Five is the shiniest button on my remote control. It's rarely visited territory, the Albania of the terrestrial television world. Perhaps Norman Wisdom might have been able to find some good in it, or if only C B Fry, the "handsomest man in England", was still bounding around these shores he could have been persuaded to take over the channel and damn well make something of it. But then as he turned down the throne of Albania he might equally have seen Channel Five as a leap too far, and this from a man who is supposed to have still been able to jump backwards on to a mantelpiece at the age of 70.
When it comes to damn fine looks, the nearest thing English cricket has to a Fry today (shots of Stephen in a hospitality box don't count) is Mark Nicholas, the damnedly handsome host of Five's cricket highlights. This was my first sighting of Nicholas this summer – all good things etc – and unfortunately he seems to have shed some of the show pony splendour, perhaps because of having to work alongside Geoffrey Boycott, the pit pony's pit pony.
Like its better-resourced neighbours, Five follows Sky in doing a decent job with cricket. The channel does deserve credit (which they immediately lose tenfold for Big Brother) for being the one terrestrial station bothered to bring footage of the world's best team to those who cannot afford Sky and showing it in an accessible time slot. The highlights package is simple, which may be something of a necessity as play is often still going on when the programme comes on air at 7pm, but effective and in Nicholas, Michael Vaughan, Simon Hughes and, in particular, Boycott it has a solid commentary box presence. Nicholas, a natural in front of the camera, doubles up as a presenter, but I believe has a punkahwallah who will fetch the tea if required.
Nicholas and Boycott are paired up, the gentleman and the player. It is the one failing of the programme's structure that Boycott is needed to be a straight commentator, which is not what he is suited to. Channel Nine in Australia pioneered the idea of doing away with the commentator and summariser approach to cricket broadcasting, instead cramming more former players than you could shake a koala at into the box.
Nicholas and Boycott are a throwback, in that they work best with Nicholas describing what's happened and Boycott explaining why it happened. That is not easy to put across in a highlights package. Boycott may actually be best suited to radio, where there is ample time for his enjoyable mix of cutting punditry and characteristic cussedness. "I was a better player than that Sehwag," he muttered at one point on Saturday. He may well be the exception that proves C L R James' rule of cricket.
Sachin Tendulkar's innings on Saturday was perfectly caught by the highlights, capturing his irritation and cutting in close-ups to reveal rare anxiety in his eyes. Were we really seeing the beginning of the end for the Little Master (and if that doesn't set up the 100th hundred nothing will)? "This is quite difficult to watch," said Vaughan.
Good, but not quite at the level of Soccer Saturday, which continues to push the boundaries of the English language beyond anything James ever managed. John Salako was reporting from Reading on Saturday where he brought breathless news that the home side had "shot themselves in the foot and committed football suicide".Reuse content