27 Nov 2020

Radio silence for the 'Voice of Cricket'

3:47 pm on 27 November 2020

Lawnmowers, cicadas and Bryan Waddle's cricket commentary are sounds synonymous with summer in New Zealand.

But there will be radio silence from Waddle this summer as for the first time in almost 40 years he won't be calling the Black Caps games.

Felicity Reid caught up with the 'Voice of Cricket' ahead of the Black Caps first international match of summer against the West Indies.

One of New Zealand cricket's significant moments very nearly didn't make to air in 1988 as radio commentator Bryan Waddle battled to see the pitch to call the action for the fans waiting for news back in New Zealand.

Bryan Waddle interviews Black Caps captain Kane Williamson.

Commentator Bryan Waddle interviews Black Caps captain Kane Williamson. Photo: Photosport

The near-miss was New Zealand fast bowler Sir Richard Hadlee's 374th Test wicket in Bangalore - the moment he claimed the world record.

The incident came nearly a decade into Waddle's commentary career and is an example of the hidden challenges of being 'the voice of New Zealand cricket'.

"We didn't have a commentary going, what was happening was I was sitting there with Jeremy Coney commentating into a recorder because it wasn't going back to New Zealand," Waddle said.

"There were a couple of Indian technicians standing up on the table trying to get the wires working so that I could get the commentary going and I was looking between their legs and standing up and sitting down and moving round them and nothing was happening and of course just as the commentary was scheduled to join in New Zealand, Richard Hadlee took the wicket and I commentated that as best I could."

Waddle played cricket to a senior club level in Wellington before taking an opportunity to get behind the microphone in 1975 first covering domestic cricket and moving on to his first international in 1981 between New Zealand and India at his hometown's Basin Reserve.

New Zealand has played 296 Test matches since Waddle first entered the commentary box of which he called 271.

He has also described the action in more than 400 New Zealand ODI games and he estimates 50 or 60 T20 internationals.

But when the New Zealand summer of cricket starts against the West Indies on Friday in Auckland, Waddle will not be on the New Zealand airwaves after a change in cricket broadcasting rights.

"It's pretty hard when you look back and think I've done 39 years of the same thing and enjoyed it and to not be able to do that is disappointing but you make of it what you can," Waddle said.

"I won't let those little disappointments get in the way of the overall enjoyment I've had in a lifetime involved with cricket."

He will still do radio reports for the BBC and the ABC in Australia.

Calling the game differently

Waddle recognises the style of cricket broadcasting is evolving.

"The way we used to call cricket matches, how it was broadcast ball-by-ball has changed quite dramatically from being a situation where you would commentate the deliveries as they came and then someone else would provide a comment, it's now become more conversational, it's a lot more entertaining I think than what is was in those days.

"I like to think I've been able to adapt to the many changes and I suppose having lasted as long as I have I've been able to do that."

Waddle has brought the game to New Zealand fans from all parts of the world - among his favourite places has been Lords, the Melbourne Cricket Ground and Sydney Cricket Ground.

MCG Boxing Day Test Australia vs New Zealand 2019.

Melbourne Cricket Ground. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

"Sometimes I've had to work on my own in countries like India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka because they do a commentary in their own language and they don't have an English commentary as such now and I've had to call on people who speak English to help me out but it's all fun.

"It's a way of meeting people of communicating with people and getting the message through to people in New Zealand."

Waddle's way with words has also been known to send some people to sleep.

"A fella told me once his wife thought I was a good commentator because I put her to sleep while he was listening to the cricket in bed, so I took that as a compliment."

Commentary is not an easy gig but Waddle is pleased with his overall performance.

"I have made a lot of mistakes along the way but you can cover those, I don't think I have made too many mistakes in the important moments, people can argue that I suppose to a certain extent.

"I think you capture the moment as best you can and that lives forever, however you were able to achieve it."

Memories across the ages

Grant Elliott after hitting the winning six.

Grant Elliott hits the Black Caps into the World Cup final. Photo: AFP

Waddle says the match he recalls most fondly is the Black Caps Test win over Australia in Hobart in 2011.

"I could go through hundreds of moments, the World Cup in England last year where New Zealand were beaten, apparently, because of an anomaly in the rules, the World Cup in Auckland where New Zealand beat South Africa and Grant Elliott hit the six in the stands to get them into the final and there are just so many moments."

But he counts himself lucky to have been close to the action when some legendary players from around the cricketing world have entered the record books.

"From New Zealand's point of view to commentate Richard Hadlee our greatest fast bowler and one of the world's greatest fast bowlers, our best batsman Martin Crowe a great player in his own right, to be commentating when Brendan McCullum became the first New Zealander to score a triple century in a Test match and to see the performances of not only the team of the 80s but also the current players delivering for New Zealand."

Sir Richard Hadlee was integral to New Zealand's victory against Australia in 1985 at the Gabba, taking 15 wickets in the match.

Sir Richard Hadlee was integral to New Zealand's victory against Australia in 1985 at the Gabba, taking 15 wickets in the match. Photo: Photosport

Some other unforgettable moments have also happened off the park - including bomb blasts.

"It happened three times to me, twice in Sri Lanka (1987,1992) and once in Karachi (2002) and the one that had the most impact was the one in Karachi because my hotel room was destroyed by flying glass and that was on the fifth floor, that was how loud the explosion was.

"It came as a fright because one of the things I used to do when I was away on tours was go for a morning walk before breakfast and this was about 8 o'clock in the morning and the explosion was at a place that we would have been walking past at that time.

"I became a television reporter and a radio reporter and a newspaper reporter because everyone found my telephone number and I was involved in the constant flow of telephone calls and people coming into my room with all the glass lying around, television cameras were being put in front of me without even asking if they could come in.

"You still remember those moments every time you see a terrorist attack somewhere or other you think how lucky you can be and I think to myself, three times - I wonder if they were trying to get me, because I was the only one that they had a crack at three times."

Waddle has not missed many New Zealand games but a tour that he was unable to attend was the infamous 1994 trip to South Africa in which some New Zealand players were involved in drug taking off the field and a failure to get an elusive overseas Test series win after winning the first Test at the Wanderers and losing the next two.

However, with a busy summer of cricket ahead Waddle will not spend much time looking back.

"Hopefully I will have very little free time because that'll get me away from painting fences, painting houses and cutting lawns, but I'll be watching and keeping up to date with what's going on with the New Zealand team and their tours, you can't switch yourself off from what you spend a lifetime doing."