Commentators allured to Twenty20 madness

Last week in Australia was one which may in hindsight be seen as a
historical turning point. Monday night brought the first home Twenty20
international won comfortably by Australia in front of a record crowd for
the Gabba of 38,894 patrons who left slightly deafer than when they came in
thanks to an atmosphere more reminiscent of a disco than a cricket ground.

But this was not the historical event: everyone has known for some time the
potentialities of Twenty20 cricket and their implications, not so much for
Test cricket as for one-day cricket, whose humdrum nature is shown in even
more stark relief. The truly fascinating development was the role of the
Channel Nine commentary team, who abandoned all pretence of being
disinterested critics of the spectacle before them, and turned into carnival
barkers: ‘Hurry hurry hurry, step right up and see the AMAAAAZING cricket
match!’ During South Africa’s insipid and incompetent reply to the
Australian total, viewers were told repeatedly that what they were watching
was the most exciting innovation since penicillin. One expects this from
Tony Greig, of course, who has been selling ghastly gew-gaws for years. But
here were Mark Taylor, Ian Healy, Mark Nicholas and Michael Slater, almost
tumescent with excitement, essentially doing the same: selling us a
one-sided one-dayer as though it was the Tied Test. No wonder Rich and
Chappelli had the night off; George Galloway on Celebrity Big Brother was a
model of parliamentary dignity compared with Slater’s desperate attempts to
endear himself to his temporary bosses. This reinvention of cricket
commentary as infomercial raised some provocative questions. Is the
commentator there to call the game, or to sell it? Is his duty primarily to
the viewer, to his employer or – strange anachronistic notion, this – to the
game of cricket? The commentators here are on a slippery slope, but they
look determined to slalom down it.

It was almost a relief to watch the comparative dignity of the opening VB
Series game on Friday evening, another damp squib thanks to the serene
inertia of Sri Lanka’s Martin Van Dotball, but with a soundtrack neither so
hysterical nor hyperbolic. It was possible to savour instead the
restoration of heart-warming traditions like the sound of Murali being
no-balled by one of those famously knowledgeable and hospitable Melbourne
crowds – something, of course, to which the commentators were far too polite
to refer. But ho! What have we here, with Nicholas and Healy at the
microphone? Mr Smooth and Mr Shrewd wearing false moustaches as part of a
beer promotion involving a talking Boonie doll! Pure ruddy gold. Kerry
Packer might have gone to his reward, but his spirit is alive and well. If
you can bear to sit through the eye-glazingly dull games, there’s some
veeeeerrry interesting stuff going down in Aussie cricket at the moment.

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