Kerry O’Keeffe – one out of left field

Date: January 3, 2014 / Posted by control

After 13 summers entertaining, informing and educating ABC Grandstand’s cricket audience, Kerry O’Keeffe will be saying farewell at the end of the SCG Test. While his longevity in the commentary box pales in comparison to the likes of Alan McGilvray and Jim Maxwell, Kerry’s presence has nonetheless been profound.

Before going any further I should state that I am an unabashed fan having worked alongside Kerry on Grandstand’s coverage for ten seasons.

I first encountered Kerry when I was at the SCG to cover a NSW-WA Sheffield Shield match in the early-1990s and with a large rain delay I got plenty of time to have a chat and right from that point I discovered he was a natural raconteur.

Around the turn of the millennium he was invited to join the Grandstand team for international cricket. Safe to say, he caused a degree of polarity amongst the audience as he was VERY different. Yet it soon became obvious that the pro camp was way out in front.

There is no doubting that Kerry has brought a whole new audience to the ABC’s coverage – all of us who have been involved are testament to that having been told by so many of those new listeners, many of them women.

Kerry was a godsend to the ball-by-ball commentators who sat alongside him as he always kept you on your toes. He could enliven a dull passage of play with his unique take on things.

And that is the real strength of Kerry. Very early on he dubbed what he did ‘observational humour’. And that is rare in the medium of radio and television sports broadcasting.

Dennis Cometti, one of the finest ball-by-ball commentators this country has produced, freely admits to carrying around a long list of witty one-liners that he has either read or dreamt up and waits for the right opportunity to inject them into his commentary.

Kerry is the complete opposite. Everything he does is off the cuff as he can find humour almost at will with what he is witnessing or in a conversation with his fellow broadcaster of the minute.

The one big exception is the famous ‘Frog Joke’. I was the poor sucker on air with him at the Gabba on Valentine’s Day 2006 for the third and deciding ODI final between Australia and Sri Lanka. Two overs in Kerry told the audience he was going to read out an email from a listener. What followed was one of the funniest pieces of commentary to ever go to air –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdUNBxhIQvU

It of course finished with the trademark laugh – a laugh that often had me looking at him and wondering whether his gene pool should have had a lifeguard!

One of the things that the audience truly love is Kerry’s interactions with visiting commentators with Harsha Bhogle and Jonathan Agnew at the top of the tree. Kerry has a way of taking them beyond their normal comfort zone with his wacky ways, especially with Harsha when it came to our quirky Australian lingo.

One fine example was this exchange at the SCG:

Harsha: How do you think Gillespie is looking this morning?

Kerry: Not too good. He looks stiffer than a triple scotch.

Harsha: Stiffer than a triple … scotch … did you say?

Kerry: Yeah, he’s that stiff.

Harsha: Kerry, how many stiff ones did you have last night?

As the whole commentary box dissolved into laughter, Kerry replied, “I am 54 Harsha … ONE!”

That same tour Harsha expressed to Kerry his desire to become more Australian to which Kerry replied, ‘You’re a tea totalling, vegetarian Hindu. I’m not a miracle worker!”

Kerry freely admits publicly that when the ABC approached him to come on board he was not traveling too well financially. In the end the ABC-O’Keeffe marriage provided a win-win for both parties. Kerry’s star took off as his diary filled with speaking engagements and the ABC’s audience numbers trended seriously northwards.

In many ways, Kerry will be remembered for his funny asides which is a great shame. As an analyst he is superb. He watches inordinate hours of international cricket and turns up to every broadcast with a stack of notes with regard to visiting teams and more often than not he will tell you what will happen with respect to dismissals and the likes before they happen. He also watches a lot of domestic cricket at the SCG and has a better handle on up and coming players than most. An example is the fact that he identified Nathan Lyon’s potential before anyone else did.

On various blogs and other social media fans have bemoaned the fact that Kerry’s voice and personality – and THAT laugh – will be gone from the airwaves.

I freely tell people that he was the expert I enjoyed working with most in my 21 years at Aunty. We had a great rapport both on and off air.

At least I still got to listen to him after I resigned in mid-2011, but now alas …

First published on ‘The Roar’ – www.theroar.com.au – on 2 January 2014