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Overseas commentators and the summer of unnecessary accents

Much was made of the changing of the guard in the Channel Nine commentary box a few years back when former first-class cricketer and experienced media man Mark Nicholas was appointed to become the face of the network’s cricket coverage.

 

Since the days of World Series Cricket, Richie Benaud had evolved into a slick and precise presenter. He made the position so much his own that parody became the greatest form of admiration.

 

Other candidates seemed light on the ground until the arrival of a new breed of ex-players hit the media landscape. Michael Slater, Mark Taylor, Ian Healy and now Michael Hussey were all just a little too late, and perhaps lacking in poise, to be considered as replacements for Benaud.

 

The new man was needed urgently as Benaud gradually whittled down his workload and eventually appeared at no more than one or two Tests per summer.

 

Despite possessing cricketing credibility, Nicholas was criticised in some quarters with many wondering why a ‘pom’ was used to fill this role. The recent success of our home-grown Socceroos made me think about our tendency to rely on overseas resources.

 

Nicholas has graced our screens for several seasons now with his rather overly romanticised manner that seems at odds with other commentators – as well as much of the national audience. There is no doubt that his analysis is insightful, yet paying such large salaries to overseas commentators and athletes when a more qualified Australian could be used seems strange.

 

Media outlets will always search for different styles and personas to add colour and flavour to an event. Nobody could be against that. Audiences eventually develop a relationship and names such as Kerry O’Keefe, Ray Warren, Ian May and Frank Hyde painted vivid pictures of the contests they called.

 

However, do we undersell ourselves by not positioning Australians in the limelight more often? Must sport on television often be anchored by experts from abroad?

 

Perhaps it is time for us to recognise the talent we have on our own shores rather than appointing those who fit the more traditional and at times stereotypical persona of an expert in their chosen field.

 

The mysterious appointment of Jim Courier to work as a foil for Bruce McAvaney still mystifies me. Don’t get me wrong, his commentary is of quality, yet his obsession with jingoistic phrases and typical American grandstanding is sometimes painful to hear and watch.

 

The rather embarrassing delivery of his final comment in the on-court interviews, followed by a quick exit and zoomed out camera is contrived and choreographed and reeks of a slick American production.

 

To make matters worse, the rather irritating commentary of Sam Smith makes me wonder why Rennae Stubbs and Nicole Bradtke can’t handle this on their own.

 

Stubbs’ knowledge of the game and career report card give her a credibility of which Smith could only dream. Apparently Smith did win a Silver medal in the mixed doubles at the World University Games in Fukuoka. Yet Smith seems to be given preference above the Aussie girls as she was for the women’s semi-finals on Thursday.

 

John McEnroe was absent from the booth this year on local coverage yet one would find it hard to criticise his previous appointments. His commentary provided pin point insights that only a player of his calibre could provide.

 

Smith ain’t no John McEnroe!

I had hoped that ABC Grandstand’s cricket coverage would be immune to this scourge. How disappointed I was to hear ex-New Zealand quick Danny Morrison engaging in banter with the usual suspects during the Test series.

 

The brilliance of Harsha Bhogle and Kerry O’Keefe was sorely missed. Bhogle has toured with the Indians on numerous occasions recently yet returned to India quite early. The difficulty in replacing O’Keefe was obvious.

 

The solution seemed illogical with New Zealand playing Sri Lanka on home soil.

 

Why was Morrison here? A guest commentator from a touring nation to add colour and perspective? Yes please, David Lloyd provides a good example. But Morrison? No thanks.

 

The rugby codes have also been prone to using international personalities while ignoring to opportunity to develop local talent.

 

The forever loyal Benji Marshall was rushed back into the fray after his failed attempt to participate in the game of polite pugilism. Rugby union allowed this to infiltrate all the way to their coaching ranks as the Wallabies suffered under the direction of Robbie Deans. Could we ever envision a time when an All Black side was coached by an Australian?

 

Australian cricket has lived this nightmare until very recent times as Cricket Australia and the world of professional coaches brought the shipwreck that was Mickey Arthur to the Australian coaching position.

 

Poor performances were one thing but the financial battles and threatened legal action made us all feel sick.

 

Just a shame there wasn’t an Australia who could do a better job. Oh hang on, found one! Hello Mr Lehmann, nice to meet you.

 

It is pleasing to note the re-emergence of Australian golf commentary. The energetic Brett Ogle and wily Jack Newton provide the voice of golf in this country and the career that Ian Baker-Finch has mapped out for himself in the states is quite impressive.

 

We have come a long way from the days of Renton Laidlaw and Bruce Critchley who both seemed more interested in the daily rehash of Renton’s thick Scottish cry of ‘Birdie, Birdie, Birdie’ when a player had made a hot start to their round. Pat Welsh was partly to blame as well.

 

Australia’s obvious and recent success in the Asian Cup has led to much lauding of the man in charge and the vision he implemented some months back. Ange Postecoglou backed A-League and young players and comes to the job with a knowledge and appreciation of football culture in this country and the unique personas and individuals at his disposal.

 

I love the notion of ‘skin’ being invested in a cause. One could certainly suggest that Postecoglou has a layer or two invested in his. Perhaps governing bodies and media outlets could use the FFA’s model of investing in home grown talent in the future.

 

The previous coaches were technically proficient yet failed to mould a united and committed team in the long term. Their imminent departure and next international appointment always loomed on the horizon and the search for a replacement often began beyond our shores.

 

We are no doubt still a young country, yet our history and culture is still something of which to be proud, particularly from a sporting sense.

 

Just as our music, arts, culinary and academic pioneers have broken through to gain international recognition, so is it time for our sporting commentary and culture to look within itself for answers and not ancestral continents whose apron strings still hold us in close proximity.

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