Around The Grounds

The art of sports commentating – making memorable moments

Over the course of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games held recently in Brisbane, there was ample time to enjoy the glory of the competition. For someone with my own background it was also an opportunity to study the very best sports commentators.

The ABC created a template for most of the finest sports broadcasting seen and heard in this country and I’m very pleased that ex ABC renowned sports commentator, Tim Lane, has agreed to write the forward to my upcoming book Around the Grounds.

In my days as an aspiring, unpaid commentator it was people like Tim who sparked my interest in sports commentary, a spark that turned into a flame of determination. Tim Lane was part of a golden age of ABC commentators and I think the best all-rounder the department has ever seen. High praise when you think of some of the outstanding names that the ABC produced, such as Norman May, who was unerringly accurate and exuded the very essence of enthusiasm and authenticity. He could make the finish of a schoolboy rowing race sound like an Olympic final.

Then of course there was Alan MacGilvray. With a voice mellowed by nicotine and scotch whiskey, he became as synonymous with the Australian summer as the constant noise of cicadas in the eucalypts and wraparound verandas. An essential part of cricket commentary is anticipation. The MacGilvray technique was essentially to stay ahead of the play, even by half a second. When a ball hits the fieldsman’s hands and the commentator cries ‘caught’ a split second before the crowd, you create the impression that you are actually ahead of the game.


Some of the great sporting commentators

Tim Lane, George Grljushic, Darrell Eastlake, Alan McGilvray

Around The Grounds - Darrell Eastlake
Around the Grounds Alan McGilvray

In more recent times, Jim Maxwell with his rich baritone and exemplary grasp of cricket commentary technique, has carried on the MacGilvray tradition.

Tim Lane was not only a master of the MacGilvray technique but developed a full range of broadcasting skills to complement that. Tim can find the humanity in a sporting moment and is particularly adept at drawing the best out of his expert or co commentators, most notably the brilliant and now sadly departed Peter Roebuck. Tim’s voice is that of the everyman, perfectly placed for the Australian market, well refined and without a trace of region or class.

In the ABC Sports department there were purist commentators like Jim Maxwell, but also mavericks like George Grljushic from Western Australia. Colourful and temperamental, George’s improvised call of Matthew Ryan on Kibah Tic Toc clearing the fences in the Barcelona equestrian ring at the 1992 Olympics is still held up in the department as a gold standard of broadcasting.

There’s no precise definition of what makes a good commentator, although there are techniques you can follow and study closely. Style and technique is something only the individual and the individual alone can develop.

The art of sports commentary can appear simple to the listener or the observer but is far from it. The very best practitioners have a grasp of the essentials of the craft, then layer onto that their own distinctive style. The ABC sports department of which I was a part for 18 years was the perfect place for talented, passionate people interested in expressing themselves in this form to hone their craft and to make their mark.

On a sad note this week the country noted and mourned one of the biggest and loudest sports commentators of them all. Darrell Eastlake had no truck with measuring his words and waiting for his moments; he just went full bore the whole way. In my very clear memory he made the weightlifting at the Melbourne commonwealth games in 2006 one of the closest things I’ve seen to a cross between sport and vaudeville.

Sports commentating was a tough school but an exhilarating one to be a part of, and to see Tim Lane’s name on the cover of Around The Grounds will make me a very proud indeed.


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