Big Bash League is as much about the commentary as the cricket

There was a buzz of excitement in the commentary booth. A hat-trick, the second for the day, was a possibility. This was Big Bash League heaven: suspense, drama, spectacle, records being smashed.

But as Michael Vaughan, Mark Howard and Mike Hussey waited for Melbourne Stars paceman Haris Rauf to bowl to the Sydney Thunder's Daniel Sams, former English captain Vaughan noted in passing that he wasn't convinced by one of the decisions earlier in the day that led to the first hat-trick. "Oh well," he seemed to shrug as he muttered, "That's Big Bash, it's entertainment."

Haris Rauf of the Melbourne Stars celebrates his hat-trick during a Big Bash League match in early January. Credit:Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

And there it is, in a nutshell. The bright and brash contest that has become an integral part of the Australian TV summer is cricket, but not as the purists know or love it. The BBL is colour and movement, crash-and-bash, fast play, big scores, constant action. Upbeat crowds of families dot the grounds where Bruce Springsteen, the Eurythmics and the rev-up "Day-O!" (from The Banana Boat Song) are pumped out between overs, because heaven forbid there's a moment's silence in which anyone might get bored.

Strongly influenced by its years at Network 10 (2013-17), the BBL commentary has developed its own style, tone and language, along the way also influencing how cricket is covered on TV globally. It's loosened up the commentators' conversations and their wardrobes, giving us regular shots of them in the booth and it's employed more women in regular roles.

Maybe that's a sign of the times, but it's also about the emergence of a new branch of the sporting code keen to woo families and one that has adapted its coverage accordingly. It's a competition played to win, but it's also one sprinkled with smiles between the players: there's an amiability on the field that isn't evident during the deadly serious and much quieter comparative marathon contest of a Test match.

BBL is a competition played to win, but there’s an amiability on the field that isn’t evident during the much quieter Test matches.Credit:Jonathan DiMaggio/Getty Images

Part of the BBL coverage approach involves mic-ing players on the ground. They happily chat about the game under way, an intrusion unthinkable in a Test. There's an emphasis on fun. Shots of commentators in the booth, laughing or even eating hot dogs, are far removed from the straight-laced approach that had dominated for decades through Nine's Benaud-Greig era.

Network 10's innovative approach built the BBL into a force and won healthy ratings for its efforts. Since 2018, the TV rights have been shared by Seven and Foxtel and the split between a free-to-air broadcaster and a pay TV one has to some extent dissipated the momentum of the competition, with fewer viewers having access.

Now there's also a division into two substantial commentary brigades comprising members of varying style and effectiveness. The tone is still chatty and inclined to joshing. There will be cracks about Ben Dwarshuis' "dodgy 'tache" and what people did on their days off.

Over two seasons, Foxtel's Isa Guha has proven a major asset, a smooth, confident and capable anchor. Shane Warne, on Foxtel, and Ricky Ponting, on Seven, are standouts: big cricket brains with the ability to offer insights into strategies, astute analysis of what's going on and often spot-on predictions about what might happen next.

Foxtel's Mark Howard is a steady hand, keeping the commentary on track and raising topics for discussion, and Adam Gilchrist can also fluently fill that role.

Isa Guha and Shane Warne are assets to the Big Bash League commentary teams. Credit:Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

There are also some quirks on display, some appealing, others less so. Seven's Damien Fleming has a nifty turn of phrase. Foxtel's taciturn Mark Waugh sometimes seems vaguely irritated by the need to speak. During one discussion about whether it was better for a team to bat or bowl first, he tersely offered, "If you play well, you win".

Seven's James Brayshaw bouncily calls everyone, players and commentators alike, by nicknames ("The Big Stoin"), as though emphasising that he's a man on the inside.

Like all outdoor sports, the BBL is subject to weather-related unpredictability and that's been especially disruptive this season. When a smoke haze descends and delays play, or rain falls, the
commentators have to fill the space for an unknown amount of time. Typically, the producers resort to showing us highlights, again and again, and they become like the maddening recaps on reality TV shows, akin to annoying padding.

It's more understandable here, given that it's a live event, but those interruptions might call for a more satisfactory plan B. One rain delay in Sydney had Foxtel's Brendon Julian repeating the same remarks, over and over, for what seemed like hours.

The commentators, presumably under instruction from their employers, are also constantly spruiking what's coming up next, whether it's a big clash later in the night or an allegedly must-see match the next day. They should calm down: they've got us, we're watching. The ads can wait until it's finished.

With that, though, the BBL has become one of the dominant sounds of summer: loud, good-humoured and, yes, entertaining.

Source: Read Full Article