This Summer Cricket fans have been lucky to have a choice of broadcasters to choose from to listen to the Ashes series on radio. There has been as always the ABC, then we have had access to the BBC online and their Test Match Special team.
In addition to these two broadcasters who have been synonymous with summer and cricket, both the Macquarie Radio Network and Triple M invested huge sums of money to attract top class commentary talent and draw traditional listeners away from the ABC. Their promise was to offer something different.
As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus prophetically wrote ‘the only thing that is constant is change.’
Growing up in England and listening to the cricket on the radio, there were some great names in the Test Match Special box whose voices will always stir up memories of Summers past. Great Innings by famous names and the not so famous, bowling feats by the fearsome and the wily.
John Arlott, Brian Johnston, Henry Blofeld and Christoher Martin-Jenkins were masters at describing the game. All had a large vocabulary and a turn of phrase that allowed you, the listener, to picture not only the scene at the ground, but the man eating a cheese sandwich in the Mound stand with a floppy hat protecting him from the sun. The footwork used by a batsman to come down the wicket and lift the bowler over his head and the ball skidding off the grass into the picket fence with a thud. They conjured up images that made you feel transported to Old Trafford, Headingley, the MCG and Sabina Park.
Alongside these men were former players who had been in the cauldron that is Test Cricket, who knew what it was like to bat in fading light, or open the bowling on a dead track, and had participated in the banter out in the middle. Many had strong views on how the game should be played, and how the wickets should be prepared. They gave opinions, opinions that the public then debated at their clubs, over dinner, or in bars around the country.
There was no doubt that as these doyens of the commentary box retired or passed away that what we listened to would evolve. As we have seen this Summer it has gone a step further as others look to muscle in on what was a patch dominated by the National Broadcasters in Australia and England.
Television opted for past players to make up their commentary teams, some becoming household names with their delivery and their knowledge, Richie Benaud being the master. Unfortunately some have shown that they were more eloquent with a bat or a ball in hand.
The style used by some today is constant conversation, interrupted only when the bowler turns his arm over. Obviously there is a place for such conversation, but at times as a listener one has not felt a part of the conversation. At times one has felt more as if one was eavesdropping on a conversation. Which shows the skill of the broadcasters of old, who made you feel a part of their discussions.
Some of these conversations can only be described as banal. When it comes to some of the humour and banter, again it has felt like the commentary team are sharing in-jokes amongst themselves while we the listeners are at home feeling awkward as we are not in on the joke. This was part of the success of the Test Match Special broadcasts of old, the listener was in on the jokes.
Having listened to Triple M, the ABC and the BBC has been an interesting experience. The adverts on Triple M have been hard to stomach, when one is so used to hearing commercial-free cricket. Interestingly, on the ABC and the BBC the Statisticians have become to some extent the stars of the show, as they constantly furnish the broadcasts with fun facts, and statistics.
So, is there too much chat and not enough description of the action? Is that style of commentary old school? Or are we hearing what the modern-day fan wants when they listen to cricket on the radio? Which has the mix of descriptive commentary, humour and insight just right?
In the days of Brian Johnston and Henry Blofeld, they described the cricket, the likes of Trevor Bailey and Fred Trueman gave us a player’s view with critical insights, a role whether you love him or hate him Geoff Boycott has filled brilliantly. The time when the bowler returned to his mark was a time to talk about the cakes delivered to the commentary box, the buses passing by outside the ground; the colour that made it a joy to listen to. They transported us to the game.
What are your views and who do you think has delivered the best on air content?