World number six Shaun Murphy is still very much playing at the peak of his powers, but the 38-year-old has also been enjoying stints in the commentary box and the studio in recent times.
The Magician, who is in playing action this afternoon at the 888sport Champion of Champions, was on commentary and punditry duty all last week at the BetVictor Championship League and has worked for the BBC and other broadcasters at events in the past.
Despite his priorities being firmly fixed on the baize for the time being, the Englishman admits he may pursue broadcasting as a career on a more permanent basis after he hangs up his cue.
We spoke to Murphy to discuss what he enjoys about the TV business…
Shaun, first of all do you find that the forensic analysis required to provide punditry and commentate has helped you with your own game at all?
“I have definitely seen things in commentary that I have then thought about trying in my own game. A few seasons ago, when I was going through a bit of a rough patch, I noticed through commentating on a lot of the top players, that I was becoming too defensive with my break building. A lot of these guys were getting in the balls and opening the reds much earlier than I was. I made that change and my game did turn a corner because of that. It has been vitally important in that regard.
“I think it is a real treat to be allowed behind the curtain so to speak. Of course the commentary goes hand in hand with coverage of snooker, which I’ve been watching since nine years of age. It has been a great thrill to sit behind the microphone. It is quite an important position when you think about it, as you are narrating the action to everyone watching at home. It is something I enjoy and I am thrilled whenever I get the opportunity to do it.
“When you are in the studio, you really have to watch with a very keen eye. You need to see those little turning points you can reference while the frames are being racked up. Obviously I didn’t know any of this before doing it, but it takes a lot of concentration. It can be quite draining in that studio. I am of course treading the line of not being too critical of my fellow players as a current one. Snooker is not an easy game. It is a game of skill, but you do need to give an honest opinion. That is why you have been asked to do it in the first place.”
Do you get nervous at all when you are about to go on air?
“I don’t tend to get nervous with the commentary at all. There is certainly nothing more nerve wracking than walking out at the Crucible for the World Championship or Alexandra Palace for the Masters with a cue in your hand. I’ve taken my commentary in my stride. I think the live links with Hazel, Jason or Radzi, if you are the lead pundit opening or closing the show, can be quite difficult and a bit nerve wracking. You’ve got the director in your ear telling you various things about cameras, timings and other things. That is a bit out of the comfort zone, but it would be nice to learn more about that skill and it is another string to the bow.”
Does it take time to pick up all the tricks of the trade in commentary like when to let the pictures do the talking and when to come in?
“Very much so. It is very hard to know how much to talk and who you are commentating to. Am I describing the action for someone who is very knowledgeable about snooker that understands the game deeply? Or am I speaking to someone who has never seen the game before that wouldn’t understand running side or check side and the like? A good tip I received recently from Phil Yates, was to speak less when it means more. I think that goes a long way in snooker commentary. Snooker is such a dramatic sport anyway that a lot of the time the pictures do the talking. The last thing you want is a commentator that doesn’t know when to be quiet.
“I always try to tell the audience things they can’t see. Most people who watch snooker don’t need me to explain the rules, but I do think it is good for me to explain how they might be thinking and the thought processes, shot selection. Why they played that shot when they could have played one or two others. That is what I feel I can bring to the commentary.
“Sometimes there are two players in the box, so one needs to take the lead commentator role. I think stuff like that is exciting. It is a challenge and something different. It is learning new skills and there is a lot more in it than I ever thought there was. You are speaking to the director, basically editing the show as you go and you have countback in your ears. It isn’t quite as easy as I thought it was, but it is something I enjoy when I get the chance to do it.”
Do you find it easy to combine playing and TV work when you do both at tournaments and would you like to do it on a more permanent basis when you have finished playing?
“For me the way I am at snooker tournaments, if I wasn’t playing a match then I would be watching the broadcast. I’m a bit of a nightmare for it. I’ll play in the afternoon, have my dinner and sit and watch snooker all night at a tournament. I love it and genuinely still have the same passion for it that I had as a child. When I am fortunate enough to be in a position where somebody pays me to talk about it, that is like winning the lottery. I hope it is something that continues.
“I’d love the opportunity to do it on a more permanent basis when I am finished playing. I don’t think I can be as blasé as to expect that to come my way, if the invitation came my way I would be interested. I won’t be playing snooker competitively forever. There will come a time when that isn’t my primary focus and at that stage I will be looking at other things. I don’t know anything other than snooker really, so it would be nice to stay in touch with it some way. If that is in front of a camera or behind a microphone that would be brilliant.”
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