Cricket on TV has come a long way
As Network Ten threatens to takeover the broadcasting rights for Test cricket, here's a look back at television's history of covering the sport.PT1M25S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2jcrw 620 349 May 10, 2013
Since it was revealed by Fairfax Media that Ten had emerged as a very real alternative to Nine as the broadcaster of Australian cricket, it has been impossible to ignore a harrowing image.
It is Tim Webster, the accident-prone former host of Ten's Sports Tonight wearing Richie Benaud's iconic bone/white/off-white/ivory/beige blazer and welcoming viewers to the Gabba "for the first time today". Which, of course, would mean there was every chance the Test was being played in Perth.
For all Billy Birmingham's hilarious lampooning, and our laments about Billy Lawry's hysteria, the late Tony Greig's calculated provocation and the Nine team's other quirks and quarrels, it remains the backdrop of our summer. Enhanced, in recent years, by the addition of younger commentators and fancy gadgetry. (Even when Mark Taylor fumbles with the controls of the Space Invaders machine while trying to illustrate Ed Cowan's front foot defence.)
Those were the days: Ian Chappell, Richie Benaud and Bill Lawry.
So the possibility of Ten taking charge - as unlikely as that still might be - seems confronting. Particularly given the network's experiments with both an "extreme youth" format - think a couple of bogans in Cronulla complaining about immigrants in an obscure Shire dialect - and a 24-hour sports format on One HD have been unmitigated disasters.
No doubt, should Ten win the cricket broadcast rights in their entirety - and not merely the Big Bash League - it would replicate the best of Nine's commentary recipe. A pinch of Slater, a touch of Taylor, a few drops of Chappell. And, to borrow from his own lexicon, a stupendous, superb, splendiforous spoonful of Mr Maximum, Mark Nicholas.
Ten could also lure some of Fox Sports' excellent team such as the informative Damien Fleming and the urbane Brendon Julian, or even go left-field with the ABC's cackling Kerry O'Keefe. Although, given some recent hirings, they might instead just give Andrew Symonds the full six-hour shift.
A below average Richie: Tim Webster. Photo: Janie Barrett
The cost of the rights - a reported $500 million - would mean tightening belts at a network where corporate limousines have been replaced by a pair of Lachlan Murdoch's hand-me-down rollerblades. So, surely, they will be forced to use some existing resources.
Word is, Lara Bingle still has a year left on her contract after the incredible success of Being Lara Bingle. What about Lara taking the interview duties at the presentation ceremonies from Mark "Wow! Maximum" Nicholas. An encounter with skipper Michael Clarke will not require the usual contrived confrontation of her reality shows. And she could use 'Hot Spot' to see if her engagement ring is still down the s-bend.
The lunch breaks? Nine has relied on the usually informative Cricket Show to fill the 40 minutes hole used by most viewers to perform a day's worth of spousal responsibilities. But who better for a 40-minute meal - well, a snack by his proportions - than Matt Preston?
Anything but beige: Richie Benaud. Photo: Wayne Ludbey
A scathing critique of the pies and hot chips at the food stalls. A competition between chefs at the SCG, WACA, GABBA, MCG and Adelaide Oval to produce the best players' lunches. Viv Richards as a special guest, working up some creole treats on the retitled Master Blaster Chef. Endless possibilities.
Rain delays are taken care of. Ten might not have a stockpile of so-called "classics". But - God knows - they have access to 28,372 episodes of The Simpsons.
There would also be none of the annoying cross-promotions that blight Nine's coverage given that, besides Judge Judy, Ten hasn't exactly got a stellar array of programs to promote.
At the same time, commentators hired by Ten on fat contracts would surely be expected to multi-task on other shows. Who can't see Ian Healy belting out Beyonce's latest on the return series of Australian Idol? And aren't they in for some fun times in Ramsay St. when that irascible, but still loveable new neighbour Bill Lawry moves in?
Still, Nine is fighting to impose its right to match any offer for the cricket rights. We've not always been grateful for their bombast, their over-analysis and their crosses to the evening news at a vital moment in the final session. But, with some disturbing alternatives in mind, you can't help hoping Nine can show Cricket Australia the money.