It’s a path frequently taken. Reach the pinnacle of a sport. Conduct teary retirement press conference. Receive cushy commentary gig for life. This is how it works, and that’s fine. Inviting viewers to tap into the thoughts of the best in the business – especially those fresh out of the game – makes perfect sense.
The problem arises in simply assembling the old boys’ club without proper regard for the quality of broadcast. To rely solely on this production line of ‘talent’, at the expense of true insight, really does sport a disservice.
With the Ashes decisively relinquished, many Australians have disengaged from on-field fortunes as a means of self-preservation. So onto other matters.
By virtue of his commitment to toe-curling narcissism, the target of my ire is follicle farmer and melting wax figure of himself – the inimitable Shane Warne.
As a player, Warne was box-office. As a pundit, he’s a dunce. Yet his ego has not adjusted accordingly.
Presently, AFL punditry is being increasingly outed as the ignorant, homophobic institution that it is, while rugby league broadcasting is surely beyond repair. Rugby Union, meanwhile, is too often shackled by parochialism. But all are mercifully brief in comparison.
The nature of cricket demands more than say-what-you-see commentary and retro Batman-esque sound effects (PHWOARRR!). It needs proper analysis and filler. Lots of filler. Unfortunately, this is misread as an invitation for #banter.
Whether its Warne’s infamous thirsty post-match interviews, or culinary insights, he appears to eschew his much vaunted tactical nous at every turn. The frustrating thing is that he does show aptitude on occasion, usually when removed from the influence of the other boys in the Channel Nine classroom. He doesn’t know it, but restraint is Warne’s best friend.
Beyond the confines of the comm-box, we’re treated to the director’s cut of Warne via Twitter. If he’s not jizzing happy birthday messages to glamour models, he’s showcasing his ignorance regarding Adam Goodes or some other issue of the day. Warne has proffered more banal and downright dumb opinions than he’s had erections.
Recently, Warne rightly paid homage to the late Richie Benaud and his commentary philosophy. Yet, any similarities are imperceptible. Benaud was a beacon of broadcasting excellence, possessing insight and repose in equal measure, and so often a moral compass for the game.
“Put your brain into gear and if you can add to what’s on the screen then do it, otherwise shut up,” Benaud said on the art of commentary. It almost reads as a direct command to Warne.
Our hero would do well to learn from the more engaging minds behind the microphone. The likes of Jonathan Agnew, Jim Maxwell, Harsha Bhogle, or Michael Holding among others. Differing styles but all dripping with gravitas. Earned through years of study and respect for the game, not cheaply granted on reputation.
There’s a false assumption that viewing figures are a proportionate vote of confidence. But that doesn’t hold up. Whatever your opinion, cricket has always been watched in big numbers as Australia’s premier summer pastime. The product has always been the game itself, not the packaging. And certainly not the interminable guffawing tacked onto the packaging.
The difficulty in shifting mainstream opinion about Warne is that he still represents golden memories for so many. His character flaws are more easily glossed over because he bowled The Gatting Ball. His on-field heroics grant him lifelong amnesty. Our formative years were spent learning to worship Warnie. Rushing in from the backyard when he got the ball in hand because something special was bound to happen. Like religion, that kind of early programming can be tough to shed.
Of course, we don’t need our sporting heroes to be squeaky clean or scholarly. Such expectations are empirically foolish. But if we’re going to be regularly force-fed their opinions, surely we can hope for better. For those of us who watch a lot of sport, there’s a real danger our brains will become larrikin-laced foie gras.
Cricket is trumpeted as a gentleman’s game. Among all the moving parts – both the numbers and the poetry – there lies the opportunity to profoundly articulate and enlighten. The prose of Greg Baum, among others, is a shining example. But, in truth, it’s a realm dominated by bogans, for whom diamond earrings and shoddy peroxide jobs are status symbols. Warne is like a character from The Castle who won the lottery and became a whole lot less sympathetic.
If any clearer demonstration were needed of Warne’s delusions of grandeur, this is surely it. Watch in horror and/or bewilderment as Warne guides us through the bizarro painting in his study. It starts with Warne himself and Bruce Springsteen “just chilling”. Then Frank Sinatra and Muhammad Ali “having a bit of a tune”. There’s also “two of my closest friends, Chris Martin and Michael Clarke just having a bit of a chat.” Oh, and Angelina Jolie is lounging around topless.
One suspects a 14 year-old boy slurping a can of Mother while flicking through FHM (do they even still publish that?) would baulk at the tackiness.
His whole existence smacks of the insecure kid desperate to be accepted by the in-crowd. In this case, any semblance of celebrity. Every flirtation, an irresistible self-esteem boost. Every big name, a new best mate. An inner circle that includes Piers Morgan doesn’t generally scream ‘good egg’.
He’s a clown. But clowns, at their core, are figures of tragedy, not comedy. And herein lies Warne’s blind spot. He thinks we’re laughing with him. Or fawning over him. In fact, many of us are just groaning near him. Perhaps this intrepid YouTuber was onto something.
Warne’s immunity to criticism is clearly a great weapon in blocking out the hate. But a man without shame is a tough beast to grapple with. It largely robs him of the ability to change. Thus, there is little hope for growth or improvement.
He’s like a donut-garnished milkshake (*topical*). A novelty for the uninitiated masses. But hopefully seen through as a cheap gimmick by purists. Commercial television will always be a slave to popular tastes. But there’s something to be said for integrity. People don’t watch the cricket for zany pundit antics. There are smarter people around, with more interesting things to say.
The commentary box is not just an extension of the changerooms where blokes can be (to the detriment of wit and common decency) blokes. It’s the audience’s entry point to the elite level. It’s where we look to enhance our understanding of the game. And yes, it’s a place for entertainment. But that is far too commonly confused with the lowest common denominator.
Warne is not the first to think his opinion is sought after simply because he has a platform. And it’s true there are far more malevolent forces in the world. But there few more incessantly irksome for fans of cricket and good taste. Cricket deserves better. Everyone deserves better. Trolling, Shane.