Television: Time for new blood

LONG IN THE TOOTH: Channel Nine's commentary team.
LONG IN THE TOOTH: Channel Nine's commentary team.

Cricket is a game that goes all day, for several days of summer.

Whether by choice, or in the doctor's waiting room, you will probably spend time listening to Nine's cricket commentary team.

So let's take a snapshot. What state is it in? The gang are getting long in the tooth and aren't as sharp as five years ago, but it's not all bad.

Ian Chappell, 69, middle aged by Nine comm box standards, is slipping into his anecdotage.

He's an encyclopaedia of what Clive Lloyd said in the '70s and what Dennis Lillee said last night at the bar, and must have producers squirming to cut to an ad.

But give us a Chappelli rebuff any day, that way of contradicting a colleague that's at once confrontational and waspishly accurate.

At the other end of the straight talk spectrum are Ian Healy and Michael Slater.

Both are in their 40s and played for Australia recently enough to give weight to their analysis. If only it came without the hokeyness, the backslapping style of dads at a barbecue.

Healy is so keen to name-drop sports medical jargon that he risks an atelectasised lung.

As for Slats: on the field he was mercurial, unpredictable, unmissable. In the box, he's none of the above. There's a blokey seen-it-allness to Heals and Slats, made worse when James Brayshaw joins them, that makes a day of cricket less filled with wonder than it should be.

Their contemporary, Mark Taylor, is a cut above. He began as a cautious broadcaster, reaching for the comfort of the cliche and seemingly afraid to offend.

No more. It's like his insights have sharpened with practice, the way he honed his catching reflexes.

Bill Lawry, at 75, is the easiest to look down your nose at. Gone! No, didn't carry. Gone! If he hits. Didn't hit.

He's cawed the same things for 40 years, from "It's All Happening" down. Some, when you think about them, are quite poetic. "He caught it as clean as a whistle." "He's having a golden summer, Michael Clarke." "Catch was the cry."

Even if you can't stand him, Bill is the one who'll make you rush in from the kitchen to see what's happened.

Tony Greig was undergoing treatment for lung cancer, and died only last week. His barbs were strangely hard to go without this summer.

Mark Nicholas is an eloquent anchor and a conversational bridge for the team's rougher elements, though he's not for everyone. Giles Smith once wrote for The Times of London that he was "laminated in his own self-regard".

Finally, we're another season closer to our last broadcast with an elderly gentleman in a beige coat who is a master of silence.

Richie Benaud has been to more cricket, and been more to cricket, than anyone, ever. It might seem these days like he can't get a word in, but that's his craft. He knows the pictures are the point, and words should only add to them.

"Bear in mind that two of the most annoying phrases a viewer hears are, 'as you can see on your screen . . .' and 'of course'," he told the Sydney Morning Herald this summer.

His contract ends in April, when he will decide whether to retire. If he does, our summer will lose some of its light and shade.