Robin Scott-Elliot: Five's show pony Nicholas only second best in show
View From The sofa: Cricket, Sky Sports/Five
Monday 11 May 2009
I don't know where Mark Nicholas is stabled, but wherever it is – the Spanish Riding School perhaps – it boasts the most conscientious groom known to man, or horse. Nicholas is never less than perfectly turned out, a picture in the paddock. He may actually be a centaur with an excellent tailor as you really can't tell on screen, apart from the magnificent mane.
Five's show pony is back home after a winter of globetrotting and our screens are happier for it, for this is one of the great love stories – Nicholas and the camera, the camera and Nicholas. He loves it and boy, oh boy, does it love him, to borrow from his parlance. Have you ever seen a camera swoon?
It must be something of a relief for him to be back in Blighty, not least as Australian TV's peculiar practice of using three commentators means there's no room to swish a tail, let alone swing a cat – a popular pastime among gnarled Aussie pundits – in the comm box. The fact that Nicholas has thrived Down Under, for all – or maybe because of – his Home Counties Englishness, says something about his ability on the box. A winter spent watching cricket from around the world cements the view that, although English players may be hit and miss on the pitch, pop a microphone in front of them once they've packed away the pads and Bob's your uncle, or rather your highlights man as Uncle Bob Willis is no longer an automatic pick in Sky's side.
Five are limited in what they can achieve in a highlights show, although asking Geoffrey Boycott to do basic commentary duties rather than concentrating on the nitty-gritty of the game is much like sending him out to open the batting for the Delhi Daredevils in the IPL.
Sky's live coverage is spot on. Cricket and Sky are made for each other, hours and hours of airtime to fill, every sort of statistic you could wish for, and thousands you wouldn't, to fill graphic after graphic, and a commentary box that combines enough runs and wickets to fill David Gower's wine cellar. Nasser Hussain and Mike Atherton are the blue-eyed boys; Sirian, as he is now exclusively called, the grumpy uncle Both; David Lloyd the batty aunt; and Michael Holding, a menacing rumble of thunder that should make batsmen everywhere grateful he is no longer out in the middle.
It can't have been easy last week. This was very much before the Lord's major show. You-know-what cast a shadow over the first Test like a giant version of one of Boycott's extra-wide brimmed Panama hats. "The Ashes are set to ignite the nation," said Nicholas, which probably makes them embers.
And spare a thought for the poor cameramen. They spent days scanning the crowd, and instead of the dancing girls that had warmed their winter – a good cameraman can spot a bikini blindfolded – all they found was a man in a Tommy Cooper hat and John Major drinking tea.
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