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.
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.
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.