EVERYONE has said something they’ve immediately regretted. The embarrassment is even worse when there are millions listening.
EVERYONE has said something they’ve immediately regretted because they spoke first and thought second. Fortunately for most of us, those gaffes aren’t beamed into the living rooms of millions of Australians.
Commentators don’t enjoy that same luxury. The slightest slip of the tongue, a crude joke made off the cuff or an errant word spoken when you thought the microphone was off is every caller’s nightmare.
With the first Ashes Test in Brisbane just a few days away, households around the country will soon be filled with the familiar sounds of Ian Healy explaining the nuances of wicketkeeping, Ian Chappell ranting about captains’ terrible field placements and Bill Lawry shouting “Got him, yes!” at the top of his lungs.
News.com.au caught up with the members of the Channel Nine cricket commentary team at the Wide World of Sports Ashes launch at North Sydney Oval to talk nightmare moments in the box, annoying colleagues, what makes their job so difficult and of course, Richie Benaud.
What’s been your worst commentary moment?
“The big moment for me was the first time I commentated with Richie Benaud over in England back in 2000. I was so nervous because it was one of my first commentary stints and it was with the great man Richie Benaud and you’re on for half an hour and I was too nervous to say anything for the first 15 minutes. We probably had something like five million viewers but it wasn’t about how many people were listening or watching, it was because it was Richie. Eventually I started saying a few things towards the end of the stint because I thought, well, I’m here to talk about the game but what I didn’t realise is I was stepping on his earpiece that allows us to hear (producers and directors in) the truck and I was pulling his head to one side — it was a moulded earpiece and I didn’t realise. I was like, ‘Oh, this career’s over before it began’ so that comes to mind as a massive faux pas.”
Who’s the biggest pest in the commentary box?
“Warnie (Shane Warne) creates the most stir at times and the funny banter and the interesting things that go on. I remember a few years ago there wasn’t much happening in a Test match — and we have long days and there’s time for entertainment as well as the sheer stats and seriousness of the moments in a Test match — but he started talking about his favourite pizza and he really got stuck into this pizza thing for a while and it was very humorous. There are moments in the coverage where you can loosen up like that but obviously the cricket will tell the story and when it’s on absolutely that’s when we hone in on the strategy of the game.”
What’s been your nightmare moment in the commentary box?
“There was a game in the early days (2004) when we wrote New Zealand off in a run chase and they needed 13 an over and we were talking about the bonus point and the fact one day cricket was struggling and there weren’t enough close games. Then New Zealand turned it into a last ball game and won it. Three of us were summoned by Kerry Packer — me, Mark Taylor and Ian Healy and we sat in his office and he basically said, ‘The game’s not over til it’s over, son!’ I can’t use the language (Packer used) but it was no conversation. He got into us. He thought it was Heals and Heals said, ‘I wasn’t even there Kerry!’ He said, ‘You f***ing were!’ It was me! His point was, a very good point was, as a commercial network we’re selling the game of cricket and we’re selling ourselves. And if you announce something’s over before it’s over, some of your audience will turn off, particularly if you don’t know much about the game. And the fact is you were wrong, it was a phenomenal game and it went to the last ball. So what you do is you keep everything alive — fair point.”
Is Shane Warne the biggest pest?
“Warne … he’s not a pest. He eats plates of chips for breakfast. Warnie’s just Warnie, he’s just extreme, he’s entertaining, he’ll have a plate of French fries with chicken salt and two tubs of ketchup for breakfast. He’s just different.”
What was it like commentating with guys like Richie Benaud, Tony Greig and Bill Lawry for the first time?
“I was very nervous, because Richie said so little you were terrified of saying anything at all really because you knew it wouldn’t be as good as what he said. When I commentated the 1996 World Cup with guys like Chappell and Greig, they were very good to me. Greigy — I was so nervous Greigy did the first 10 minutes of a game between India and somebody in Nagpur and he turned to me and said, ‘Mate, are you going to say anything?’ And I was shaking with fearbecause you want to impress them as much as the audience and Greigy was such a dominant force that it was easy to be fearful. Bill’s a great mickey taker, in a way he’s the biggest mickey taker. He’s always at you — he’s great fun.”
What was your biggest commentary faux pas?
“My first game was in 1999 and I had the weather and ground report at the Gabba. I was up in the gantry, right up on the roof at the Gabba and I was nailing it — I nailed it! Then I had to throw back to Richie and it was the 40 year anniversary of Australia vs West Indies — the tied Test (in Brisbane, which Benaud played in). So I said, ‘Richie, there are the conditions for this match, it’s looking fantastic here. How do those conditions compare to that famous Test 60 years ago?’ And he just went, ‘We’ll be back after the break’ — he just left it. Then I put my head in the studio and I got back there and said, ‘Sorry Richie.’ He said, ‘How f***ing old do you think I am, Heals?’ That was good.”
Who has the worst habits in the box?
“(Michael) Clarke and Warne always want to pick an XI so they’re always thinking cricket and coming up with a big debate on whatever it is. These two just love cricket, they’re cricket nuffies. I want to sit and think where I’m going to go in the next half-hour (of a commentary stint) or whatever and they always want to do something, they can’t sit down. Clarke can’t sit, he stands up, walking around. He doesn’t get rid of the nervous energy, he won’t sit still.
“You know when Chappelli’s been out with (former teammates) Dennis Lillee or Doug Walters or Rod Marsh in their cities. He’s pretty loud in the commentary box the next day and he eats a big block of cheese — a big block of cheese and an apple. You can tell when he’s had a big one.”
What’s the toughest part of the gig?
“The challenge of commentary is you’re talking and you’re thinking about where you’re going with these words and at the same time you’re listening to your director or producer and you know what’s coming up for the viewer so you need to be keeping up with the pictures. You get it wrong a lot and lots of times they say, ‘What’s that word you said?’ And you think, ‘I didn’t say that’ and you get picked up on stuff you didn’t think you said. I was thinking too much instead of concentrating on the words.”
Mark Nicholas: “Richie brought in the idea of less is more — don’t talk unless you can add something to the picture. You had a very different approach to commentary, where did that come from?”
Lawry: “The fact that Richie wasn’t saying anything and Kerry (Packer) said, ‘Somebody bloody well talk!’ It wasn’t very difficult.
“We got to Sydney for an important game and Richie had invited Chappell and his friends out the night before and he was a little bit seedy. The first over comes and it’s, ‘Welcome to the Sydney Cricket Ground, England have won the toss and Australia are bowling.’ Ball one — nothing. Ball two — nothing. Ball three — nothing. Ball four — nothing. Then the phone at the back of the box rings and only one person (Packer) had that number. You didn’t need to have the phone in your hand. I can’t repeat what he said but he said, ‘This is commercial television. Eighty per cent of people out there can’t understand Test cricket — they haven’t got a bloody clue’ and it wasn’t ‘bloody’ he said either. Next ball — nothing. I thought, ‘Oh s***.’ There are two balls to go and the next ball someone hit a four and I said, ‘That’s the best four I’ve ever seen!’ And I haven’t stopped talking since.”
What was the most difficult part of going from player to commentator?
“When you first start and you’re commentating on your ex-teammates. Everyone says it’ll be hard and you think it won’t be, but it is. It’s a lot harder when you first start. Now I can commentate on guys who I respect and admire but they’re not my close mates, I haven’t played with them so I can feel free to be a little bit more liberal, be a little bit more critical, not that I’m trying to be critical but that’s the way it is sometimes. When it was Steve and Mark Waugh and Ian Healy and even Shane Warne who were still playing when I was commentating … it’s harder to be critical even though you know you’ve got to at times and you think, ‘Gee I hope it doesn’t get back to them.’ These days I don’t worry so much about it.”
Online Source News.com.au.