Katey Martin (Photo: Supplied / Design: Tina Tiller)
Katey Martin (Photo: Supplied / Design: Tina Tiller)

SportsMarch 9, 2024

How Katey Martin became the new voice of summer

Katey Martin (Photo: Supplied / Design: Tina Tiller)
Katey Martin (Photo: Supplied / Design: Tina Tiller)

The former White Ferns wicketkeeper turned cornerstone of TVNZ’s commentary team talks about talking about cricket with Calum Henderson.

It’s the day before the first test between New Zealand and Australia when I get Katey Martin on the phone. “I’ve just been watching some videos,” she says.

What videos, I ask. A good question to begin the interview with, I think: what does a cricket commentator watch to unwind the day before the biggest match of the season? Action? Comedy? Historical drama?

“Cricket videos.”

This is the side of cricket commentary we don’t see: before every game, Martin says, she spends hours preparing in much the same way as when she was a player. That means poring over old footage, studying the opposition’s technique and tactics, identifying different players’ strengths and weaknesses and compiling detailed notes to take into the commentary box the next morning. 

“Before a test match I’ll probably spend two or three days going through all that stuff”, she says.

Martin has been watching a lot of cricket lately. Since calling time on her playing career in 2022, the former White Ferns wicketkeeper has become one of the first names on TVNZ’s commentary callsheet. From the middle of December through until the end of January this summer there was live free-to-air cricket on TVNZ nearly every day, and she was behind the microphone for most of them.

On New Year’s Eve, she commentated the Black Caps v Bangladesh T20 in Mount Maunganui, then reemerged at the other end of the country the next morning to present a Super Smash double-header in Alexandra. “They said you can do one or the other – I said nah, let’s make both work.”

It was a fitting end to a year which also saw Martin commentate at World Cups in South Africa and India and the Women’s Big Bash League in Australia. “It’s been pretty hectic,” she admits. “But what else would I do with my days, I guess.”

Regaling fellow commentator Scotty Stevenson with some cricket chat (Photo: Supplied)

For most of her adult life, Martin spent her days juggling the commitments of an international cricket player with a full-time job at a Christchurch IT company – it’s only since becoming a commentator that she’s been able to make a living from the sport. She’s lived in Christchurch since moving up from Dunedin after high school to attend the NZ Cricket Academy, training alongside the likes of Ross Taylor and Peter Fulton, but still spent the entirety of her 20-year career playing for Otago. 

“Dad said he’d disown me if I ever played for Canterbury,” she says. “And I always said I’d retire before that happened.” 

By the time she finally did retire, following the White Ferns’ disappointing World Cup campaign in 2022, Martin had played 199 games for New Zealand and plenty more for the blue and gold. She also had one foot firmly in the commentary box already. 

The transition from player to commentator has never appeared so seamless, but you might not have picked it the first time Martin picked up a microphone. “I was shocking,” she says. This was a few years ago now, at one of the training sessions NZ Cricket organises for any contracted players interested in learning “how to use the buttons” and other intricacies of live broadcasting. She went along with Black Caps allrounder Jimmy Neesham. 

“They record you and play it back so you can hear how you’ve gone… I was terrible, so monotone,” she laughs. “It was quite confronting actually.”

Luckily there’s a backdoor into the commentary box these days. As the wicketkeeper and most talkative person on the field, she was an obvious choice when broadcasters were looking for a player to mic up during the game. “I didn’t mind it because I always talked a lot behind the stumps anyway,” she explains. “So when I was on the mic I was able to talk to [the commentators] and they’d actually talk back, which was great, because a lot of the time my teammates just ignored me.”

Running out England’s Katherine Brunt at the 2022 World Cup. (Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

This “random chat” from the middle was what helped Martin land her first big break, when Channel 7 asked her to stay on and do some commentary in the Women’s Big Bash League following the White Ferns’ “Covid tour” of Australia in late 2020 – a proposition made all the more appealing by the fact the alternative was coming home and spending two weeks in MIQ. “I made a lot of errors,” she says of her first proper foray into cricket broadcasting, “but apparently the bloopers were quite funny.” She’s been invited back to Australia for the WBBL and women’s internationals ever since.

Back on this side of the Tasman, meanwhile, Spark Sport had secured the rights to New Zealand domestic cricket and home internationals in mid-2020. This meant the old boys’ club that brought a certain Statler and Waldorf energy to Sky’s cricket coverage was disbanded and a new-look team had to be assembled from scratch. One notable feature of the Spark commentary team unveiled ahead of that summer was that for the first time, the former (and current) White Ferns shared equal billing with their former Black Caps counterparts.

In January 2022, Martin and White Ferns teammate Frankie Mackay made history when they became the first female commentary duo to call a men’s test match. This was a milestone moment, one that would have been unimaginable just a couple of years earlier, but what’s really notable about it is that it wasn’t done intentionally – the roster just threw them together and no one gave it a second thought. By that stage the pair were such established voices in the commentary box it’s unlikely many watching at home noticed anything unusual about it either. 

“It was a special moment for us on reflection, that we were able to be together and to the public it wasn’t anything that different.”

Commentating test matches is a privilege Martin doesn’t take for granted. In her 20-year career she played just one, in India on her White Ferns debut back in 2003; New Zealand has played just one more women’s test in the 20 years since. This has led some critics to ask: how can someone (a woman) commentate a sport (men’s test cricket) they’ve never played before? (These same people will invariably be nostalgic for the radio commentary of Bryan Waddle – zero caps in any form of the game – which shows where their concerns really lie.) 

The way Martin sees it, if she does have a different perspective of the men’s game from never having played it, that can only be a good thing. Like any good student of the game she asks a lot of questions, and there’s a good chance plenty of people watching at home might want to know the answer too. “I just talk about what I’d want to hear at home… and if I can teach one person one thing they didn’t know before then I feel I’ve done my job.”

Interviewing Wellington Blaze star Amelia Kerr after the Super Smash final at Eden Park (Photo: Supplied)

In the first session of her first test match as a commentator, Martin sat alongside former Black Caps captain and current England test coach Brendon McCullum. This was something of a full-circle moment – the McCullums and Martins are old family friends, her dad Steve and his dad Stu both Otago sporting identities. “It was like we were back in South Dunedin, just talking about cricket,” she remembers. “That made me feel at home.” 

That illusion quickly shattered the moment Stephen Fleming entered the commentary box. “All I could think about was the heat pump ads,” Martin says. “During one of the breaks I said ‘I’d buy a heat pump off you, Stephen Fleming.’ Then I was like, ‘Oh no, did I just say that out loud?’ I think that probably indicated the style I’d take as a commentator.”

This tendency to “get a bit loose” behind the mic is something she tries to keep a lid on, but it’s also her unique selling point as a commentator. Thoughtful analysis and deep knowledge of the game is one thing – the ability to keep an audience entertained when there’s not a lot of action happening out in the middle is another. When Martin is on the mic there’s a sense that anything could happen, and it often does. 

That includes, in what is almost certainly another commentary first, broadcasting live from the “Super Trooper” fairground ride at Hagley Oval during a Super Smash game earlier this year, her screams of genuine terror only interrupted by utterances like “I don’t want to do this” and “get me off this thing”.

Some cricket purists might shake their heads at this sort of carry-on, but plenty of other people watch cricket these days too, especially now it’s back on free-to-air for the first time since the 1990s. If riding the Super Trooper was a lowlight of her summer (“I don’t think Craig McMillan believed me when I said I was scared of heights”), Martin says seeing the big crowds turning out – and tuning in – around the country has been one of the highlights. 

Being able to help bring the game to life for viewers is the dream – but it’s still a dream that Martin feels she might wake up from at any moment. “For me right now it’s just saying yes to whatever comes up and figuring it out from there,” she says. “You never know how long it’ll last.”

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