Sun setting on summer icons

Richard Hinds laments the departure of some doyens of the commentary box.

Richard Hinds laments the departure of some doyens of the commentary box.

PARTLY because of their omnipresence during the warm months, partly because of the celebrated impersonations of the 12th Man, Channel Nine's cricket team has become the sports commentary Beatles. Now, as the familiar voices fade away, it has been a summer of transition.

The contract of 82-year-old Richie Benaud expires in April, when he will be given the option of continuing in his part-time role. Bill Lawry, 75, has not retired, as some reported, but might only call matches in Melbourne next season. Tony Greig, 66, is convalescing after treatment for lung cancer.

That means Ian Chappell is the only long-standing team member in full harness, and he is expected to wind up his commitments when he has finished an anecdote about what Gary Gilmour said to a groundsman during a tour match in Yorkshire. So in about 12 years.

These are the survivors of Nine's cricketing glory days. Those who, with Max Walker, Keith Stackpole, Frank ''Typhoon'' Tyson and visitors such as Tony Cosier and Geoff Boycott, provided the soundtrack of summer. The more energetic, more engaging successors of the old ABC television coverage's earnest, but often soporific, callers.

Now those of us who have mimicked them, cursed them, second-guessed them and, quite often, ridiculed them, are finding out if we should have been careful what we wished for. Whether, as when you urge the retirement of an ageing great only to find the young replacement is not fit to carry his bat, the younger generation of commentators are as informative as the old lot.

No one has quite galvanised the opinion of viewers like Greig. I am among those who have, for a couple of decades, bemoaned Greig's deliberately inflammatory opinions, ridiculously early calls - ''Out, yes, gone, that has to be out ? ummm, no, just short of the fieldsman'', and, worst of all, his hucksterish sale of hastily contrived ''memorabilia''. So it would be disingenuous to revise this opinion because of his illness.

However, Greig's unfortunate absence has thrown into relief the place of light and shade in a commentary team.

It is more often a matter of how much the callers can agree with each other - ''Great point, Tubby!'' - than the (sometimes) amusing friction Greig's partnership with Lawry created.

Lawry is another you love or hate. Dour, sometimes anachronistic opinions and terse defence of his ideas interspersed with trademark eruptions.

Benaud's decision to call on is justified, much like Ricky Ponting's final three Tests, by his seniority and his vast contribution. But you wonder if the only consequence of re-signing the acknowledged doyen of television commentary would be to highlight the vacuum his absence would create.

Englishman Mark Nicholas seemed, for a time, to have won the 12th Man's famed competition to seize the cream/beige/bone blazer. Urbane, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, Nicholas was an interesting counterpoint to both the old and new voices behind the Nine microphones. A man who, unlike some of the former players, straddled the world of the participants and fans.

Then, inexplicably, Nicholas suffered what seems to be a crisis of overconfidence. Whether ill-advised by producers, or simply carried away by his new-found success, the former county batsman's astute observations became buried beneath an avalanche of steaming hyperbole. ''Wow!'', ''maximum'', ''extraordinary'' now pollute sentences the real Richie would not even bother to utter.

Simon O'Donnell was another briefly groomed for the famous jacket. A sort of anti-Nicholas, the Victorian's gruff and oddly unengaging style saw him leave the network this summer.

Which leaves the current crew without a chief, but not without appeal. Glenn McGrath has been a surprisingly bright addition this summer - Pigeon replacing the pigeon fancier, Lawry. As economical with his words as his deliveries, McGrath does not suffer the verbal diarrhoea of some.

Michael Slater, Mark Taylor, even - as the poor man's Bill Lawry - Ian Healy can be engaging and, lest we romanticise their predecessors, often more informative than the old cast. But, as they leave the microphone, you can't help miss the quirky characteristics and familiar voice of Richie, Bill and Greigy. A sign they have not been adequately replaced? Or that we, too, have got old?

Follow Richard Hinds on Twitter @rdhinds

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