22 Jan 2021

Bryan Waddle: forty years commentating cricket

From Summer Times 2021/2022, 10:05 am on 22 January 2021

It's been a big summer for international cricket, despite the restrictions of the pandemic. Just this week the Indian test side defeated Australia in a huge upset, especially after being bowled out for only 36 runs in Adelaide last December. 

But the way it's broadcast in this country and around the world is changing. When Bryan Waddle began commentating international cricket in 1981 and back then it really was ball by ball.

Following the closure of Radio Sport last year, this summer is the first in a long time Brian hasn't spent commentating knock of leather on willow.

Radio Sport commentator Bryan Waddle seen during his 70th Test match as a commentator during Day 1 of the First Test Match between Black Caps v Sri Lanka, Basin Reserve, Wellington, Saturday 15th December 2018. Copyright Photo: Raghavan Venugopal / © www.Photosport.nz 2018

Photo: Photosport Ltd 2019

He joined Summer Times to talk about how much the game and commentating it has changed, and what hasn't. 

Test Cricket remains the pinnacle of the game, he says.

“You can have a T20 result, and you can have millions on every year, and I could go back to a T20 game and try and remember something that happened but nothing different ever happens.

“But in the Test Match scenario, and I must say in the one that just happened this week (Australia vs India), my mind changed three times. I started out watching it, thinking it’s draw, there’s no way it will be anything other than a draw, and yet the game changed right throughout the day and those changes were evident and that is the ability of Test Match cricket to really grab people.”

“Give me the Test Match game any day.”

Waddle says he watched the Test Match at Mt Maunganui this year for the first time as a regular member of the crowd.

“For me it was the first time in about 40 years I was able to have a summer holiday.”

His life has been steeped in cricket with both his parents deeply involved in the game.

“We used to go regularly as kids to the Basin Reserve, that was our summer, my mother used to make the lunches for the players. That’s how things were in those early days.”

After leaving school and trying his hand unsuccessfully in banking he applied as a trainee radio commentator for Radio New Zealand.

“We had to go to the Basin and sit in the commentary box and practise commentary into a Uher microphone.”

That was then recorded on to a reel to reel and was assessed by the head of speech, Waddle says. After a few years of training, he got his first chance live on air in 1981.

He was influenced, he says, by the greats he listened to growing up.

“John Arlott, Brian Johnston, Alan McGilvray from Australia and those wonderful Test Cricket commentators, you learn a lot from how they do it.”

Radio commentary is about painting a picture, he says.

“For me radio is about painting the picture, about telling the story, about creating in the listener’s mind the picture of what is going on in the middle.

And you have free rein, sadly you get to a situation in television these days where it is all about having the presenter and the commentator on screen telling you things that you can already see. And television for me should be about the analysis of the game.”

An example of good commentating, he says, was by Shane Warne in this week’s test match at Brisbane.

“When he concentrates on analysing the game, Shane Warne is very good and he was saying that he thought when Nathan Lyon was bowling that he should have a close fieldsman on the offside and explained why.

“And I thought that to me is what I want from television. Not the fact that that’s a great shot, I can see that, I don’t want somebody to say that’s a great shot, I want somebody to say why it’s a great shot. Or the skills that it takes to do that.”

He has seen many memorable games over the last four decades.  

“I was lucky enough to be in Hobart when New Zealand beat Australia ten years ago, they’d been beaten heavily in Brisbane in the match before and yet New Zealand came out and won the game. I was fortunate enough to be calling the game at the end.”

He has clear memories of New Zealand beating India in Mumbai in 1988 when Hadlee took 6 wickets and more recently Brendon McCullum’s triple ton.

“That was a special Test Match it was the first time I recall people queuing up outside the Basin Reserve to get into the ground to see him do it because it was the last morning of the game.”