End of innings for Nine's weird world of cricket

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Nine CricketSome things never change. One of these is cricket on Channel Nine.

Technically, of course, Channel Nine cricket has marched triumphantly with or ahead of the times. The camera work is prodigious, the gimmickry is state of the art. Personally, I find the 'hot spot' informative and interesting. Conversely, 'Stump Cam' makes the pitch look like an airport tarmac seen through a rainstorm from a thousand metres and closing.

The stump microphone adds a potentially fascinating dimension to one's cricket enjoyment, but aside from relaying the sound of bat and ball, the scuff of boots, and the muffled barracking of fieldsmen, it only realises its true potential when no-one has noticed the volume has been accidentally turned up. It was from stump mike that we learned on a recent tour that for some extraordinary reason, the Pakistanis preferred to speak in Urdu, a language with which not many Australian players are familiar. Perfidious Pakistanis.

During recent controversies, however, the contribution of the stump mike was conclusive and damning but no-one took any notice. Although stump mike had Matthew Hayden clearly saying to Harbajhan, 'That's racial vilification, mate!' this was apparently a distortion of what he really said, which was, 'Love your turban'.

'Super SloMo' is truly poetry in motion but, while poetry can beautifully capture and enhance reality, it rarely resolves anything. Did the ball hit the ground before he grabbed it? Super SloMo's exquisitely unfolding, earth-stopping, fraction-by-fraction ballet only deepens the doubt, and doubt is what the batsman gets the benefit of every time. So forget it — leave it to the umpire and sack him if the batting side doesn't like the call. It's hard not to wonder if some of the technological innovations are used simply because, like high mountains, they are there.

But the one enduring certainty in Channel Nine cricket always has been and remains, sadly, the advertising. The original decision to advertise between overs was a bad one but it has stuck like most of the commentary team. The result is that the process of the game — cricket's leisurely quality, its terrestrial chess complexities — simply get run over, blurred into extinction.

Channel Nine advertising during decades of cricket provides a fascinating longitudinal study which suggests that, despite constant revamps and more technology, some television advertising formats are essentially ageless. In one form or another beautifully dressed, stunningly flawless housewives, who differ from the Venus de Milo only in having unedited arms, still have a succession of genteel climaxes induced by their joy at margarine, detergent, washing powder, luxury cars, their children, outdoor furniture etc. And their muscular TV husbands, when they can be lured away from the barbie or the television screen and a stubby of VB, still endorse the wives' choice with stupefied amazement.

Occasionally, an ad grabs our attention because it is genuinely smart and witty — like Carlton Draught's Carmina Burana extravaganza. Much more often the aim seems to be to induce a kind of catatonic desperation. Metropolitan Plumbing is the front runner here having replaced an ad in which the name is repeated about a thousand times with one in which water drips. This effect only ceases when the remote control hits the screen and cracks it wide open.

Channel Nine has perfected the art of making their cricket coverage more or less one continuous advertisement. Ads run across the bottom of the screen; voices over-advertise memorabilia; future Channel Nine programs are touted by one of the commentators with excruciatingly phony enthusiasm. Even the incomparable Richie Benaud's natural urbanity trembles as he extols 3 Mobile phones: 'It's good to be Three', he intones as if welcoming the return of the Black Death.

Still, it's all we've got. Apart from when competing with the news, or some hardy perennial program that Nine dare not risk cultural revolution by skipping, or that matchless nightly watch on obesity, loan scams and fallen celebrities, A Current Affair, Channel Nine is where the live cricket is. And some things do change. Tony Grieg no longer uses a 'weather wall' to discuss what he calls the 'wund velocity' and while he still occasionally gives the 'putch report' its penetrability is no longer measured by his caw keys.

'Good move, that,' as Richie might say.

Brian MatthewsBrian Matthews is the award winning author of A Fine and Private Place and The Temple down the road: the life and times of the MCG.




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Existing comments

Spot on Brian, you only forgot to mention that the cricket commentators also advertise coming so called "blockbuster" shows which nine has in the pipeline or which immediately follow the cricket. I won't even mention the VB ads around the ground which try to immortalise Warnie. Why doesn't a phone company hire him to advertise mobile phones?

Paul Rummery | 13 February 2008  

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