February 2, 2010

Australia

Those manly men of Australian commentary

Andrew Hughes


'It's a bloody tough wicket to bat on but I could do it on one leg' © Getty Images
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It’s always a pleasure to listen to the modern Australian commentators and by “a pleasure”, I mean “aural torture of a particularly gruelling kind”. I comfort myself with the thought that we are nearer the end than the beginning of the Australian season and that only a few one-day games with West Indies lie between me and a respite from the output of Tubs, Slats and Heals. Australian sportsmen appear to be bound by a code of machismo, which prevents them from uttering any word or phrase that might contain anything a viewer could possibly construe as a) poetic or b) a bit girlie.

The word ‘beautiful’ only gets a look in because they mangle the vowels to such an extent that it is no longer recognisable to the human ear. During Sunday’s game, Tubs did venture off-piste with the phrase, ‘a windy woof’, but it was a bloke’s ‘windy woof’, more of a bark than a woof and anyway, it is essentially gibberish and gibberish is firmly bloke territory. Even helium-voiced guest star Gilly, only the second Australian man ever to cry, was keeping it strictly manly.

In the midst of this tight-lipped, hairy-chested working men’s club, in which jargon like Gees (G-Force) and Kays (Kilometres) is the only concession to verbal inventiveness, it is left to dear old Mark Nicholas to fly the flag for showbiz. So I was dismayed to hear this Noel Coward of cricket commentators at one point describing Australia as ‘almost rampant’. Almost? I guarantee, if he had been safely back in old Blighty, there would have been no adverb involved and the ‘r’ of rampant would have rolled on for several seconds. Don’t let the testosterone get to you, Mark, be loud and be proud!

As well as getting in touch with my masculine side, I’ve been reacquainted this winter with that famous Aussie objectivity. Tubs, who can remember a time when Australia were pants, is the most generous. Heals, forever on the verge of launching into ‘Under The Southern Cross I Stand’, offers his praise of the opposition through gritted teeth. There is nothing particularly malicious here and in many ways it is heart-warmingly familiar, like visiting your bigoted but good-natured old uncle. But things are so one-eyed in that commentary booth, it could be mistaken for a pirate convention.

Take, for example, the pitch. We’ve all heard of drop-in pitches. Well, at the WACA, they have developed the rotating pitch. Early on, the track was mercilessly flat and only the sheer brilliance of the frighteningly muscular Ryan Harris and Morrissey look-alike Clint McKay enabled them to winkle out a Pakistani wicket or seven. But at the interval, the groundsman flicked a switch, the pitch flipped 180 degrees and Australia were compelled to chase on a minefield. Thank goodness then that Australian batsmen are so brilliant or they might not have succeeded.

As for Mr Afridi’s oral adventures, little more need be said. The sight of the Pakistani captain attempting to swallow a cricket ball whole, like a python dislocating its jaw to consume an ostrich egg, will be played continuously across the cricket globe, to the great amusement of everyone (go on, Pakistan fans, I bet you chuckled, just a little). And you could hear the admiration of the Slats-Heals-Tubs axis of manliness. This was proper ball-tampering. None of that delicate seam-picking, no furtive pocketfuls of compost, no bottle tops, ointments or boiled sweets, just a virile, red-blooded cricketer standing up proudly and taking a healthy bite of leather, cork and soil.

Good on yer, Shahid.

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Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England

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Posted by Roshan Ariyaratnam on (February 18, 2010, 21:53 GMT)

I know id rather be listening to tubby, slats and heals than the sky sports commentary team (except bumble maybe) who are terrible. Headed by Botham, who by the way he delivers his commentary defies belief that he has actually played cricket b4, let alone been a great (at least in english eyes), Nasser Hussain who has the cricket commentary persona of a school headmaster, Mike Atherton who puts everyone to sleep and more recently Nick Knight who struggles to actually say anything without trying his best to contradict himself. The only thing that could make the Sky team worse was if Mark Nicholas was to join it! Channel Nine are the best commentary team in the world and have been for years.

Posted by ThreePillarTales on (February 10, 2010, 16:36 GMT)

As a true blue cricket tragic, I'd agree that Tubs gets a bit boorish but Richie loves him so he stays. Mark Nicholas is even worse for his useless meandering commentary trying to please everyone. One has to expect homeside partisanship so what's wrong with it?? Don't like it...crack the wireless for aunty ABC's more even and sometimes very funny version with Kerry. The worst aspect of the current summer for England is to see the new look Aussie team slowly congeal. Mitch is finally where he should be at first change and nearly everybody is clicking. India started this run when Greg Chappell instilled a backbone. Like most issues subcontinent, it fades eventually with political infighting and money belt jostling. Saffers are saffers and forever clinical. The last two years have been great for the auld game with top for nations vying for supremacy but the status of the Ponting behemoth will arrive in 2012. Meanwhile an Ashes series awaits.

Posted by Scotty O on (February 7, 2010, 22:59 GMT)

You are spot on Andrew. Channel Nine are even worse than Nasser Hussain! But in Nasser's defense he is only one man and does stand out individually along with the likes of Heals, Tubby & Slats. I guess prominant Test cricketers of the 90's just don't make good commentators. I don't blame Slats though, before he joined Nine he was doing a lot of cable work and was quite good, I really liked his work with Mike Atherton when Aus toured India in 2004. Nine has sucked his talent with every shameless piece of cross-promotional material. I'm sure he really is going to watch that "fantastic" new episode of The Mentalist next Monday night.

Posted by Abhishek on (February 7, 2010, 17:39 GMT)

sorry andrew,can't agree with you here. out of all the cricket cmntry teams arnd the wrld,the chnl nine team is the best IMHO. they provide some grt insights into the proceedings & also entrtain us wth their humor. agree heals is a bit biased though.. And whoever said mark nicholas is the best cmnttr in th world needs his head xmnd . Thoroughly!!!!

Posted by My dear old thing on (February 4, 2010, 20:31 GMT)

Does anyone remember good old Henry Blofeld? I'd watch paint drying if he was commentating about it.

Posted by gopi on (February 4, 2010, 19:42 GMT)

If we rank the prominent group of commentators in world cricket ,my order from worst to best would be Australian's,Australian's,Australian's......., Indians,SA cans,Englishmen. English commentators are by far the best in respecting & recognising the contribution of the opponent team. Hats off to the author for bringing this to the limelite

Posted by segars on (February 4, 2010, 15:29 GMT)

"The sight of the Pakistani captain attempting to swallow a cricket ball whole, like a python dislocating its jaw to consume an ostrich egg.".... Gold Andrew, GOLD!!!!!

Posted by jamie on (February 4, 2010, 12:00 GMT)

Brilliant article - sums it up perfectly. The aussie commentators are men's men of the highest ilk. They're also slightly more one-sidedly patriotic than a digger on ANZAC Day.

And that's the way we like it. This is Oz after all. Sunburnt land and all that.

All those blokes having a whinge - lighten up wouldya. It's a bit of satire, not a critical essay

Posted by Lakshman on (February 4, 2010, 9:44 GMT)

Though Australia gave us Richie Benaud, we also have to bear Healy. Still remember his pathetic commentary last year in the match against SA at the MCG. He was trying to win the match for Australia from the commentary box! Having said that we Indians have to grin and bear Laxman Sivaramakrishnan's gems too.. "Unbeleivable" he screamed when Virat Kohli cover drove a nondescript Srilankan bowler to the fence, during a powerplay. Gawd - give me a break!

Posted by JB on (February 4, 2010, 9:41 GMT)

Agree that ABC radio does have the better commentary, BUT I will never accept that Mark Nicholas is a good commentator. Smarmy, cringe-worthy, boring and as I've said before - anyone who has exclaimed 'Crikey O'Reilly!' after seeing a six hit should be deported and possibly jailed.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Hughes
Andrew Hughes is a writer and avid cricket watcher who has always retained a healthy suspicion of professional sportsmen, and like any right-thinking person rates Neville Cardus more highly than Don Bradman. His latest book is available here and here @hughandrews73

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