The Cricket Paper - - OPINION - MARTIN JOHN­SON

If, like me, you find that the only way to un­wind at the end of a long hard day is with a large gin and tonic in one hand and the lat­est bul­letin from the Of­fice for Na­tional Sta­tis­tics in the other, you will know that the UK con­sumes twice as many baked beans as any­where else in Europe, that peo­ple who live in Sh­effield have the most fill­ings and miss­ing teeth, and that ab­sen­teeism from work is steadily go­ing down ev­ery year.

I’m not sure why Sh­effield should be the den­tal de­cay cap­i­tal of the UK, or whether the fi­nal Brexit terms will in­clude an agree­ment to im­ple­ment baked bean ra­tioning, but what I feel pretty con­fi­dent about is that the de­cline in the num­ber of peo­ple call­ing into the of­fice with a bo­gus sick note is en­tirely down to Sky’s cricket cov­er­age.

There was a time, when di­nosaurs roamed the earth and cricket was only on ter­res­trial TV, when it was safe to pick up the phone to the boss, sub­ject him to such a bout of cough­ing and wheez­ing down the re­ceiver that he or­dered you straight to bed, and then head off for an idyl­lic day at the Test match.

Not any more. It’s too risky. There you are at your desk the next day, and in comes your em­ployer to ask you if you’re feel­ing bet­ter. “Yes, thanks,” you re­ply. “Ah, good,” he says. “It must have been the ther­a­peu­tic qual­i­ties of that pint of beer I saw you guz­zling in the Compton Stand yes­ter­day. Un­less you have an iden­ti­cal twin brother you’ve never men­tioned. If mem­ory serves, you were sit­ting be­tween a Mex­i­can ban­dit and a traf­fic cone.”

Is it just me? Or is it get­ting to the stage where Sky’s Test match cov­er­age has changed di­rec­tion ever so slightly. From throw­ing in the oc­ca­sional crowd shot to go with the cricket, to throw­ing in the oc­ca­sional cricket shot to go with the crowd?

As far as the pro­gramme’s pro­ducer is con­cerned, the most ex­cit­ing part of the en­tire day’s play is not when Jimmy An­der­son bags his 500th Test wicket, but when the cam­era zooms in on some cou­ple, who then look up at the big screen to spot them­selves be­ing zoomed in on. Hands shoot up to the mouth to sti­fle gasps of as­ton­ish­ment, one of them points to the screen to con­firm the mag­i­cal mo­ment – “look dar­ling! It’s us!” – and it all ends up with a manic wave to the cam­era to cel­e­brate their newly ac­quired celebrity sta­tus.

A com­par­a­tively re­cent vari­a­tion on this fa­mil­iar scene is when the cam­era pans across to some­one who’s hooked up to one of those ear­pieces tuned into the TV com­men­tary. Which is the cue for Bum­ble to en­gage them in con­ver­sa­tion. “Are you en­joy­ing it? What’s in the sand­wich? You what? Cheese and pickle? My favourite.”

There’s noth­ing wrong with any of this, not least in mak­ing the

Do we re­ally want to see Bum­ble in a shark cage or Gower re-en­act­ing Tiger Moth flights? It’s all a bit self-in­dul­gent but bet­ter than Gardeners’ World

most of Bum­ble’s bril­liant gift for bright­en­ing up even the dullest day at the cricket. It’s just that there’s a dan­ger of over­do­ing it all. Just as Gil­lette gave up their spon­sor­ship way back when af­ter peo­ple as­so­ci­ated them more with cricket than a ra­zor blade, so Bum­ble, who is ac­tu­ally a shrewd an­a­lyst of the game with a par­tic­u­lar tal­ent for ap­ply­ing com­mon sense to the equa­tion, may end up mak­ing some se­ri­ous point about the bat­ting or­der, and hav­ing half the view­ers laugh­ing so much they fall off the sofa.

And do we re­ally want to see Bum­ble in a shark cage, or Gower re-en­act­ing Tiger Moth flights? It’s all a bit self­ind­ul­gent, although Sky’s idea of fill­ing in gaps is still bet­ter than in the old BBC days, when the lun­cheon in­ter­val would be filled by Lis­ten With Mother, and a re­peat of Gardeners’World.

Rain de­lays are bet­ter on Sky as well. With their new ded­i­cated cricket chan­nel, off they go to an in­door net tu­to­rial with some­one like Mike Ather­ton or Nasser Hus­sain fac­ing up to a bowl­ing ma­chine, or Jack Rus­sell show­ing us bits of mem­o­ra­bilia that in­cluded the bat­tered old hat but not the soli­tary tea bag he man­aged to make last for an en­tire se­ries.

When it rained in the Beeb’s day, on the other hand, they would in­vari­ably fill in the time by show­ing some­thing with­out the slight­est rel­e­vance to the game they were cov­er­ing. So if Eng­land were play­ing, say, New Zealand in a Test match at the Oval, the pre­sen­ter would say some­thing like: “And now we’re go­ing to take you back to the Gil­lette Cup fi­nal of 1966 at Lord’s where War­wick­shire have won the toss and Worces­ter­shire are bat­ting.”

There were times when the cricket hacks writ­ing for news­pa­pers would have loved to take the BBC ap­proach. In the washout Test sum­mer of 1987, we’d spend all day watch­ing a mo­torised whale chug­ging round the out­field, and the sports ed­i­tor would come on ask­ing for 1,000 words. But when you tried the BBC ap­proach, and asked whether you could send him a cut­ting of a match re­port from Es­sex v Glam­or­gan two years ago, the re­sponse was a lit­tle tart to say the least.

In the old BBC days, the cricket was al­ways dull. Boy­cott and Edrich would be go­ing along at 0.7 per over, and Jim Laker would de­scribe it all in a mono­tone, Sat-Nav style turn-left-at-thenext-junction mode of de­liv­ery. Ev­ery bound­ary “raced away” and was “four from the mo­ment it left the bat...” sound­ing sus­pi­ciously as though it had been pre-recorded in a stu­dio.

It’s hard to imag­ine Jim Laker do­ing cricket com­men­tary in the Sky com­men­tary box, although the old boy would have fit­ted in quite well on Test Match Spe­cial, if only for nip­ping off at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals to read out the Ship­ping Fore­cast. On the other hand, if you had to choose which was the more bor­ing – Jim’s de­liv­ery, or spec­ta­tors wav­ing to them­selves on a Sky cam­era three times an over – it would be a pretty close run thing.

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