SKY’S THE LIMIT? OLD JIM WOULD CERTAINLY NOTAGREE
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.