Being a sports commentator is a hallowed and sacred position in the Australian sporting landscape.
We have our preferred commentators, we have those we can’t stand, and we have commentary that becomes synonymous with moments in time.
But I have a problem with Australian sport commentary. And it struck me during Australia’s recent World Cup matches, which I watched at 2am while involved in numerous simultaneous SMS conversations with friends also watching the matches.
You see, our text-banter-analysis was more insightful than any analysis coming from the TV commentary team, who were essentially busy telling us what we could see with our own two eyes.
A failed run down the left from Tommy Oar? How about a little insight from the commentary team about how Australia seemed determined to use the left flank in defence and switching to Leckie on the right in attack? How about how that worked well against the Dutch but fell flat against Spain? Perhaps a discussion about how the Spanish closing down on the impressive Jason Davidson had exposed a weakness, or some ideas about using McGowan or Bozanic more effectively?
No? You’re just going to rattle off the surname of the bloke with the ball until he passes to another bloke and then you’re going to say his surname? Oh. OK
Now don’t get me wrong, I still think SBS did a really good job covering the World Cup. But would it be the end of the world if Mark Bosnich spoke about strategy over the top of someone telling me the glaringly obvious fact that Mile Jedinak has the ball at this exact moment?
As such, today I’m going to argue that Garry Lyon is one of the best commentators we have in this country.
This is not a commonly-held opinion.
He’s considered a decent commentator, but he’s not really held in the same esteem as Dennis Commeti or Simon Hill or Gerard Whateley. But the reason I consider him to be in the top handful of commentators is this fact: He is more than a commentator. He’s an analyst.
Average commentators rely heavily on clichés, statistics and safe, inoffensive analysis. They tell you the ‘What’ but rarely the ‘How’ or ‘Why.’
Eg “Hawthorn are smashing GWS at the stoppages, 18 clearances to 4 so far. They just want the ball more, and they’re putting their heads over the ball to go and get it. Now since we’ve noticed this statistical disparity, prepare for us to mention it every 3 minutes for the rest of the match.”
Excuse me while I theatrically look at my watch and let out an exaggerated yawn while wearing my Captain Obvious T-Shirt.
Good commentators analyse the play and can tell you WHY and HOW Hawthorn are winning at the stoppages.
“Watch Lewis at the ballup here. He knows Mumford is tapping away from Sam Mitchell who is prowling in the centre corridor, so Lewis is timing his run to the drop of the ball accordingly to intercept. Oh, and Hawthorn are making space to allow this to happen. Great coaching.”
That, my friends, is the difference between commentary and analysis. It’s what Garry Lyon does better than most, and even though he hasn’t played in years he has clearly stayed in tune with modern strategies. He rarely relies on the same vanilla clichés or truisms.
Now to be fair, US sports commentators are arguably worse than Australian ones.
Watching a baseball game on TV is basically 8 hours of listening to two grown men dissecting statistics like they’re studying advanced calculus.
The NFL is obsessed with ‘execution’ and analysing replays seventeen times using rotating 3D, frame-by-frame, zoomed-in, thermal imaging technology.
And although I love the game dearly, all too often NBA commentary gets sidelined by useless anecdotes and trivia.
All of this comes at the expense of genuine analysis.
A glaring example of this is shown in the clip below. For context, Skip Bayless is an insufferable NBA “analyst” who contributes precisely NOTHING to a telecast other than clichés and sweeping statements based on opinion. Mark Cuban is the owner of the team who had recently won an NBA title despite being considered underdogs.
Watch Mark Cuban take Skip Bayless apart and serve him a lesson in how sports analysis should be done.
Now I realise that this is all horses-for-courses. If I’m relaxing at home with some friends watching a Premier League match, perhaps I want the light banter from the commentary team to mirror the light banter that’s taking place in my lounge room. There is nothing wrong with that!
But that shouldn’t come at the expense of analysis! Even an NBA game of 48 minutes takes 2 hours to broadcast! There’s time for banter AND analysis!
My current commentary ManCrush is Zach Lowe, a contributing writer for ESPN’s Grantland website. Check him out and see what the local landscape is missing.
So step up Aussie commentators. The next time you’re tempted to rattle off an inane and ultimately useless “insight”… think to yourself… what would Garry Lyon do?