Cricket on the radio is a beautiful thing.
Whether you are in the car or working in the shed, it offers companionship – laughs and stories that transcend Alastair Cook’s lean run, or Shaun Marsh’s resurgence.
In a world gone to seed, radio cricket commentary is meditative, informative and reassuring. Especially on a long drive.
It is also incredibly popular, best shown by the fact that the Ashes – in a rapidly shrinking media world – is being covered by not one, but three different commentary teams in Australia.
And the broadcasts are evolving too.
They are now more conversational, humorous and feminist than ever, with female commentators an excellent and welcome addition.
In stark contrast to the AFL or NRL, the pace of Test cricket, and the way it ebbs and flows through a day, lends itself to radio.
And the periodic rotation of callers and experts during a Test offers the chance for different pairings and conversation to blossom.
Their voices resonate deep in the psyche: the late Alan McGilvray’s distinctive descriptions, the soothing baritone of Jim Maxwell, the hysterical wheeze of Kerry O’Keeffe, the cultured musings of Tim Lane.
Maxwell, O’Keeffe and Lane all worked at the ABC, but the cricket radio world has seen plenty of movement in recent years.
Only Maxwell remains, with O’Keeffe the star of the show on Triple M, while Lane is now part of the Macquarie Media team.
All three stations, and the BBC’s famous Test Match Special, are available online through the Cricket Australia app.
(The BBC is great for a change up – especially when Australia is right on top or Jonathan Agnew or Alison Mitchell are broadcasting – provided you can stand the shock-and-awe approach of one Sir Geoffrey Boycott).
All of the options have their own unique flavour.
Previously described by Maxwell as having ‘the best observational humour of any broadcaster’, O’Keeffe, lovingly known as ‘Skull’, can make even the dreariest sections of the day pass pleasantly.
The 68-year-old – who played 24 Test matches for Australia in the 1970’s – has almost single-handedly changed the commentary landscape, his byplay with his colleagues often more compelling than the action on the field.
During a discussion about helmets with Mitchell Johnson on day one of the WACA Test this week, he said to the paceman that at the speed he bowled in the last series, England’s top order would have been “scared batting in the Pope mobile”.
And when discussing how much effort Shane Warne put into maintaining shine on the ball O’Keefe quipped – in a nod to a station sponsor – that the ball would “have needed a Nicorette” after Warne had finished with it.
O’Keeffe, who works alongside Sir Ian Botham, Adam Gilchrist and the outstanding Isa Guha, clearly loves what he does.
He said his approach resonated with listeners, though he wasn’t exactly sure of the reasons.
“It’s hard to define, I don’t know quite know why,” O’Keeffe told The New Daily.
“It’s just the way I look at cricket and the way I think it should be carried.”
O’Keeffe, who believes Test cricket on the radio occupies a special place in the Australian psyche, said the game has changed recently, allowing him to inject more of his trademark humour into broadcasts.
“I think because it’s summer, and people are relaxed, (cricket commentary) suits its position in the calendar year,” he said.
“Most people are on holidays or about to go on, and I think that’s the key.
“It suits the psyche of people in a relaxed mood.
“A lot of cricket commentary over the years has been quite conservative and just trying to carry the description of the game, but it’s gone to another level now.
“People are looking for a bit of entertainment as well as the cricket.
“It’s what I love doing, anyway – it’s my hobby. I don’t see it as a job.”
Sometimes the struggle to be entertaining can go awry.
Also at the WACA this week, Maxwell, during an over of dot balls from Pat Cummins, got bogged down in a discussion with former Australia quick Dirk Nannes about the blindingly white pitches he’d seen photos of Don Bradman batting on.
“You’d always see them batting on those shirtfront pitches,” Maxwell said.
“Shirtfront. Explain that to me,” Nannes said.
“Shirtfront. White,” Maxwell said quickly, as though talking to a grandchild.
Maxwell’s view was that the pitches back then were so white because they were rolled much more than modern pitches.
“I’m not having that Jim,” Nannes said. “Just because you roll it more, doesn’t make the dirt change colour.”
It was an exchange which Chris Rogers, the next man in the ABC booth, found most amusing.
Tim Lane, who has one of the most recognisable voices in Australian sport, was a fixture on the ABC.
He recently moved to Macquarie, taking up a spot in the box alongside Ian Chappell, Damien Fleming and Mike Hussey.
And he believes radio is the perfect medium for Test cricket, given the nature of the game.
“Not many people, even in Australia, are going to be sitting around watching it for every hour for five days,” Lane told The New Daily.
“Radio is in some ways its natural medium because of radio’s mobility.
“When I listened to cricket on the radio as a kid – I always felt it was such a companion.
“At the end of each test, and particularly at the end of each summer’s Test series, I’d feel a sense of melancholy that it was over.
“I think that was born from the companionship with the voices of the broadcasters.
“There’s something in it that’s more than just about consuming a sporting event.”
In O’Keeffe’s absence, with Gerard Whateley as point man and expertise from Rogers, Nannes and Simon Katich, the ABC’s coverage seems more earnest than ever before.
And one great thing about the ABC’s commentary is the absence of commercial concerns.
It can get a little grating to hear “BIG4 Discovery Holiday Parks, Triple M rocks The Ashes” 30 times a day, or getting some information courtesy of a “Nicorette stats break”.
Macquarie has the same issues, but it’s one thing to check the NatureBee scoreboard, and quite another for Lane to tell you: “I didn’t award it shot of the day, for Raw C Coconut Water, but it was close.”
But no matter which station you listen to, you’re listening to the sound of summer.
Cricket on the radio is an aural comfort blanket that can make every pitch a ‘shirtfront’, and even the darkest of times seem bathed in sunshine.