Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Commentary commentary

And that's kick-off!

If you've joined us late, welcome to the exciting commentary between David Basheer and Craig Foster, who are commentating the World Cup match between Australia and Spain. This is expected to be challenging for both commentators, but possibly more so for "Foz", who, despite his big-match experience has been known to lose his composure and forget the big-match plan.  The challenge for Basheer, of course, will be to rein in his co-commentator and exert some control over the pacing of the commentary itself.

And yes, Fozzie is already starting to let his emotions get the better of him.  It's an exciting match, to be sure, but he needs to remember what his producers told him before the match: he's not part of the crowd now, he's part of a professional team delivering commentary to an Australia-wide audience, and to do that he just needs to relax a little and sit back - talk us through the action, try to provide some inside knowledge and perspective rather than simply rushing headlong into the play.

Basheer is having a good match though.  Each time there's a turnover from Fozzie, Basheer slows it down, uses his brain, constructs some good sentences by linking up words together to form coherent concepts.  It's a pleasure to watch him commentate, regardless of the result.  Oh! And that's an aggressive challenge from Fozzie during a key play, and Basheer is down! No, he's okay, back up again quickly and trying to get back into the action.  Fozzie needs to watch himself, if he gets too excited he could find himself on the bench for the second half.  The last thing the commentating team needs is to be down a man.

And that was a key moment, almost a blunder - Fozzie briefly referred to a player as Xavi when he was in fact Xavi Alonso, but immediately recovered and continued play.  An easy enough mistake to make, but it will get pounced on at this level and exploited.  I must say, the improvement in the Australian commentary team in the technical skills of name identification and pronunciation is remarkable.  We're simply commentating so much more fluently than even four years ago.  Some of the really tricky foreign phonemes have been rolling off the tongues of the team all tournament long.  Xavi is a case in point - that X, that V, neither of which are handled in the same way as they would be in Australia.  It's clear that both commentators have really done their research.

Oh dear, that's a let down - both commentators momentarily lost control of the situation when Australia conceded a sloppy goal.  Fozzie simply lying groaning on the floor, and Basheer sitting mute at the microphone.  This will be added to stoppage time at the end of the match.  The crowd back home will be disappointed in that - nothing but dead air coming over the audio.  They'll have to lift their game for the second half.

How interesting it is to reflect on the difference between the Australian style of commentating and the English.  Martin Tyler, the English great, seemingly ageless, able to stay calm and offer clear, dry, abstract commentary at all times.  Perhaps too calm for some, especially in the Australian leagues where the audience seems to require more overt barracking from their commentators, perhaps reflecting an underlying lack of faith in the team or lack of enthusiasm for the game.

But the team, Fozzie in particular, seems to have steadied their nerves now. Listen as he describes a poor sequence of Spanish play in objective teams, and then adds that it's disappointing to see that, whereas in the first half it would have been framed as an Australian triumph. He's acting much more in concert now with Basheer and it's clear from the way they hand the commentary back and forth, smoothly switching directions, effortlessly weaving anecdotes and analysis in between play-by-play descriptions  Surely if they keep up this level of performance they'll break through soon!

And here, Australia on the attack again, listen to Foz, he's really flying now. Back to Basheer, who rapidly disposes back to Foz - Foz to Basheer again, watch them go.  Basheer with a little metaphor there, very tricky, no, he's mixed his metaphors, but Foz has scooped it up and recovers well with some alliteration, but that's an opportunity lost.

The underlying structure and organisation of the team is emerging now as the game develops late in the second half.  Foz is taking over more when the ball is in Australia's half, with Basheer doing duty in Spain's half.  It's a good system which give some balance to the listener, and I think the producer has allocated their roles well.  When the ball is near the Spanish goal, Foz does become hysterical and incoherent, so Basheer is better placed to take over here, notwithstanding the screams and grunts that can be heard over the top of him.  And when Spain gets a good attack rolling you can hear the strain and desperation in Foz's voice but he retains control with occasional backup from Basheer.  How much influence, I wonder, has Les Murray had on this system, with his vast experience of managing Foz's enthusiastic ramblings on television?

And here we are, only two minutes of stoppage time added.  Both commentators, I'm sure, will be relieved to reach the end of this game.  You can hear them tiring, the energy is simply not there.  I can't help wondering if perhaps they didn't push just too hard in that first half when they were so hopeful.  I think it left them lacking legs in the second half when they really needed to keep the listeners involved after Spain's second goal.  Their talk became just a little lacklustre, lacking imagination and not as crisp as it really had to be to perform for a full 90 minutes at this level.  Nevertheless they put in a spirited performance which is so much a part of the Australian way of commentating.  I do wonder, though, if this might be the last time we see them commentate at a World Cup.  Sad to think that this could be the end of an era.

There's the whistle!  That's full time!  They push back their chairs, turn off the microphone, and take a deep breath. Another splendid performance from SBS's commentating team.  They're swapping shirts now, another one for the pool room.  Thanks for joining me, I'll see you next time with more commentary commentary.  If you have any commentary commentary commentary, leave a comment below.

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