Channel 4 bats for Richie Benaud

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CHANNEL 4 wants Richie Benaud, the BBC's veteran cricket commentator, to front its Test match coverage, secured this week in a pounds 103m deal.

Mr Benaud is at home in Australia but sources said his agent in London has been approached and a meeting arranged between the commentator and the television company.

The defection of Mr Benaud from the BBC would be deeply wounding for the corporation, said insiders, the final evidence that its loss of Test cricket this week, after an association dating back to 1938, is a profound humiliation for BBC Sports. The former Australian Test captain has been the anchor of the BBC's cricket coverage for more than a decade.

The bitterness at the BBC came to the fore again yesterday as Channel 4's decision to show some Test cricket only on its new digital channel, Channel 4B, was criticised by BBC bosses.

Alan Yentob, director of BBC Television, said on Radio 4's The World At One: "What is rather mystifying about this is that the Saturday Tests ... will be on digital terrestrial but not on analogue terrestrial television."

He said: "We have lost some things and we have to learn to live with that. I have to say though that the BBC put in a substantial offer for the cricket. And in the end I think the ECB [England and Wales Cricket Board] will regret what they have done."

Channel 4 has been backed into a corner by a commitment to show horseracing on its main channel on Saturday afternoons, leaving no room for cricket. A spokesman pointed out that 14 out of 15 sessions of any Test match will be shown on analogue, but the channel is stuck with the possibility that millions of fans will follow a Test match over two days, only to find that it reaches its climax on Saturday afternoon.

David Brook, Channel 4's director of strategy, said yesterday that "in all the years that the BBC covered sport they never managed to have uninterrupted ball-by-ball coverage". He gave the reassurance that Channel 4 would interrupt Saturday afternoon racing if the cricket was sufficiently exciting to demand it.

The television industry was slightly perplexed by Channel 4's decision to spend such a large sum, about pounds 52m, on cricket. The rest of the cash is coming from BSkyB.

The decision by its chief executive, Michael Jackson, does not fit easily with the channel's remit to provide an alternative to what is on offer on the other main channels, and the money could have been used to finance 300 hours or so of top- quality documentaries and drama. Channel 4 denied speculation that it is trying to build up the critical mass for a subscription digital sports channel, and said that the deal would be financed by the extra advertising revenue that cricket would generate.

Chris Smith, the Secretary of State for Culture, reiterated his support for the deal on The World at One. "The Cricket World Cup is still on the BBC next year and Test Match Special will continue on Radio 4." Wisdom From

Down Under

Some of the rich Australianisms which are the hallmark of Richie Benaud:

"Ooh. That's into the confectionery stall and out again."

Describing an Ian Botham six during the 1981 "Botham's Ashes" Test at Headingley

"That slow motion does not show how fast the ball was travelling."

"The hallmark of a great captain is the ability to win the toss at the right time."