Cricket Comes Home: ESPN Tests All-Star Version in U.S.

Baseball has just concluded, basketball and hockey have just started, and we are deep into the NFL season. That could mean only one thing: Cricket!

Actually, it was a touring sample of that Commonwealth favorite that ESPN brought to American venues and screens in November, testing the waters for our appetites for something a bit less exotic than, says hurling.

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Groundskeepers manicure the cricket pitch before the match at Citi Field.

The “Cricket All-Stars” series featured 30 of the most recognizable names in modern cricket, from Australia, the UK, India, Pakistan, the West Indies, South Africa, and Sri Lanka. They comprised two teams that barnstormed three Twenty20 matches in three MLB stadiums: Citi Field (New York), Minute Maid Park (Houston), and Dodger Stadium (Los Angeles). Coverage was ESPN3 in the U.S., ESPN Caribbean, ESPN Play in Latin America, and ESPN Player in EMEA and Asia Territories.

The A1 for the show was Robert Miles, who noted that the version of the game shipped over here is known as the Twenty20 (T20) series, a shortened version of the game that is “fast and furious,” he says, taking around three hours to complete and is the model that professional cricket is using to try to plant its seeds elsewhere, though with 120 million players in many countries, cricket is already the world’s second most popular sport, after soccer, and was even once a staple of pre-Civil War (and pre-broadcast) American sports.

On the tour, which ran from Nov. 5 to Nov. 14, Gearhouse USA supplied most of the traveling broadcast facilities. The remote broadcast facilities were NEP’s NCP1V (Citi Field), SS21 (Minute Mid Field), and EN2 (Dodger Stadium).

Cricket Sound
Miles relates his experience as the touring shows’ A1, breaking them down into their basic components. For announcers, he says, “There is a rotation of commentators throughout the game, each covering around 15 minutes of play. Usually, there are two on mic but provision is made for up to three with an emergency spare position. In the UK, we have a number of manufacturers of commentary units, which give us the facilities that are required for a successful broadcast. On this occasion, one of the recent digital units from Glensound, the GDC6432 was supplied, along with Coles 4104 Lip Ribbon microphones.

“These BBC-designed microphones have been used for over 60 years by commentators where there is a need for the best separation in high-noise situations,” he continues. “I remember covering the FIFA World Cup in South Africa in 2010, when the dreaded Vuvuzelas were used by the crowd. Not only did they mask the [field-effects sound] but were very intrusive on the supplied commentators’ headset microphones. There was a frantic search after the first game to find a whole bunch of 4104s, which then gave the broadcasters more rejection of those ghastly horns.”

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The three-sticked “wickets” at either end of the pitch may have lavaliere transmitters in the ground behind them or use the wired microphone system which comes as part of the stump-camera package.

The show was done in stereo, although the microphone placement patterns mimicked those of surround. “I generally put up a stereo pair of mics, Sennheiser 416s or whatever they have on the truck, high up at each end of the stadium, and a microphone on a stand at ground level pointing into the crowd at the halfway point on either side of the pitch,” Miles says. “This, for me, gives a good crowd component to the mix. There are 416s on the three handheld cameras, too.

“In the old days, pre-1990, the sound of the bat hitting ball was covered by a Sennheiser 816 on a stand at ground level at each end of the wicket from the boundary,” he continues. “Since 1991, the Australians [have] adopted a close-mic technique where they initially put inexpensive radio transmitters inside the stumps, although now we either bury lavaliere transmitters into the ground behind the wicket at each end or use the wired system, which comes as part of the stump camera package. The use of these ‘stump microphones’ brings you up close to the action and can also be a key part in determining whether a player is out or not. Balancing these microphones with the crowd can be challenging when there is continuous high-level crowd noise as in this event.”

During the game, two of the players were wired using Lectrosonics lavs, so that the commentators could pose questions and get reactions from them during play. “This gave another dimension to the coverage and works really well in explaining what is happening in the field, as well as getting some lighthearted banter going,” Miles says.

Slo-Mo Sound
Miles says that cricket is the only sport he’s aware of that uses the broadcast audio on slow-motion replays, with multiple angles recorded in part to help the umpires make a decision as to whether a player is out or not. “Four dual-stereo replay lines are available to me, having carefully made assignments in the router to get the right audio with the appropriate picture,” he explains.

ESPN's A1 at NEP EN2's Calrec Apollo console

ESPN’s A1 at NEP EN2’s Calrec Apollo console

The comms for the roadshow games were critical, says Miles. “This was [challenging] for me as I am used to having a guaranteed sound engineer who knows the truck intimately and looks after the programming of the communication system,” he says. “A week before I was due to travel, I heard that [U.S.] A1s also look after their own comms and that I would have to do the same. After a frantically written email to Bosch UK, who own Telex, they came back and gave me a one-on-one course the next day, [for which I was] very grateful! There was still the apprehension of working in three different trucks in each location, with different wiring configurations and three different sound consoles, albeit from the same manufacturer, Calrec. All this in very limited time at the start and between games. I worked it out that there are around a thousand audio routes that have to be made to get this show on the road!”

The games drew mixed reviews, with annoyance expressed regarding ticket prices in L.A., but with decent turnouts — attendance estimates were 36,000 in New York, 27,000 in Houston, and 20,900 in Los Angeles, according to www.cricket.com — there is general sense that cricket might be able to find a place for itself in America’s saturated broadcast sports scene.

“I do hope that this event can kick-start a new interest in this form of cricket in the U.S.,” Miles says. “It’s fast, it’s fun, it’s ideal for commercial broadcasters and, above all, it’s great to work on.”