Summer’s not the same without Bill Lawry
Richie’s the greatest. Let’s get that out of the way from the top.
But while Benaud’s velvety tones are still gracing the Nine commentary box during the one-dayers, his opposite, the mildly maniacal Bill Lawry has been resting since the Tests. And I miss him.
Bill is the yin to Richie’s yang. He is the Bruce Willis action flick to Richie’s SBS French drama. If Richie is Eine kleine Nachtmusik, Bill is The 1812 Overture, or maybe even Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries.
But the point of this piece is not to list possibly the only three pieces of classical music with which I am passingly familiar. The point is to say that for all of Richie’s unofficial national treasure status, Bill deserves no less love.
Quite rightly, Richie is revered for his freakish, almost un-Australian tendency for understatement. Bill, by contrast, is the master of hype and bluster. Well, call me unevolved and dopey but I like hype. Got a soft spot for bluster too, especially in this, the pyjama end of the cricket season.
Fact is, a summer of limited overs cricket without the 73 year old Lawry is like a crowd with cheering.
The Punch contacted a Nine spokesperson this weekend, who told us that Bill’s absence is due to his decision to slow down a little these days. If he’s cooling his heels somewhere out the back with the pigeons, good luck to him. In fact, good luck to him whatever he’s doing.
Not to bag the other commentators too much, but without Bill, and when Richie is off air, the Nine commentary box is like Saos wrestling with Milk Arrowroots for the title of tastiest biscuit. It’s bland vs blander.
Last week on The Punch, David Penberthy wrote that Bruce McAvaney has become a caricature of himself with his oft giddy commentary.
The same could be said of Lawry, but with one big important difference. With Bruce, it’s an unflattering comment. With Bill, it’s the highest praise. Because the more Bill Lawry sounds like a parody of himself, the more entertaining he becomes.
When the first Twelfth Man soundtrack came out some 27 summers ago, Billy Birmingham’s brilliant impersonations captured everyone in the Nine box perfectly. But while most of Birmingham’s impersonations have always had an air of exaggerated pisstake, his Bill Lawry always sounded exactly like… well, exactly like the real Bill Lawry.
No one, not even the master mimic, can pull of an exaggerated Bill Lawry impersonation, and that’s because Bill leaves them no room to work with. Instead of curbing his own excitement, Bill works with it. He takes his emotions and rides them.
Bill doesn’t do fake. By contrast, the new breed of commentators curb their emotions, lest anyone suspect they actually have a personality.
They also avoid criticising players, protecting both their former dressing room mates and their carefully-polished veneer of niceness, which has been honed by months of intensive media training from people called “Chantal” who look like they’re on day leave from the Ponds Institute.
OK, so Bill isn’t always accurate. And occasionally, you might call him biased, especially on matters pertaining to persons hailing from south of the Murray River and north of Bass Strait.
But by god, he’s fun to listen to. Somewhere along the way, plenty of people in the sports media (and that goes for us print media guys too) forget that sport is supposed to be fun. You can feel Bill enjoying himself at work. And because he’s having a good time, you do too.
The first three limited overs games of the season all came down to the last over. Oh, to have had Bill blaring into our lounge rooms!
You know what he would have said, of course, He would have said “it’s all happening!” And of course, it would have been perfectly bleeding obvious that it was all happening. But you wanted to hear it all the same!
Richie Benaud once famously said something to the effect that the art of TV commentary is NOT to comment on what the viewer can see for themselves.
Wise words, but they don’t hold true for Bill. The art of Lawry is his ability to tell us what we can all see for ourselves, really really loudly.
Technically, it shouldn’t work. But it does. It just does. And without Bill, this summer of limited overs cricket is kind of just not happening at all.
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