It had to happen sooner or later. Cricket Australia’s Integrity Unit is investigating an incident during the Big Bash League match between Sydney Thunder and Adelaide Strikers after tactical information was passed via the Channel Ten commentary team to Brad Hodge, the Strikers captain, during the game.
Hodge was providing comments to the television audience via an on-field microphone as Thunder attempted to chase down the Strikers’ 178 at the Sydney Showground Stadium when Channel Ten commentator Mark Howard revealed that one of his bowlers, Ben Laughlin, had a particularly good record against Shane Watson, the Thunder captain who was currently at the crease.
"Just before we let you go, Hodgey, our master statistician Lawrie Colliver tells us Laughlin has got Watson twice in the last eight balls he's bowled him in this competition,” said Howard. “I’ll leave that with you."
"I'll bring him on next over then,” replied Hodge. “Let's get him into the game."
"Blow me down,” said Howard, when Hodge duly did so, “Ben Laughlin comes into the attack."
Perhaps fortunately in the circumstances, Laughlin’s introduction did not have much of an impact on the game. He bowled one wicketless over, conceded 11 runs and was not brought on again. As it turned out, the Strikers went on to win the game by 77 runs despite Laughlin’s over.
Cricket Australia, however, was not impressed.
"Australian cricket has a long-standing, proactive approach to sports integrity management,” said a CA statement. “We educate our broadcasters at the beginning of each season in the area of Cricket Australia's Integrity codes and policies so they fully understand the extent we take to ensure the integrity of cricket in the country.
"We are disappointed with the comments made on the BBL broadcast last night and expressed this concern immediately to Channel Ten when it occurred.”
It was not the first time that the broadcaster had sailed close to the wind in its coverage of Australia’s showpiece Twenty20 league. Last year, the infamous ‘don’t blush, baby’ exchange between Chris Gayle and reporter Mel McLaughlin was met with sniggers in the commentary box and described as ‘smooth’ on the Ten twitter account before the horrified public reaction brought a change of heart and a hasty apology.
But this latest incident had a certain inevitability about it. From Stump-Cam, Spider-Cam and Helmet-Cam, through Stump-Mic and Player-Mic to in-game interviews with coaches and dismissed players as they leave the field, the coverage of T20 has become inexorably bound to the game. It is about getting the viewer as close to the action as possible, the thrills and spills, the instant analysis.
We’re in the world of the new, a world of new camera angles, new insights, the Bunnings Warehouse Replay and the Yes Bank Maximum, of Danny Morrison’s hyperbole and the matey banter of Gilly, Punter, Junior and the rest. It is unavoidable, indeed inevitable, that as players chat to their buddies in the commentary box something, sometime will slip.
Don’t get me wrong, franchise T20 is genius. It is the perfect format for our society — short, punchy, spectacular, disposable. For a fan wanting an evening with a beer in front of the television or a Friday night after work down at the Oval, it is just what the doctor ordered. It is the Xbox Guitar Hero, the Classic FM of the sport - all your favourite bits without having to deal with those boring, time-consuming parts in between.
But that very reason, of course, is why one format can never exist without the other. We need something to put those high points into context, whether it’s a Beethoven symphony or the first day of a Test match. Those quieter moments give balance. Without them we are left with ebb without flow, yin without yang, a meaningless showreel of highlights played at volume eleven. It is why that Ben Stokes innings at Cape Town a few months back captured everyone’s imagination so spectacularly – it wasn’t just what he did, it was the context in which he did it.
Twenty20 has been blamed for a great deal but has brought many good things to cricket — new shots, new revenue and not least a new audience. Anything that gets youngsters talking about cricket has to be a terrific thing. The trick, of course, is in getting that new audience to see the bigger picture, to appreciate all forms of the game in all their glory.
But contrary to what cricket administrators would like us to believe, it is the broadcasters that wield the true power. They will always call the shots in T20 because as much as anyone else, they are the creators of this world. They have built the audiences. They generate the revenue. And whether Cricket Australia, Shane Watson or anybody else for that matter likes it or not, Player-Mics and the sort of episode we have just witnessed are undoubtedly here to stay.
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