MediaMarch 2, 2020

Offer the light: Taking in the last Test overs of Bryan Waddle and Jeremy Coney


One of test cricket’s great partnerships has been brought to an end. Alex Braae listens to the last call of Bryan Waddle and Jeremy Coney on Radio Sport.

Watching Test cricket sometimes feels like sitting on the side of a pond on a summer day. Each ball is a pebble thrown into the surface, and you watch to see where the ripples will go. That rhythm becomes even more evocative on the radio. You only hear the splash, and the commentators tell you what it looks like. It’s a remarkably intimate way of following sport, and it lasts for hours.

A strange wander through the human psyche, there is nothing quite like a cricket broadcast. It rarely makes conventional sense, with the conversation progressing at two speeds simultaneously, as gentle voices carry on long conversations punctuated by the events in front of them.

And it keeps you company. With Radio Sport’s Test commentary rights coming to an end with this win over India, the prospect of a five-hour cleaning binge becomes a lot less appealing. Or setting up the transistor radio at a campground, or on the sidelines of a park game. Who knows, the loss of the rights might even show up in diminished confidence in the long-term outlook of farmers. It feels a bit like the last day of the last summer of cricket.

I know, that’s wildly melodramatic. There’s still more international cricket to play this summer, and NZ Cricket have made every assurance that there will be some form of audio commentary next season too. Who knows: it might all continue much as it has, just on another frequency. But don’t feel bad about indulging that feeling. For me at least, cricket on the radio has been part of my life forever. Pretty much all of that has been on Radio Sport, or, before that, Sports Roundup. In fact, it’s probably one of the few things that has never changed across the entire lives of many. Letting go of a defining version of that is hard.

There are two names that are linked to the Radio Sport call above all else. Bryan Waddle and Jeremy Coney. Coney and Wadds. You wonder if they’d be good company in real life. They’re almost an archetypal odd couple – tall and short, colour and crispness, comments like a crafty wrist-spinner and skiddy, direct conversational snorters. Sometimes their pairing threw up astonishing pieces of cricket coverage, even in the most throwaway moments like the end of a washed out game.

As Blundell and Latham accelerated towards the target this afternoon, the other commentators took a walk through the life of Jeremy Coney. They covered his teaching career, how he got the “Mantis” nickname, his dislikes and disappointments, and every biographical detail that attempted to explain how such a voice came into being. What could never be captured was Coney’s uncanny knack for the compelling and meandering mid-innings anecdote, that for the longest time felt like was going absolutely nowhere in the most pleasant way, before being resolved with a genuinely thought-provoking punchline.

He didn’t really get much of an innings at the last – the Black Caps’ batsmen didn’t give him the time. Of all things, the pair of them had to talk about the cricket in front of them. They took a few consolation wickets and bemoaned the state of the batting across the game. There was a nice chuckle for them right at the end when Jadeja’s presumptive wicket was overturned by a no-ball. The win came a few balls later, Bryan Waddle’s voice rising an octave to bring it home.

“Wadds has shown great alacrity to get down there,” said Daniel McHardy as Bryan Waddle dashed on to the field for post-match interviews. Jeremy Coney noted his friend’s increased fitness, and there was a touch of sadness when he mentioned how much more time he’d have now to work on it. “Terrific,” he concluded with a faint and affectionate chuckle. McHardy got one back at Coney, too, with a reminder that he was there on the wrong side the last time a team lost two Tests in a row by 10 wickets. It didn’t even happen today, but for a time it looked like it might have.

And McHardy didn’t hold back in his praise for both of them, and his many associates across the decades of test cricket in a final monologue of gratitude. The pair were gently roasted while being held up as an integral part of what made summer what it was. And McHardy thanked those that had kept the commentators company around the country for all that time too.

With a partnership like Coney and Waddle’s for Radio Sport coming to an end, it’s easy to forget that moves will be under way all over cricket broadcasting. When broadcast rights change hands, it can be an opportunity for younger commentators to come through. Scotty Stevenson left Sky when Spark nabbed the Rugby World Cup, and fronted their whole package. Previously he had primarily been a Super Rugby commentator, carrying it off with the sort of comfort and ease that allowed him to pick a word on Hauraki Breakfast during the week, and then drop it in a call on the night.

Not only will the Radio Sport version come to an end, the Sky Sport one will too. Spark Sport will be taking on the domestic TV rights. There are a whole lot of good commentators who could now be in the mix for either.

Speculating is largely useless, but it would seem certain that someone will try and keep the likes of Lesley Murdoch and Brendon McCullum in the mix. The underrated Mike Hesson and beloved Ian Smith will be staying with Sky. On the radio, Daniel McHardy leads an enormous cast across international and domestic cricket, including some pretty handy commentators who only get a run when a domestic game is in their region. Coney and Waddle themselves might go another round. Hell, you could do a lot worse than keeping Mark Richardson around, too. And behind the scenes, an army of ultra-professional broadcast workers will be moving to something new.

So probably, little will change in the rhythm of the summer, for those who accept the new changes and move with them. The tuning button on the radio makes it pick up a different frequency, and one of them will probably have a game on. It might be better, even. We don’t know, that pebble hasn’t been thrown.

All innings end. The Radio Sport team brought theirs to a close with a win, after helping some many fans through so many losses. But like all cricket, victory is always bittersweet. In this case it was knowing that it was brought to a close early, by a full two and a half precious days. Summer always seems to finish just before you’re ready.

Keep going!