Dean Jones blunder

What a week. One of the most absorbing, enthralling Test matches South Africa has ever been involved in  finished in a pulsating finish which left us all breathless. In the middle of it, television commentator Dean Jones caused an international incident with a spectacularly stupid comment and, on the final day, as Sri Lanka edged to a one-wicket win, a bomb in Colombo killed two people.

Fortunately the brilliance of the contest on the field just managed to keep the appalling commentary gaffe on the sidelines – mostly. But the level of interest in Jones’ unforgivable blunder remained red hot and everybody, it seems, wanted to know more.

The bomb, and the death of a young child, was a distant third in terms of international interest.

The first phone call came at 5.57 am from a Melbourne radio station wanting to know “a bit more” about Jones’ comment after Hashim Amla’s catch to dismiss Kumar Sangakkara – “the terrorist gets another one.”

What more could they want to know? Perhaps the details of why it was heard on air? I politely declined to comment. Technicalities, I reasoned, might be perceived to be excuses – for which there are none. At all.

But, for those regular readers of this column who would like to know what happened, here is the explanation: At the end of each over television commentators are required to ‘score and out’ – which means reading the score after the sixth ball, and pausing, to allow an advertisement to be played.
The ad-break was taken on Sri Lankan television, and on the other stations showing the series around the world, but not on Supersport. Jones presumed his microphone was ‘dead’ but Supersport viewers knew immediately it wasn’t.

Excuse? Of course not. But when a man hangs himself so obviously, what ‘extra’ or ‘more’ can you say? Fortunately, and not for the first time in my career, Pat Symcox came to the rescue at the end of the Test match by agreeing to an interview with satellite sports channel ESPN:

“The best thing is to shut up and go off into the distance now,” Symcox said of Jones in a television interview screened here in Sri Lanka. “He’s made an idiot of himself and he’s created a major issue for the game, a game that a lot of us love, and for a young guy and his family. It’s quite unacceptable,” Symcox said.

One of the finest broadcasters in the world, Harsha Bhogle, provided an equally forthright – if slightly more subtle – view on the Jones saga.

“Everything that Dean Jones says is aggressive and provocative and that’s why I’ve loved working with him, but sometimes, when you’re provocative, you choose the wrong stage. It was a throw-away line that people would have at work-places and factories all the time. Sitting under a tree with a cup of coffee we can say what we like, we can get away with it, but with a ‘live’ microphone he has let the world know what he thought. He’s been a bit stupid but, knowing Deano, he’ll be the first to put his hand up and say that,” said Bhogle.

It was, indeed, exceptionally stupid. Anyone who has ever sat behind a microphone will have experienced the caution, fear and even dread of being ‘caught’ – of making a mistake and broadcasting it to the world. Other commentators have suffered and some have never recovered.

The secret, of course, is to never think such thoughts. But that’s a much deeper state of mind than mere broadcasting.

It always helps to look around you and see the real world, especially when bombs are killing children.

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