Richie Benaud and Ian Chappell at the Gabba. Picture: Annette Dew
Richie Benaud and Ian Chappell at the Gabba. Picture: Annette Dew

Chappell: Farewell to Channel 9’s golden era

AMERICAN baseballer Yogi Berra famously said: "It ain't over till it's over."

Well it's over. Four decades of Channel 9's extensive coverage of cricket in Australia - long established as essential viewing - have come to an abrupt end.

On Friday the thirteenth - my wife's birthday and a lucky day according to her - I was happy for Barbara-Ann but it was also a time tinged with sadness and reflection.

Memories carved out of the wit and wisdom of Richie Benaud; the sound of Bill Lawry and Tony Greig disagreeing on air and then going out to dinner that night.

The genius of executive producer David Hill and director Brian Morelli conjuring up magical television on the one hand and then on the other, delivering occasional verbal diarrhoea that either made you laugh or sit up and take notice.

Then in more recent times it was the smoothness and thought that went into Mark Nicholas' presentation; the sound of Mark Taylor and Michael Slater pondering the greatness of Wagga and surrounds; or Ian Healy impersonating a sports medicine expert one moment and then jumping in the Gabba pool with his trousers rolled to the knees.

Then there was the ascension of the ladies; female cricket commentary pioneered by actress Kate Fitzpatrick and then a long gap to the thoughts and charms of ex-international players Mel Jones and Lisa Sthalekar.

David Hill and Ian Chappell in 1981.
David Hill and Ian Chappell in 1981.

Then there are the people I feel most sad for - executive producer Tom Malone, producer Brent Williams and the talkative and talented director Bryan Newton.

All three starting to carve out their own legacy in cricket telecasting when it was suddenly over.

My thoughts then turned to those who also served - or in cricket parlance the also-bowled category. The booming voice of Frank "Typhoon" Tyson and the many hilarious sayings of fellow English fast bowler Freddie "Effin" Trueman. And my one-time teammates turned commentators; the always aggressive Keith Stackpole; the mischievous Rodney Marsh and my brother Greg.

Tony Grieg in the Channel 9 commentary box with Chappell and Benaud.
Tony Grieg in the Channel 9 commentary box with Chappell and Benaud.

 

And one can't forget the contribution made by the regular overseas visitors, headed by Tony Cozier - with the lilting Bajan accent dispensing thoughtful and well-researched wisdom from the Caribbean. He was followed by the equally mellifluous Michael Holding with his strong-held views on fast bowling, conveyed at a more gentle pace than his playing-day deliveries.

And who could forget the eccentricities of David Gower; he of the flowing sentences mixed with Pythonesque humour. Gower musing in the back of the commentary box; "What, on all fours Bill?" when, on air, Lawry was castigating an Indian batsman for not "running like a whippet."

Former England cricketer Frank Tyson.
Former England cricketer Frank Tyson.

 

Michael Holding at Adelaide Oval.
Michael Holding at Adelaide Oval.

And thoughts turned to the backroom boys and girls, of whom there were many. The long-tenured and dedicated cameramen and those most helpful and happily serving, epitomised by the erstwhile man-of-many-parts Renato "Ron" Castorina, who kept us on time and on the ball for a couple of decades.

There were also the indispensable but essentially eccentric statisticians Irving Rosenwater from England and Max Kruger of Brisbane. Between them they efficiently covered most of those four decades with historical tidbits and statistical accuracy.

The sight of Irving being frog-marched off a domestic flight, clutching his Gladstone bag full of beloved books like they were his baby - which they were - has stayed with me all these years.

With fellow former captain and commentator Mark Taylor. Picture: Aaron Francis
With fellow former captain and commentator Mark Taylor. Picture: Aaron Francis

People often remark on how pristine the set looks on television. If they could only see the cables littering the floor like hurriedly unravelled fire hoses and the people rushing here and there making last-minute changes to the run down. Or the make-up artist applying the last dab just as the floor-manager intones "three-two-cue you're on".

This was where the calmness of Benaud transcended all.

Richie was delivering, with thought and careful diction, his predictions for the days' play at the Gabba, when the backdrop suddenly collapsed.

Without missing a beat he pushed back with his elbows to ease the Wide World of Sports logo off his head just as his watch alarm started ringing. Still without a word out of place, he calmly searched under his cuff for the culprit and duly pressed the button to stop the racket.

Benaud epitomised the entertainment motto "The show must go on".

However, April the 13th, 2018 was a show stopper. But it was also a day to reflect on what has been a thoroughly enjoyable era and a job well done.

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