing beats Kerry O’Keeffe on the radio. I have to be careful not to fall off the ladder laughing when Kerry is on … who could forget his ‘corridor of uncertainty’ conversation with Drew Morphett!

I was at Day 3 of the Boxing Day Test this year with my 12 year old son and my 70 year old dad. Three generations sitting together. On the ABC, Neil Manthorp was providing excellent insight into the background of the task being achieved by Steyn and Duminy. We enjoyed the day for its Test Cricket purity and knew we were witnessing something special.

On the other hand, we’ve just had a guest arrived from Malta … never seen a game of cricket – so the ODI v. New Zealand on February 6 will be the order of the day (and night).
Bill Jennings | 27 January 2009

Agree with you Tony. So often we hear information about everything but the cricket and certainly the score is not mentioned very often. An attitude of "poor" sportsmanship is evident in the current series as I think the Proteas have played superbly and shown the Aussies up! I'm an amateur cricket fan in that I watch or listen to it simply because there is no other worthwhile news or commentary.
Rosemary Keenan | 27 January 2009

Tony Smith's argument poorly reflects the changing moods of cricket. In mourning for a time that sits firmly within the heart from long ago but perhaps clouded over time, the article overlooks the renaissance the longer form of the game has had over the last decade or so.

Smith makes no distinction between radio and television commentary, in fact not making specific reference to any commentary on the game at all and ignore the consistently high standard and ratings of both. ABC cricket on the radio remains the best entertainment on a summer's day and the ideal companion on a long drive.

As for the reference to marketing dollars dictating a cricketer's decline even a cursory glance at TV this summer would have shown that Matthew Hayden was certainly a sought after commodity for marketers despite his career drawing to a close.
Brendan | 27 January 2009

Here Here! How right you are. Sadly cricket like the tennis, AFL, both rugby codes and other sports has fallen prey to commercial interests. It is a crying shame. Bring back the professional (amateur) sports of the past!

I may be old fashioned but is was much better!
Gavin O'Brien | 27 January 2009

Test cricket is not in crisis. Crowds have been going up since sbout 1992. The boxing day test crowd was bigger than the Twenty20 crowd.
Dave | 27 January 2009

I agree with everything you have said and particularly about the noise. When Warne burst upon the English scene a hush spread through the ground as he stepped up to bowl.
Annette Dooley | 27 January 2009

But doesn't everybody turn off the sound when watching the cricket on television?
John R. Sabine | 27 January 2009

Great and timely article, Tony. I particularly agree about the inane commentaries we are subjected to - regularly causes me to turn it off.
Bill Gurry | 27 January 2009

This is one the poorest articles I have read in Eureka Street. Why do I,or anyone, care what Tony thinks about cricket? And the criticisms are so non-specific. What about some NAMES for these allegedly idiotic commentators. This feels like a 3 sentence sentiment stretched out to 800 words.
Tony | 27 January 2009

There is no crisis in cricket. We have recently had good competitive test series against India and South Africa. The 40 over game has been a good innovation, especially as popular entertainment. The 100 over game is still very popular.

As far as I am concerned, the only crisis is the inane media coverage. Peter Roebuck, Gideon Haigh, Mike Coward, Malcolm Conn and Robert Craddock are the only good writers.

Most media people have no appreciation of the history of the game. The ABC broadcast has become particularly bad. Blokes such as Glenn Mitchell, Jim Maxwell and Drew Morphett are poor broadcasters. I suspect they broadcast from a TV monitor and therefore have not developed the descriptive skills of someone like Allan MacGilvray. Mitchell is especially infuriating with his obsession with statistics and trivia. He is also incredibly verbose.

Peter Roebuck and Kerry O'Keeffe are good commentators. Damien Flemimg and Justin Langer are very poor commentators. The Channel 9 coverage is generally very good. Ian Chappell is the best and provides an excellent insight into the technical, strategic and historical aspects of the game. Richie Benaud, Bill Lawry, Tony Greig, Mark Taylor, Michael Slater, Mark Nicholas and Shane Warne are all very good. Ian Healy is a poor commentator. Healy's style is subjective and tends to barracking.
Mark Doyle | 28 January 2009

No answers to blogger Tony's rhetorical questions posed just above, but Tony Smith's article has posed some important substantive questions about standards of commentary in this very important sphere of human endeavour.

ABC radio commentary has gone downhill dreadfully since Tim Lane left. Except when Harsha Bhogle does his guest stints in the box, poor old Jim Maxwell sounds like the last professional left standing.

ABC commentators' misogyny has become a real lifestyle problem for this home listener, because it prompts women in my family to turn the radio off when the blokes start waxing heroical.

Finally, I am grateful to Dr Smith for noting on published record that ubiquitous phrase in contemporary cricket commentary, 'form of the game' -- thank you!
Tom Clark | 28 January 2009

No answers to blogger Tony's rhetorical questions posed just above, but Tony Smith's article has posed some important substantive questions about standards of commentary in this very important sphere of human endeavour.

ABC radio commentary has gone downhill dreadfully since Tim Lane left. Except when Harsha Bhogle does his guest stints in the box, poor old Jim Maxwell sounds like the last professional left standing.

ABC commentators' misogyny has become a real lifestyle problem for this home listener, because it prompts women in my family to turn the radio off when the blokes start waxing heroical.

Finally, I am grateful to Dr Smith for noting on published record that ubiquitous phrase in contemporary cricket commentary, 'form of the game' -- thank you!
Tom Clark | 28 January 2009

Only some of the commentators on radio and TV annoy me. I like to turn down the sound on the TV. However I now have the radio commentary a few seconds faster than the TV pictures, which is prescient, but annoying!

The radio commentary is generally quite good and I enjoy the repartee between the commentators. I like the mix of a ball by ball commentary and the other one to discuss what is happening.

I think we are seeing the development of several types of cricket, which will appeal to different publics.

I went to 2 days at the SCG test, and it was fairly full, so no shortage of supporters there.
Kerry Murphy | 28 January 2009

There are fair criticisms of cricket commentary to be made but Tony Smith's amount to "why don't they do it exactly like McGilvray did 40 years ago?".

The assertion that limited-over forms of the game are different games is laughable. Where is the line drawn? Shield cricket is limited to 4 days; county cricket until very recently was played over 3 and club cricket everywhere is limited to one or 2 days. Are these all different games as well?

Cricket is cricket, whether played at the MCG or on the beach. I much prefer Test cricket to limited overs cricket, but it is the same game.
Rob O | 01 February 2009

I thoroughly agree with all these sentiments, particularly in regard to commentators' choice of boring and often inane dialogue unrelated to cricket. The worst offender is Kerry O'Keefe. My email complaint to the ABC about his commentary received a petulant reply that he knows more about cricket than most other people - pity he doesn't restrict himself to that topic.
Rev Diane Heath | 05 May 2009

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