Eyes at the ground essential for TV commentators
One of the most memorable events this cricket summer came during the recent Melbourne BBL derby at Docklands when Renegades captain Aaron Finch was miked up by Foxtel during the tense final overs of that nail-biter.
The commentators remained mostly silent – but for the occasional question – as viewers listened in to Finch’s instructions to his team-mates and his assessment of where the game was going and what his team needed to do.
It was the most compelling television of the cricket season.
Viewers were informed and entertained while Finch’s reputation was surely enhanced by the provision of his clear and incisive comments.
It was genuine reality TV and went a long way to explaining why Finch has been so successful as a captain and why he was retained in the national white ball teams even when his form was waning.
And unless you were a dyed-in-the-wool Stars supporters (is there such a thing?), you couldn’t help but be carried along and hope for Renegades success.
It was unlike most on-field player interviews which are invariably formulaic dross in which the subject agrees with his interrogator that it would be handy to get a wicket soon or that a few more runs wouldn’t go astray.
The key to the segment’s success was access.
Finch was on the ground – literally – and could provide immediate and insightful feedback as the game built to an exciting finish.
It was proof that the closer the commentators are to the action, the better their assessment of it.
It was also the dramatic counterpoint to the low point during the same network’s coverage of Perth’s win over the Sixers last Saturday.
Channelling the late great George Grljusich, whose ABC TV coverage of Sheffield Shield matches at the WACA Ground sometimes included such unforgettable gems as “What a great six … no he’s clean bowled!”, commentators Mark Howard and Adam Gilchrist were left high and dry by Foxtel’s decision to cover the game from a studio in the eastern States rather than at the ground.
There was no way to hide their embarrassment, nor the ineptitude of the management decision, when Moises Henriques belted a high ball deep towards the midwicket boundary.
“Another six!” Howard cried.
“It’s been caught,” Gilchrist contradicted.
The problem was the camerawork which failed to show the ball landing inside the rope and forced the commentators, operating from monitors 3000km away, to guess what was happening.
There was a similar moment a few weeks ago when an injured Jhye Richardson trudged off the ground while the commentors ignored his plight as they ploughed through some insufferable story bearing little relation to the what was happening on the field.
I once asked Richie Benaud for the secret to good television commentary.
His reply was that there was no secret but the commentator “should simply use their words … or their silence to enhance what the viewer can already see”.
Having commentators actively contradict what the viewer can see, or guess what is happening, makes a mockery of the standards Benaud set during his decades behind the microphone.
Presumably money – or Foxtel’s unwilling to pay it - is the reason for the commentators operating from a studio in Sydney or Melbourne when the game is in Perth.
The irony is, of course, that Gilchrist lives in Perth, as does one of Foxtel’s most professional and regarded callers in Adam Papalia, and that it might have been cheaper to cover the match live rather than remotely.
Will Foxtel make the same mistake this Saturday when the BBL final is played at Perth Stadium?
For the sake of those subscribers paying at least $74 a month for the privilege, let’s hope not.
And another thing
Ashton Turner’s batting resurgence has been a key factor in Perth’s rise and his captaincy crucial to the Scorchers’ bid to win a fifth title.
Australia could do a lot worse than usher him into their white ball teams.
And with Finch’s time coming to a close, Test captain Pat Cummins uncomfortable with spreading his responsibilities too widely and no other candidate putting an irresistible case, don’t discount his claims to national captaincy.
He has plenty of parallels to selection chairman George Bailey who converted State captaincy into a successful stint in national colours.