Bryan Waddle calls 200th cricket test

DOUBLE CENTURY: Broadcaster Bryan Waddle at the Basin Reserve, he is calling his 200th cricket test.
PHIL REID/Fairfax NZ
DOUBLE CENTURY: Broadcaster Bryan Waddle at the Basin Reserve, he is calling his 200th cricket test.

Little did Bryan Waddle know what was in store when he strode into the Basin Reserve in early 1981 for a test against India, the first under the shadow of a shiny new RA Vance Stand. A notable broadcasting career got off the mark with the equivalent of a short single, filing half-hourly reports for Radio New Zealand and conducting the end-of-play interviews.

Since then he's dodged fatal bomb blasts in Sri Lanka in 1987 and 1992, and in Pakistan in 2002 when his hotel room was blown to shreds. He's toured every test-playing nation, most several times, and is still going strong with the 2015 World Cup on home soil in his sights.

It's been some ride, and the plaudits have flowed. Fittingly, Waddle raised the milestone in his home box at the Basin yesterday. Waddle presented the caps to the New Zealand players on Thursday night. Even the prime minister got in on the act, with John Key singling out Waddle for congratulations on his 200 at this week's parliamentary reception for the South Africans.

"I'm proud of it. It is only a number and if you're around long enough you'll set those numbers."

Back in 1981, Waddle was in the commentary queue behind Alan Richards, Iain Gallaway and Grant Nisbett, later to become the voice of rugby who raised 200 tests of his own in 2010. Waddle's first tour was a surprise callup to Pakistan with Jeremy Coney's side in 1984 where he recalls a tear-gas riot holding up a game in Multan, and "horrendous" hometown umpiring. He took over the touring role fulltime at the 1987 World Cup on the sub-continent.

Tours to India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have provided some of his best, and worst memories. When Waddle signed up, he didn't expect it would involve risking life and limb.

He's seen three tours rocked by bomb blasts. The first, in 1987, involved a huge blast at a bus station in Colombo, killing about 150 people. Then, five years later in the same city, a car containing a high-ranking politician exploded at the gates of the team's hotel.

"That was scary; it really brought it home, how the troubles had hit Sri Lanka. There were body parts splattered on the windows of the hotel."

Karachi in 2002 saw a busload of French naval engineers targeted by a suicide bomber in a car outside New Zealand's hotel. The road-facing rooms had their windows blown in; Waddle was on the first flight out with the team that night.

"It certainly made me rethink Pakistan, but it didn't make me rethink other places. You take those decisions as they come and you never say never. You realise the players' families are hugely affected. In Pakistan my family were intensely worried and concerned about that, as well they might be."

Waddle's been to India eight or nine times, a country he rates the toughest to tour, but also the most fascinating. Many a robust debate has occurred between Waddle and a ground technician on match eve. "I've blown my stack a few times; the toys get tossed out of the cot because the lines aren't booked. But you move on." He called a game from a hotel room in Chennai; and other times croaked though a day's play, solo in the box, hardly able to speak at the end.

He provided the memorable call of Richard Hadlee's then-world record 374th wicket in Bangalore in 1988, through a crackly, faint phone line, then nearly got on the field when half the team were stricken by food poisoning. The team's subsequent win in Mumbai rates among his favourite memories.

But of the 200, it's one of the most recent that tops them all. Hobart in December gets Waddle's nod as his favourite memory, when New Zealand turned around a big defeat in Brisbane. Having missed the 1985 series, this was his first test win witnessed across the Tasman. "In terms of a lump in the throat, tear in the eye, Hobart was special. No-one gave them a chance." And, it gave him a rare opportunity to fire some bullets back at his hosts, notably his sparring partner, Kerry O'Keeffe.

"It's hard work; you're on a hiding to nothing [in Australia]. They do quieten down a little bit when you have some ammunition."

One regret is missing the 1994 tour of South Africa and the 1999 series win in England, both notable test wins abroad. The latter was due to money, after he'd called the World Cup then didn't return to England due to budgetary constraints.

The role has changed since his early days, when the commentator called an entire over then the comments man chimed in. Now on Radio Sport, it's all about entertainment and interaction. Waddle enjoys the change, but misses his favourite commentary sidekick, Coney, now pursuing a career in theatre in England.

"He was a cut above the rest; use of the English language, understanding the game of cricket, the personality, the humour, the ability to work in a dual operation like that. He used to read the play so well."

Of the commentary newcomers from the playing ranks, Waddle rates Dion Nash highly.

Feedback is a necessary evil. Waddle reads it all, via text or email, for better or worse.

"If you're ever full of your own self-importance, just read some of the texts and you get brought down to earth pretty quickly by some of the vitriol that's directed at you, anonymously. The GW's, as I call them, the gutless wonders."

His commentary style is simple and abides by rule No1, tell the listeners the score at every opportunity. In the internet age, they get listener feedback from all parts of the globe. Waddle admits to some New Zealand bias, but believes commentators from every country automatically lean towards the home team.

"Sometimes I've been a bit of a cheerleader and you have to rein yourself in. It's easy to slip into that because you do have a connection with the players. You have to try and divorce yourself from that, sometimes you criticise them and sometimes you praise them."

He hasn't fallen out with too many. Former skipper Geoff Howarth refused to speak to him after being told third hand of something Waddle said in his daily report. They resolved it when Waddle produced his script. His biggest spray from a player was in the West Indies in 1985 when the cranky off-spinner John Bracewell nudged him into the hotel pool in Kingston. The often retold story has a soaked Waddle not spilling a drop of his rum.

With tours to the West Indies, India, Sri Lanka and South Africa looming this year, Waddle will be back on the road. He still loves the job, but not the airports and hotels, and hopes to call the World Cup in three years.

"While I'm still enjoying it, and while we're committed to doing cricket, hopefully I'm good enough to do the job for them. But I also trust my employers to tell me when the time comes."

His family, wife Clare, son Nathan, 18, and daughter Emma, 14, get a special mention. "You can't do 200 tests and travel like I've done unless you've got a family who support you. I've been lucky there."

The Dominion Post