“Only, fond memories will remain … of those glorious images of yesteryears, mixed with those legendary voices”.
It was four decades ago that Kerry Packer and his ‘circus’ redefined the landscape of cricket, altering it to unrecognisable proportions.
A sport that for decades had hobbled unhappily on the uncomfortable fence between semi-professionalism and time snatched from day jobs, suddenly became one of the most professionally run circuits in the world. Management and coaching caught up with times and became world class. And the pay of the cricketers, at last, became suited to the talent on display and the entertainment on offer.
Of equally important was the change in another pivotal direction … the telecast was revolutionised. Camerawork reached stratospheric levels of sophistication. Commentary became better than ever before.
All that came with Packer’s famous words to the obstinate members of the Australian Cricket Board: “Gentlemen, there’s a whore in each one of us. Name your price.”
The Board had restrained themselves, refusing to release the alluded to harlot within them. But, within a couple of seasons, Channel Nine had become the face of cricket from Australia.
With multiple cameras following the minutest detail of the proceedings, with voices of extreme professionalism dissecting the nuances of the game, cricket became the foremost television sport. Channel Nine was the vehicle.
The enormous potential in this department was discovered in exponential waves in the subsequent years. It was no longer something to be done on the side, with time squeezed out of gainful employment. It became the most rewarding of professions.
In these 40 years, the quality of cricket telecast and the associated rewards for the entire fraternity associated with the game have become steeper and steeper.
Continuous fare of extraordinary camerawork garnished by the immortal voice of Richie Benaud alongside those of Tony Greig, Bill Lawry, Ian Chappell and the others. Some overseas legends like Tony Cozier and Fred Trueman.
And now, ominously on Friday the 13th, all of a sudden, this feature of the Australian home season became passé.
The same Channel Nine, till now teamed with Network Ten for the Big Bash League, has been done in by a deal almost double the value of their 600 million Australian Dollars. A new deal struck between Seven Network and Fox Sports with Cricket Australia.
It was a takeover that came shortly after Nine had ousted Seven from the rights of Tennis broadcast rights. One of the rare moments when the serves and returns of the media companies matched the excitement of the sports they telecast stroke for stroke.
The tale of Nine has now come a full circle. The very Channel Nine which had cut new furrows into the cricket field with its financial machinery have been upstaged by mightier money-muscle.
For much of the past forty years, Australia has dominated the world of cricket in terms of sporting excellence. And through all these years, they have strode head and shoulders above the rest of the world in terms of cricket telecast.
No cricket addict of the past four decades could have stayed immune to the sights and sounds brought to his living room by Channel Nine’s incredible production packages.
Yes, many of us have strived to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to tune in to the spectacular pictures from Down Under, laced with the Wide World of Sports Logo, garnished with the quaint Aussie accent of Benaud reaching our half-awake ears that acted like addictive doses of flowing honey.
Yes, all of us will be irked by the pangs of nostalgia.
But, then, cricket is ultimately a business of bustling billions, and in this enormously profitable domain, new deals overthrowing old arrangements are very much part of the plot.
One redeeming feature of this arrangement is that it has shown that, contrary to several anxious opinions, the ball-tampering episode in South Africa has not made cricket any less popular or less lucrative. But then controversies generally serve only to whet appetites in domains of mass entertainment.
Apart from that, there is a significant amount of focus on the women’s game, which is definitely encouraging for all the wonderful ladies of the sport whose splendid deeds over the years but has been refused limelight by a rather chauvinistic following of the game. Nine had been a culprit in this respect, their choice of sports and preference of events following a rather ‘blokey’ image.
However, at the same time, we find the Australian Men’s home ODIs being placed behind a paywall for the first time. Given the kind of negative reaction pay channels for cricket sparked in England, this may not be in the best interests of the fans.
We need to wait and watch, deciding whether or not to shell money to do the latter, to find out how this arrangement turns out.
But as Ian Chappell paraphrased Richie Benaud in his heartfelt epilogue for Nine. “The show must go on.”
Nothing is truer than that in the sports industry. The sportsmen need to carry on their trade in the arena. And the spectacle must reach every television set around the world at more than the speed of light.
That is what the show is all about.
And it will go on. Nine and Ten may give way to Seven and Fox. There may be effects good and bad, some old habits need to get readjusted, recalibrated, redefined.
But the show will go on. And the pictures will reach the fans live in their new avatar, hot from the field of action.
Only, fond memories will remain … of those glorious images of yesteryears, mixed with those legendary voices.