Channel Seven, you had one job.
After eight months of preparing for the first non-Nine cricket coverage in 40 years, the new rights holder nearly missed the vital moment on the first day of the First Test in Adelaide.
Host Mel McLaughlin and commentator Ricky Ponting were yacking away in the studio pre-game when it was suddenly realised the toss was happening.
Cameras cut without fanfare to Indian captain Virat Kohli calling heads and electing to bat. The anti-climax didn’t even make it to Seven’s otherwise-groaning Twitter feed.
What the network was in no danger of missing out on was hammering home the message we have a new broadcaster and new team, both with “different” standards of decorum.
And who better to deliver the public service announcement than Seven’s spiritual leader, Bruce McAvaney?
Off the bat, Seven knew it had a fine line to tread.
It needed to make a mark on the mindset of millions of Australians who know nothing but summer being heralded in with a few iconic notes – baa-buh-baaaaa, buh-buh-buh-baaaaaaa – without tinkering too much with tradition.
We who grew up with Bill Lawry’s screams, Tony Greig’s pitch reports and Richie Benaud’s sparing elegance were curious and hopeful the moribund blokeyness that defined Nine’s coverage would be replaced with something fresher.
Getting in some expert, non-token women was a good start.
Even before its public launch, the approach appealed to advertisers at a sponsor level, Seven’s chief revenue officer Kurt Burnette told The New Daily.
“The interest has been unprecedented,” Mr Burnette said, saying there “is no more powerful proposition” in the lead up to Christmas than live, free cricket.
“The brands are clearly interested, highlighted by their incredible levels of commitment and support for the broadcast.”
As to that, after its maligned ‘Hold on, I’m coming’ promo, Seven ditched a jazzy theme song a la Nine to open with McAvaney’s jingoistic video.
Think montages of sheep, Don Bradman, sheep, beaches, gum trees, more sheep – why? – and what looked to be Rundle Mall, with Bruce reassuring us, “Australians are an eclectic bunch … how good is that?”
Pretty good. Bruce was winding up: “Like every big family, there’s a time we come together. And for as long as Australia has been called Australia, it’s meant one thing: Cricket.”
Not sure it has, but it would be petty to quibble with a man on a mission, especially when McAvaney waxed lyrical about how his “heart still races” when he thinks about Dennis Lillee.
Of course, his real job was gently reverse sweeping all that has gone before in terms of Sandpaper-Gate and Nine’s legacy.
“It’s going to be fun,” Bruce told us before issuing a final sales pitch: “We’ve always needed our Test side. Now they need us.”
Hey guys, there’s no cheating villains any more! And no cross old chauvinists! You can prove you’re a true Aussie by watching Seven!
For as long as Australia has been called Australia, it's meant one thing.
— 7 Cricket (@7Cricket) December 5, 2018
So, once the Please Like Us business was out of the way, how did Seven do on debut?
Weirdly, it may not have got the memo Test audiences have the patience to watch a five-day game. The pre-match coverage catered more for those with borderline attention deficit disorder.
A walk-and-talk from McLaughlin and Ponting was followed by Michael Slater rabbiting away to Mitchell Starc about being excited. Then we had James Brayshaw, Tim Lane and Glenn McGrath on the ground behind a desk from the deck of the USS Enterprise.
Next minute, Damien Fleming and Jason Gillespie were chatting in the change rooms, which was cool. Then Alison Mitchell was talking captains with Aakash Chopra on a red curved couch in the studio.
They introduced NSW paceman Trent Copeland, placed in charge of a touchscreen with graphics of drop-in pitches and weather forecasts.
In a colour piece, rookie Marcus Harris told a lovely story about his late nanna. Australian Test captain Tim Paine was roped in for his own propaganda spiel: “Time to change the perception of this team”.
It was a lot.
— 7 Cricket (@7Cricket) December 5, 2018
In terms of on-air talent, McLaughlin was as natural as ever. The blustering Brayshaw – filling the Mark Nicholas ‘urbane’ role – sounded as usual like he has a tummy ache. Ponting, McGrath and Mitchell were polished and straightforward, while Lane played the requisite intellectual.
Excitable former Nine man Slater, who surely has a compromising tape of someone powerful stashed somewhere, has lost none of his inane locker room mentality.
In the first session, he told a story about Shane Warne hitting a seagull on a ground. The punchline was it wasn’t the only bird Warnie had his eye on.
It was a bizarre brain snap given Seven’s desperation to put distance between it and Nine’s criticised laddish culture.
The camera angles and graphics were strong, the commentary conversational and not over the top, and the lunch break segments informative and light. Well played.
Reaction on social media was mostly positive.
“The access provided these days to the viewer is awesome,” said one user on Twitter. “Great insight,” said another.
But there were naysayers: