Cricket: Behind the Microphone with Jim Maxwell

Jim Maxwell (photo: The Australian)
Jim Maxwell (photo: The Australian)

International cricket takes people all over the world, to some amazing places.  Jim Maxwell recounted some of his experiences, and working with some commentary big names, to Davis Harrigan

Not many Australian sports commentators could say they have quite the resume that Jim Maxwell has.

From a trainee to sports commentator, and more than 270 test matches to his name, Maxwell has seen Australia and the world from the commentary box, microphone in hand.

It took 10 years before Maxwell jetsetted overseas to take up a commentary role, but when he did, it was at the 1983 World Cup.  Held in England, Maxwell worked with the BBC in what was a relatively disappointing competition for the Australians.  It was, says Maxwell, a great experience to be in the box alongside some of the greats of commentary during that time.

“I worked with the BBC, and the ABC took coverage of the Australia games.  It was a great experience as Alan McGilvray was still the main man on the ABC, and I was given a crack at working with some of the great voices of the day.  Brian Johnston, Tony Cozier and Christopher Martin-Jenkins are also on the list.”

The only significant Australian moment to come out of the tournament was the game against Zimbabwe, where the African nation inflicted a 13-run loss on the green and gold.  Maxwell says watching the game was both a spectacle and an extreme let down.

“I thought the team was a rabble under the captaincy of Kim Hughes, and Zimbabwe scored a famous victory over Australia at Trent Bridge. It was brilliant fielding, catching and Duncan Fletcher was Man of the Match.”

Not only has the competition landscape changed, but so has the media.  In three decades of international travel, Maxwell admits he has never seen anything quite like the setup that the West Indies had in 1984.

“The only TV coverage of one of the tests was three cameras and loads of ads.  Now, the diversity and sophistication of coverage with expanding media platforms has given fans more choice, and an opportunity to follow their teams.”

The experiences away from the field are what make the travel overseas all worth it.  Some moments are even unexpected, says Maxwell, including a hire car journey around the time of the 2013 Ashes series in England.

“On the last three Ashes tours I have had a hire car.  In 2013 my youngest son Oliver was playing league cricket with Hagley, so it was a diversion.  It was a beautiful ground set in Lord Cobham’s estate, and sweeping views of Malvern’s Hill.  It was paradise found.”

Despite his distinguished resume, which includes an incredible 270 test matches, Maxwell says that the amount of time he spends away from home is “a bit of a misnomer.”

“I’ve covered 270 tests but I have missed a lot, too.  Longest time away was last year in the UK for the (ICC) Champions Trophy and the Ashes, from early June until the end of August.”

With the travel comes new culture, “not just the cricket.”  Night time adventures are a different dynamic altogether, Maxwell says.

“When you’re nocturnal, you need to travel in pairs.  Outside of that, we get to the beach, the museums, golf courses, etc.  However, don’t drink more than you can handle.”

Surprisingly, Maxwell’s first full tour to England was not until 2005, Australia’s first Ashes series loss for 16 years.

“In 1985 it was the McGilvray farewell, in 1997 it was with Neville Oliver, and in 2001 I shared with Tim Lane.  The 1983 tour was the deep end.”

That brings up how the potential Ashes squads might shape up.  England’s wavering form and selection over the past twelve months has Maxwell seriously contemplating their chances, especially with the long home summer.

“England will have to improve.  Without a match winner like KP (Kevin Pietersen) their batting looks wobbly.  They need more standout bowling from the swingers like (James) Anderson and (Stuart) Broad.”

Australia’s last Ashes tour to England ended in a disappointing 3-0 series loss.  With such a strong performance at home during the 2013/2014 summer, it is time for a change of attack, says Maxwell.

“Australia has a potential chance for redemption in 2015.  Mitchell Johnson can’t wait to put it over the Poms, and for Michael Clarke it’s the last hurrah, having lost in 2005, 2009 and 2013.  It could be another great contest.”

The squad is getting old, but the depth available to fill any vacant spots is deep.  Maxwell believes any one of a number of players could step up to the plate.

“The squad for 2015 is uncertain.  Clarke and Brad Haddin will be a show if fit, Shane Watson is a maybe.  David Warner, Steve Smith, James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Phil Hughes, Glenn Maxwell and Mitchell Marsh…potentially (New South Wales batsman) Nic Maddinson as well.”

Given the long nature of some of the tours, Maxwell says there is plenty to do, and health is also important.

“Getting away from the cricket and sucking up the local culture and food etc is just the start.  Five days at a test is enough, though there is the museum at Lord’s to visit of course, as well as others at county grounds.

“Walking, playing golf and trying to avoid too much hospitality is also in there.  It’s not easy, but so far it’s enjoyable.”

Respected English commentator Jonathan Agnew features in plenty of adventures as well, says Maxwell.

“There’s some memorable stays at Aggers’ house in a Leicestershire village called Scalford.  Very handy with the King Arm’s next door.”

Granted, England is not the only place Maxwell has set foot in, but with such a big expectation surrounding the 2015 Ashes, and thousands of supporters heading across to cheer on Australia, much of the attention for the next few months is looking at the cricket sphere.


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