Any sport that takes as long as five days to complete is going catch some flak for being a little boring. Add to this dour commentary that follows the well-worn analytical path with every bowl of the ball, and it comes as little surprise that cricket struggles to attract the viewership numbers of rugby or rugby league.
In order to ameliorate this image and make cricket more accessible to a younger generation, the creative agency True has collaborated with OMD, New Zealand Cricket, ANZ, iHeart Radio, Radio Sport and several Kiwi celebrities to give cricket a new voice through an initiative called the Alternative Commentary Collective (ACC).
Following the Black Caps around New Zealand in a trailer, the band of misfits that make up the ACC promise to “provide ball-by-ball commentary and uninformed analysis to Kiwi cricket fans around the world on [their] Radio Sport Extra stream on iHeartRadio.”
True's managing director Matt Dickinson says that the agency received a brief from NZ Cricket to bring something new to the game to enhance the experience for the spectators.
“We went away, brainstormed with the team at OMD and came up with a few ideas, among which was the concept of alternative commentary,” says Dickinson.
Alternative commentary has become increasingly popular in recent years, with various YouTube pranksters offering a different, often hilarious, perspective on sporting events.
“NZ Cricket was very open to the idea [of alternative commentary], especially because our research showed that there was a need to reach fans beyond the results. In recent years the Black Caps haven’t performed quite as well as the fans had hoped, so we decided to focus on the entertainment side.”
Once the idea was accepted by NZ Cricket, True brought on Jeremy Wells to assemble a motley crew of cricket nuts
The arrival of the group – consisting of Jeremy Wells, Leigh Hart, Matt Heath, Ben Hurley, Jason Hoyte, Paul Ford and Mike Lane – has coincided with two unexpected victories over India, but this doesn’t surprise Dickinson.
“The ACC has clearly had an influence on the players and the coaching staff,” he jokes.
Since starting on 19 January, when the vibrant ACC van was first parked on the sidelines of the Napier oval, the unconventional commentary crew has garnered a decent following, but it could be better.
In addition to getting over 1,800 fans on the Facebook scoreboard, the ACC has also received some encouraging feedback via Twitter.
Mike Lane, who co-founded the infamous Beige Brigade with Paul Ford, says the initiative is designed to give fans a more irreverent perspective of the game.
“This is potentially the largest gathering of backyard cricketers and non-former players ever to commentate a cricket series in the world. It will deliver a lot of eccentric observations, a crapload of informality and hopefully a few laughs. Someone will probably be offended too,” he says in a release.
Dickinson says that he hopes that alternative commentary will continue to be part of the game in the future. "It would be great if SkyGo came on board," he says. "That way viewers could choose which commentary feed they want."
This initiative by True overlaps with Tui’s ‘catch a million’ campaign, which has already seen two cricket fans walking away with a $100,000 each for catching the ball in the stands. (Check out The Herald’s list of sports fans that have won big in similar promotions).
The next Black Caps game will take place in Auckland, and Dickinson says that there are still tickets available for those who want to head down to the stadium.
NZ vs India ACC schedule (all games start at 2pm):
25 January: Auckland
28 January: Hamilton
31 January: Wellington