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'Like gardening on speed'

Geoff Clements, who has been on the job behind the camera for half a century, talks about his career

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Geoff Clements, centre, has completed 50 years as a cricket cameraman

Geoff Clements (centre) has been capturing cricket on camera since 1967

The 2017 Dunedin Test was probably a success for only one man, and he was not even playing the match.
Cameraman Geoff Clements, from Canterbury, celebrated a half-century behind the lens and then signed off on a career that began in the early years of television in New Zealand, when sports coverage was rudimentary.
Clements was 18 years old and an occasional cricketer at St Albans Cricket Club when he began work as a cameraman in his home town. His first match was between Canterbury and the touring Australians in 1967. He was part of a simple three-man team who broadcast in black and white to a 50km radius around Christchurch. There were two main cameras trained on the pitch, and Clements, on the grass bank, manned the third.
Given that the game took place 50 years ago, it's understandable he doesn't remember too much about it, except that his friend, Canterbury bowler Ken Ferries, played in the match, that they drank a beer in the club rooms afterwards, and that, at some point over the course of the three days, Clements fell in love with covering the game with a camera. "It's like gardening on speed," he says.
"To do any sport, you've got to be able to know the game. If you've played the game at any level, you get to understand the parabola of the situation and how a batsman shapes to play the ball and where it's going to go"
He was soon employed by Television New Zealand, where he did a range of jobs, including studio work and administration, and covered other sports, but he remained a cricket specialist at heart. In particular, he attached himself to the toughest job, working the ball-follow camera - a role that is self-explanatory and a lot more difficult than it sounds.
When hit, a cricket ball often moves even faster than when it is bowled, and you have to have both good reaction time and good anticipation if you're tracking it with a camera. That is why Clements thinks it is essential for a cricket cameraperson to have played the game at some level. "To do any sport, you've got to be able to know the game. If you've played the game at any level, you get to understand the parabola of the situation and how a batsman shapes to play the ball and where it's going to go," he says. "If you've played and you have good hand-eye co-ordination, then you must be more capable of doing the job."
His best example of that is also his most memorable match, at his home ground in 2002. Although New Zealand lost that Test at Lancaster Park, Nathan Astle blazed 222 , which remains the fastest double-century in Test cricket. Astle struck 11 sixes in the innings, which was challenging for Clements. "He hit so many balls in the air, and on the ball-follow camera, I lost some of them. Some went on top of the roof and a couple went right over."
Long before Clements was awed by Astle, he was charmed by another cricketer, who he names as the player who impressed him most. "The Nawab of Pataudi. He was a wonderful batsman with a superb cover drive," Clements, who covered India's 1968 series to New Zealand, remembers. "I said to one of the guys afterwards, 'How the hell can that joker see everything so well and still play like a two-eyed human?' He was wonderful."
Clements also counts Greg Chappell as a favourite. He says he probably has a "hundred other names which I could mention but won't" when it comes to cricketers he admires. Instead, he concentrates on the nuances of his job, which apart from steady hands, concentration and the wearing of a lot of layers of clothes, especially in Dunedin last week, where he donned five, is based on storytelling.
"It's about not being too tight with your shots," he says. "A ball going across the ground says nothing. A ball with someone running after it says something. A ball with someone reverse cup underneath it says something; a ball that suddenly two seconds later is caught means nothing."
Clements says the advancements in technology have aided that cause, especially the replay and the increased number of cameras. "Although sometimes we have more replays than are necessary, it really helps you to create a narrative," Clements said. "Typically we have more than 25 cameras at the match. At this match, we have 28, and I am told that in Wellington next week there will be 30."
"It's about not being too tight with your shots. A ball going across the ground says nothing. A ball with someone running after it says something"
He still finds it hard to believe that the pictures he is shooting travel such a great distance in such a short time. "I still can't understand how it happens," Clements says. "Well, I know how it happens, but I can't conceive of the fact that we can portray this beautiful game - this is the beautiful game, not the big round-ball thing - how we can transmit this and 500 million people somewhere can see that three seconds later. It eludes me. But I am only a television cameraman, I am not an engineer."
Soon he will be a retiree. The decision to stop now, at the age of 69, is his own. "As George Harrison, the great Beatle, wrote, all things must pass, and I think that's a fair thing," he says. He has been mentoring colleague Karla Underwood for "the last three or four years" to take over from him.
In his time, Clements has only covered cricket outside New Zealand twice, in 1997 during the Pepsi Independence Cup in India, and a version of Cricket Sixes in Kuala Lumpur some years later. He has never been hit by a cricket ball, though he had a near miss once at Eden Park No. 2.
In his retirement, he hopes to "play a lot more bowls, try and coach the Canterbury women's bowls team again, if they will let me, dig more gardens and watch a lot more cricket on the telly".

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent