Integrity vs Entertainment

BY BOZZA

‘He (Brendan McCullum) might be trying to shape a sweep after the first one, or maybe go inside out even harder. So, I might try and slide one in there. Fast.’ – Shane Warne BBL01

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Keen to exploit the fledgling Big Bash League’s biggest drawcard, Fox Sports had miked up the champion leg-spinner during the clash between his Melbourne Stars and the Brisbane Heat at the Gabba. With Christmas fast approaching, Warne delivered Fox Sports and the BBL a gift beyond its wildest expectations, when, after explaining his plan to Brendan Julian, he preceded to bowl the New Zealand captain around his legs. The T20 revolution had begun.

Originally seen as a gimmick format of the game, the telecast partners have been able to implement many novelties the longer formats would never have countenanced. In six seasons, the Big Bash has become a staple of the Australian summer, feeding an ever-expanding fan base in bite-sized portions each night of the summer holiday period. Part of the competitions charms being the unparalleled access to the on-field combatants through miked up players and cameras on umpires and batsman.

What may have been contrivances originally have instead provided incredible insights into the strategy and machinations of T20 Cricket. Whether it is a captain’s explaining their fielding and bowling plans, a batsman detailing their approach to building an innings or chasing a total, or Freddie Flintoff singing ‘In the Ghetto’ while fielding on the boundary, the viewer at home has been spoilt with coverage of the game from the inside and out. Rather than serving as further giggle to a hit and giggle format, the innovations in the most part have helped legitimise it by exposing many of the intricacies of the contest not necessarily apparent to many.

Importantly, these exchanges have been exploratory and one-sided. Commentators have merely sought information from the players without being an active participant in the contest. This changed when Mark Howard and Adelaide Strikers Captain Brad Hodge conversed during the clash between the Strikers and Sydney Thunder last week. In explaining to Hodge that his team-mate Ben Laughlin had dismissed opponent Shane Watson twice in the last eight bowls he’d delivered to him, Howard introduced himself and his thoughts into the planning of the match.

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I’m not for a minute suggesting that Howard was deliberately attempting to influence the match, but for an experienced broadcaster, it was a major blunder. Quite rightly Cricket Australia’s integrity unit has been called in to investigate the matter. Whatever Howard’s intent or whether his actions actually had any influence, it is a terrible look for a game with a history of nefarious intrusions.

It presents an interesting conundrum for a television broadcaster. For them, the BBL is an entertainment product like any other TV show. Moments like these make for great TV and produce a level of controversy that then acts as free advertising.

On the other hand, the true value of sport as a television product is the public’s faith in the sanctity of the contest. The ultimate reality TV show, people watch because the outcome is unknown and uncontrived. When a commentator imposes themselves on the contest this belief begins to erode.

The BBL presents Cricket Australia with a potential golden egg, its success to date far exceeds the wildest expectations for the competition. For it to continue surviving and thriving, it is important that the concessions made in the name of entertainment don’t actually impact on the contest. The purpose of the television coverage is to present the match to as many people as possible –  not to influence it. During the Strikers and Thunder game this was forgotten and it simply cannot happen again. It’s in these moments that the descent on the slippery slope to WWE contrivance is begun.

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