Rating the Channel Nine Cricket Commentary Team
Cricket is back.
And that means the Channel Nine Cricket commentary team is also, once again, back in our lives.
Richie Benaud and his compadres are features of the Australian sporting psyche. They have been guiding us through our summers for as long as most of us can remember. Their insights, opinions and occasional hiccups have encapsulated both a season and a sport.
It speaks volumes that every sports fan in the country can perform their imitation of not just Richie, but Tony Greig and Bill Lawry, at the drop of a hat.
However, this familiarity should not be mistaken for unquestioning affection.
The esteem with which the Nine commentary team is held is on the wane.
While this coincides with interest in cricket itself perhaps slowly falling away (due to a number of factors for which there is not time to go into here) the Nine team itself is underperforming.
A large part of the reason for this is that the team is in a period of transition.
Richie Benaud, the great man and doyen of cricketing commentary, not just in Australia but across the globe, is on the way out – albeit slowly. When he finally is no longer able to guide us through our summers, we will all be the poorer for it.
But it is not just Ritchie were change is present.
Tony Greig, sadly, is battling cancer and his old sparring mate, Bill Lawry, plays less of a role every summer.
There is a new brigade in town and so far they are not filling the shoes of those who went before them.
So in the spirit of wanting this institution of Australian culture to reverse the slide, we at the Flack have decided to rate the team, assign them a grade and provide some tips on how they can once again reinforce their position in the cricketing zeitgeist.
Ian Healy – F
Judgement: Ian, God bless him, is awful. The more we get to see of him, the more he simply reinforces the perception that he is the Ringo Starr of Australian Cricket. It is not just in ability that poor Ian is shown up by Adam Gilchrist. It’s personality as well. If Ian is Ringo, Adam is Dave Grohl.
First and foremost, he is bad at calling the game. Frequently he simply describes events incorrectly and has to go back and correct himself.
Secondly, he seems congenitally incapable of operating the graphics that Nine prides itself on using.
Lastly, his insights and opinions are, well, strange. The sense in suggesting the Australians should have declared when 100 runs behind the South Africans in the first innings is hard to fathom.
How he can improve: Either he, and the rest of the team, play up his role as some sort of court jester or he goes the way of Max Walker.
Brett Lee – D
Judgement: Brett is a work in progress. Nine seems to be easing him into on-air commentary, testing the water to see how he goes. So the D grade is maybe a bit harsh.
Brett’s opinions are interesting. It’s good to have the hegemony of batsmen in the broader team countered, but he is not as interesting as Glenn McGrath. Nor is his calling any smoother.
He might end up being a lunch time Cricket Show feature only.
How he can improve: His calling needs to get smoother and less stuttering.
Glenn McGrath – C+
Judgement: This is Glenn’s first proper summer with the team and he has started strongly. As mentioned, it is nice to have a fast bowler in the mix, and Glenn is one of the greatest the modern game has seen. His insights are genuinely interesting and his anecdotes equally so.
The problem is his delivery. He is not as easy to listen to as the more experienced callers and clearly is not a natural. So far his insights and unique opinions outweigh this failing.
How he can improve: Hopefully, with time, calling the game will come more naturally to him. There is only so long gags about how bad a batsmen he was will get him through.
Michael Slater – C+
Judgement: Now an established feature of the team, “Slats” is a known entity. He is a natural caller and an entertainer, but his insights are not as interesting as the Ian Chappell’s or Bill Lawry’s. Instead, he trades on being enthusiastic. To some degree this is also how he forged a career as an opening batsmen.
While he is a solid performer in the current line up, he is not as good as those whom he is replacing and it is on that measure by which he should be judged.
How he can improve: Needs to be less puppy and more dog.
Mark Taylor – B
Judgement: There seems to be a correlation between having captained your country and being a good commentator. Although when it comes to Mike Atherton, Andrew Flintoff would disagree. Mark is like a better version of Michael Slater. To some degree this is also a mirror of their respective batting careers.
How he can improve: Stop trying to talk about popular culture. Mark, like any big John Howard supporter, sounds silly when talking about anything even slightly contemporary. For example, it does not cost anything to send out a “tweet” Mark. It’s not like an SMS at all.
Mark Nicholas – A-
Judgement: Mark is an excellent commentator. But don’t take our word for it, Nine would have spent a bucket load of money focus grouping him before even thinking about an Englishman as the replacement for Benaud. So clearly, a lot of Australians agree.
To the extent you can criticise Mark, it is only because he is not as good as Ritchie. Mark is a smooth and polished performer who does actually make the game more interesting to watch. He conveys an air of truly loving the sport and is on the spot with an interesting statistic at the right time.
Oh, and he wears the hell out of a suit.
How he can improve: Needs to develop a more easily mimicked voice to truly thrive.
Ian Chappell – A
Judgement: Ian is, leaving aside Ritchie, one of the last adults left in the building. Not only is he an experienced caller, bringing interesting opinions and insights to the commentary, he is also an intelligent human being. Never short of an opinion, Chappell the elder always has something of note to say on most topics surrounding the game. And sometimes surrounding things outside it.
Age shows no sign of slowing him down and his performance so far this summer has been as good as it has ever been.
How he can improve: Without Tony Greig currently in the team he might need to be a bit more controversial. This is not to improve his performance, rather to help round out the team.
Richie Benaud – A+
Judgement: He is still Ritchie Benaud. That is all you need to know.
How he can improve: He can’t. Well, besides finding a way to reverse the ageing process, which is probably beyond even him, he can’t.