'The fast-bowling cartel are taking over': Damien Fleming lines up for Seven
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'The fast-bowling cartel are taking over': Damien Fleming lines up for Seven

As a cricketer, Damien Fleming was fast. He was renowned for his right-arm swing, his hat-trick on debut against Pakistan in 1994 and the mullet that once brushed the collar of his Test whites.

In the commentary box, he's pretty quick as well. Rattling off statistics and his "bowlology" quips (the "avenue of apprehension", "hallway of hesitation", "pathway to the pavilion") with lightning speed.

Ex-cricket champ Damien Fleming, who is part of the new Seven Network cricket commentary team.

Ex-cricket champ Damien Fleming, who is part of the new Seven Network cricket commentary team.Credit:Simon Schluter

And, it turns out, on the phone he's even faster. There's barely time for a hello before he describes how he's storm-proofing his house in Melbourne and then swings into PR patter for his new cricket overlords, Channel Seven.

"We've got a nice blend this year on Channel Seven," he says. "We've got the ability to do the Test matches – five days of constant pressure and two innings. It's a real battle, a real test. And then you've got the fun of the Big Bash, which will get bigger again this year."

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Glenn McGrath, Ricky Ponting, Mel McLaughlin, Lisa Sthalekar, Damien Fleming.

Glenn McGrath, Ricky Ponting, Mel McLaughlin, Lisa Sthalekar, Damien Fleming.Credit:Gregg Porteous

A 20-Test veteran for Australia, Fleming is a key part of the new TV sporting world order – where Seven, traditionally home of the tennis, has the cricket (men's Tests, women's internationals, Big Bash League and Women's BBL) and Nine, home of cricket for 40 years, now has the tennis.

To complicate matters further, Foxtel has secured the rights to cricket's one-day international matches, meaning cricket fans will, for the first time ever, have to pay if they want to see any of the 50-over-a-side matches or the men's T20 internationals.

On top of that, Australian cricket has endured one of its roughest patches in years, starting with a piece of sandpaper shoved into the pants of bowler Cameron Bancroft in March that snowballed into the suspension of captain Steve Smith and star batsman Dave Warner, the resignation of coach Darren Lehmann and ended with review findings in November that labelled the team and the sport's governing body "arrogant" and "controlling" and saw chief executive James Sutherland and high performance manager Pat Howard step aside.

Fleming, however, isn't bothered. Where others see disaster, the 48-year-old sees hope in the coming summer of games against India and Sri Lanka.

Damien Fleming in 1989.

Damien Fleming in 1989.Credit:Fairfax Media

"I've got a lot of faith in Justin Langer, the new coach," he says. "He played over 100 Tests for Australia, just about the toughest player I played with, he'll be a good influence on the group. "[New captain] Tim Paine's done really well.

"I just want them to back themselves and look at it as a challenge. It's an opportunity to get the baggy green on your head and get the country behind us. And I truly believe if we can have a really good showing in that first Test against India, and hopefully a win, it will galvanise the nation and we'll have a great summer of cricket for everyone."

Since he retired from the game in 2001, Fleming has trod the same path as many a former cricketer, honing his commentary skills across radio and television, with stints in the box on ABC Radio's Grandstand and commentating across Ten and Foxtel.

He says the key to good commentary lies in preparation – Fleming prepares cheat sheets on all the players – and the ability to weave a narrative from what may seem like fairly prosaic on-field events.

"It's really about telling a story," he says. "Why Mitchell Starc is such a threat with a new ball, potentially Josh Hazlewood, why he hasn't got wickets is because of this.

"You just want to be able to explain why and how these guys are such good players and why and how the game is in this situation.

"I can't go into commentary without feeling like I haven't prepared for every scenario. But like everything in life, sometimes the great commentary bits just come out of the blue."

On Seven he'll be sharing space in the box with a gaggle of former teammates, including former Australian captain Ponting, who he calls the best commentator around, and members of the "fast bowlers cartel".

"Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Dirk Nannes, Trent Copeland," he lists. "All fast bowlers. So this will be the most intelligent commentary team ever put together. Articulate and intelligent."

Hang on, aren't fast bowlers just the drummers of the cricket team? You know, the lights are on but nobody's home?

"See, these are the stigmas the fast-bowling cartel are starting to push away as we stake our claim," he says. " We are no longer second-class citizens. We've had CEOs in James Sutherland, Tony Dodemaide, Dave Gilbert. We've got umpires now – Paul Reiffel is an umpire, we've got prime ministers – Imran Khan in Pakistan.

"We've put all these people into place. The fast-bowling cartel are taking over the world slowly, and as you've just noted, 50 per cent of the commentators are fast bowlers on Channel Seven. It will be a treat."

So, no jockeying for position?

"No, no we all know our roles," he says. "The only jockeying in the commentary team is the batsmen, OK? Because they love their batting averages, they love their batting contracts, they want to be No. 1.

"[Michael] Slater and Ponting and [Greg] Blewett and [Simon] Katich – we let them go about their own work and the fast-bowling cartel, when the lights go on and the cameras say action, we will be front and centre."

Louise is the editor of S and the Sun Herald's TV liftout

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