The Channel 9 Dilemma
By Aaron Callaghan and Tom Atkinson
The sweet caress of kookaburra branded leather being swatted by hand crafted English willow is a sound synonymous with the Australian summer. Cricket sits alongside the sausage sizzle, Bells Beach, Uluru, Paul Kelly, and Rolf Ha... I mean Ian Turpie as our nations greatest icons. A beautiful compliment to the cricket has always been the fabled Channel 9 commentary team.
However, father time remains predictably undefeated. He has methodically worked his way through an iconic team of callers that we all thought would smear his unblemished record. He got Benaud and Greigy, and the legendary Bill Lawry is fighting hard to keep him at bay. Chapelli is still plodding along like a busted, turn of the century steam engine, however it’s just not the same. To hear the excitable tones of Bill Lawry coming into our Boxing Day living rooms is as enchanting and warm as that leftover ham, smeared with Dijon mustard and melted cheddar you're about to munch. He's been a true gentleman of the game and a trusted voice at Channel 9 since ball one, and certainly as far as my memory stretches. Bill, an unabashedly proud Victorian, is part of the furniture in the diverse and decorated living room that is Australian sport. God forbid the day he’s not there to commence the Channel 9 proceedings on Boxing Day in Bill's own backyard. Australian hall of famer William Morris Lawry’s cricket commentary career began with Channel 9 during the World Series Cricket experiment and he’s been there ever since. A great orator of the gentlemen's game, he could make any man revel in a typically mundane Rahul Dravid knock of 37 off 256 balls.
Bill would ease us through the delicate intricacies, perplexing technicalities and steely focus required to execute his trademark forward defence. Such was the balance of the legendary team of old, they could straighten the rudder when the nation was on the brink of Michael Bevan induced joyful chaos. The eternal Richie Benaud was always wonderful at this. I myself regard the great Richie, as a man above the law. Posthumously, I regard him as above the gods. A man who got it so right, so often.
Bills old sparring partners are gracing a different spiritual realm right now, but Bill battles on despite being flanked by moronic gibberers and low altitude flyers. It's certainly hard to soar like an eagle when you're surrounded by turkey. It's a shame that all we have left to cling to is Bills signature “Got him yessss” that is now confined to the MCG and SCG test matches.
But what has really become of the almost immortal commentary team?
The delightful Bill Lawry aside, a swashbuckling, hard hitting bastmen in Australia's top order during his prime, Michael Slater now holds the reigns. He has shown some promise in the commentary box. Excitable in nature, enjoyable analytic commentary and a sneaky sense of humour akin to your favourite uncle on your dad's side. Where M.J Slater goes astray is when he is led down the wrong path by the lesser lights in the team, Slats is far too susceptible to the likes of the ghastly Michael Clarke. Slats cops a lot of hate, but considering the company he must keep in this box I really think he is mild in comparison.
Tubby Taylor is also someone the owns a special space in my cricketing soul. He's like your favourite uncle on your mum's side. Wouldn't hurt a fly, and makes a conscious effort to please everyone. Falling into the trap of attempting - and failing - to predict where a batsmen is going to get out, combined with using some horrible on screen graphics generator to show where the fielding captain should place their field are Mark Taylor's calling cards. It's also his downfall. Why Tubby? Stay in your lane and talk about what's actually happening. And like those favourite uncles, Tubs and Slats have the ability to embarrass you and make you cringe. As long as they don't get too wrapped up in their own bubble of yarns, then they are A-Ok.
Shane Warne has an uncanny knack of predicting the play well, moves the banter along and his unique insight into the intricacies of spin bowling give the viewer an enlightened perspective, Warne's bowling insights enhance the onscreen product. Warnie is an enigma wrapped in a riddle, but like that provocative bikini model on your instagram feed, I fear the fantasy is better than the real thing. I mean sure it would be nice to snag an Elle Macpherson lookalike, but how many coffee scrubs and teeth whiteners could you handle before losing the plot? He can go right off course when joined by his modern chums, yet escapes criticism for his on field exploits. However when he ropes it back in alongside an elder statesman, his cricketing brain is amongst the best in the world.
He's the third spear of the most famous family trident in Australian cricket, but now it's just the ghost of Ian Chappell - mumblings and ravings included - who continues to dive into a chaotic spiral. His musings exclusively feature what his brothers were doing in 1979, against whatever touring test team was out here, or whatever state match Trevor was playing in at the time. Failure to understand our cricketing past is folly, however an astute cricketing punter has heard it all before. Ian was promised a job for life at channel 9 if he signed with World Series Cricket. He’s milked it like a pregnant jersey heffer. Chapelli’s used by date as a cornerstone of the commentary box has come and gone. Perhaps the time has come to be used in a more feature role? We don’t want to see Ian completely gone as he’s an integral link to the glorious past. Alas, Less Ian is more Ian.
Mark Taylor's 1990's juggernaut Australian team gloveman and running mate Ian Healy tends to be over analytical and become completely bogged down in labouring a point that has subsequently passed several overs ago. To use the phrase "wrong all of the time" could be a tad harsh on one of our greatest ever keepers, and there's really nothing hyper offensive about Heals, so we'll simply move on.
The first infiltration came under the name Brayshaw. I'm still not convinced he wasn't lucifer in disguise. His incoherent, derelict ramblings rarely shed light on anything pertinent to the match itself, and novelty stories of his favourite pizzas wore thinner than the crust of a genuine Italian Margherita. He looks like the bloke that still wears Lynx Africa and frequents dodgy strip clubs, but who am I to judge. Then there's the man who would undoubtedly try coerce his best mates wife (should he even have a best mate) into a disabled bathroom, Mark Nicholas. The only thing eclipsed by his smug, smarmy appearance is his pompous accent. If we were in a different time he would be brown nosing the monarchy and dobbing in the poor for stealing lettuce, but since its 2016 he has to make do with the commentary box.
Then there's the intolerable KP. He killed Australia in 2005 with sublime batting in the face of four hall of fame bowlers; Warne, Lee, McGrath and Gillespie (noteable mentions to Kaspowicz, MacGill and peak Shaun Tait), now Kevin Pietersen is killing Australians through laborious commentary, general mayhem in the commentary box and an ever present smugness behind every forced cliche. To say we're just sick of KP's English via Cape Town accent is an understatement. Fair dinkum, if he shouldn't be on a one way flight to Guantanamo Bay then I don't know who should. KP doesn't serve to enrich the on-field product through but words but rather seeks to control the space and put his ownership and self aggrandising on the time he spends in the commentary box. The only upside to KP's commentary is that he's not Michael Clarke. I think it's time to simply stamp the South African passport that KP holds. We've seen and heard enough of this disgrace.
They say if you listen carefully you can hear millions of television remotes at once as viewers collectively mute the commentary as Clarke moves in to tell the audience how things were done back in his day - circa 2013. Michael Clarke has to be the undefeated, undisputed heavyweight slugger of annoying. The former Aussie captain is about as charming as anal herpes and likeable as the needle you need to fix it. He's a genuine stinker. I'd hitch hike my way through the top end with Ivan Milat before having a beer with Clarkey. No wonder his old flame Lara Bingle went mad. In fact I admire her for only flushing her ring down the toilet, because any other person would've thrown him in with it. His commentary is neither insightful nor interesting, and all sounds like a script conjured in his PR form that doubles as a hair salon.
I can only hope that the old heads turned bumbling fools can rekindle some magic. Taylor, Healy and Slater have now graduated to senior roles but have let their young counterparts encourage silliness that would've never been allowed under the watchful eye of the great headmaster. Richie would've put a stop to this nonsense like an underarm ball. And if Chappelli drags himself out of the dementia-like, nursing home patient state he's in, that'll help out too. But if these last gasp hopes of commentary sanity can prevail, then that would be absolutely marvellous.