'I get really annoyed with one-sided cricket'
How did you get started? Richie Benaud is supposed to have played a hand?
My first commentary was in Australia in 1976-77, working with the Ten Network, and the team included four previous captains - Richie, Bob Simpson, Bill Lawry and myself. I was also writing for The Age newspaper in Melbourne and they said, "We'd like you to go to England and cover the Ashes." When I was talking to Richie about it, he said, "I'll get you some work with the BBC." So I did three Tests for the BBC, and that was organised by Richie. It was a good experience for me at that stage of my career, especially because it was in another country.
I always felt the best training for broadcasting was actually playing the game, because commentating is a lot like batting. If you lose concentration as a batsman you get out; if you lose concentration as a commentator you're gone.
It's said some of your team-mates couldn't take you criticising them on air.
There were a few occasions. Kerry O'Keeffe had a problem with me favouring Ashley Mallett. He was a very observant person because I did favour Mallet - for the simple reason that he was a better bowler. I was saying something about Mallett on commentary, the fact that he wasn't on that tour, and obviously that got to Kerry a bit. I don't think Kerry was playing in that game, and he saw me and said, "Mallett, Mallett, you're on about Mallett." And I just said to him, "If you don't like what I'm saying, there's a switch on the television set that starts with V, and if you turn it you won't hear what I'm saying. And there's another switch that starts with O, and if you hit that one you won't hear anyone talking."
What was your attitude to commentators and journalists when you were a player?
I got a very good piece of advice when I was extremely young. I think it was at Melbourne on the inter-state tour, playing for South Australia. It was my second season and I would have been only 19. And Ian McLachlan, who was 12th man for Australia in one Test, and a very good player for SA, said to me: "If you have a good day, read the newspapers. If you have a bad day, don't even buy the newspapers."
|There were four words you weren't supposed to say on TV and I managed to get three of the four in one sentence|
You said recently that winning and losing hasn't mattered since March 1980, when you retired
Before 1980, I could do something about it; now I can't. After Australia win a match or a series, people come up to me and say, "You must have had a great party last night." And I say, "Look it's got nothing to do with me anymore. I'm on the first plane home as soon as the Test match is over. I'm not looking to celebrate. But I've got excited a lot of times about things happening on the field and it's not just about Australia.
The things I enjoy mostly, and it stands to reason because they are things that appeal to you as a player: aggressive batsmen, good slip catching, captaincy, legspin bowling. When I was captain, I was only captain of one side. Now I look at it from both sides. I was only a part-time spinner and enjoyed legspin - the thought processes. What I really enjoy the most is a contest. When people say to me that Australia are winning, etc - it's good for Australia but not good for cricket. I get really annoyed with one-sided cricket and stupid cricket.
Were you on air when Greg Chappell ordered Trevor to bowl the underarm at Melbourne?
I wasn't on air. Bill Lawry was on air. Richie did a post-match show, which Greg was annoyed about. I think he said it was a gutless decision by a gutless captain, which Greg was upset about. I was up the back of the commentary box. I was writing those days for the Sydney Sun and I wrote a column about it. It wasn't a very complimentary column because I didn't agree with what Greg did.
Do you still look back at the mess you were involved in back in 1980-81 when you used bad language on air?
I'm always conscious of it because I know that if I make the mistake again, that might be it. I enjoy commentary, I enjoy the work. I don't know whether I've deliberately got it stuck away in the back of my mind or not but I'm always conscious of it. And it's interesting that when I had the mess-up, there were four words you weren't supposed to say on TV and I managed to get three of the four in one sentence.
I realised I had to stop swearing. Period. I actually did for six months - almost all swearing except a few "bloody"s. I ran into Garry Sobers not long after it happened and I said, "I've stopped swearing, Garry" and he said, "What? There's going to be lots of gaps in your conversations then." But I slipped back into bad habits, and now I'm still at it. But I know it will cost me my job if I'm not conscious of it. Maybe it's a good thing. It makes me a bit more disciplined.
What advice would you give younger players who are taking up commentary?
When I talk of an ex-player coming into the job - like [Ian] Healy, [Mark] Taylor - I say, "As an ex-captain it gives you three years, as an ex-player it gives you two." But after that you're only going to remain in the job if you're a good commentator. It's a honeymoon period where you've to hone your style.
The other thing I say to young guys: "Treat it like a job. Not as a nine-to-five job but a job that you work at. If you treat it as a bit of extra income, you won't last very long. If you try and get better at it all the time, you've got a chance of staying in it. It's a job to be enjoyed. But it's a job that you have to work at. You can't just rely on the fact that you played cricket for 15 years. You've to follow it up.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo