Sport on TV: Contempt for the authorities as carnival in the Caribbean turns to carnage

SPORT ON TV
Not content with a performance in the middle that should by rights bring him sport's first Victoria Cross, Alec Stewart also came up with the line of the week at the press conference that followed the abandonment of the first Test in Kingston (Sky Sports 2, BBC1).

Black and blue, he sat down and announced, "I look like a lady who's just appeared in a French courtroom," referring to Geoff Boycott's conviction across the Channel this week for using his girlfriend for battering practice.

Boycott's subsequent ditching by the TV people meant that we were deprived of his famous key insertions into the wicket before battle commenced. Michael Holding, who inspected the surface in his stead, could have used a marrow. It was less like a cricket pitch than the surface of the moon interrupted by brief outbursts of grass.

After the toss, Brian Lara, was asked what he thought of it. There was a pause while he weighed the demands of truth and diplomacy. "We have to wait and see," he concluded. "It's a bit unusual." Which was like calling Naseem Hamed a bit of a wally.

When things got underway, Holding was taken aback by the viciousness of the deliveries. "That one really took off," he said in amazement as Michael Atherton struggled to cope with a yet another leathery smart bomb. And as Mark Butcher followed him back to the pavilion after the first ball rendered him apparently incapable of co-ordinating his limbs, Holding murmured, in a tone that suggested he couldn't quite believe what he was seeing, "How do you play a delivery like this? Impossible. Impossible."

As the vignettes of carnage followed in rapid succession (and on the BBC highlights later, the effect was heightened by dramatic compression), there was a shot of John Emburey, Atherton and Dean Headley looking funereal (and indeed, Sabina Park's reputation was being rapidly interred with each successive ball). "This is the most extraordinary half-hour of a Test match you've seen," Bob Willis said. Watching the highlights later, you thought, "Just you wait, mate."

All we needed now was the measured disgust that Ian Botham does so well, and he delivered. "You can get as fit as you like, you just don't expect to play on a corrugated roof," he said as Graham Thorpe was smashed on the wrist.

Around this point, my attention was distracted by a couple of butterflies which, oblivious to the danger they were in, persisted in hovering round Stewart, who was presumably feeling like a knife-thrower's assistant strapped to the wheel - except that knife-throwers usually miss. The butterflies had the advantage of being able to flee the scene.

Botham was becoming increasingly disturbed by what he was seeing, and contemptuous of the playing surface. "I was skiing a couple of weeks ago," he said, "and there were moguls that weren't as big as some of the bumps on this pitch."

One ball leapt high to go for four byes, followed by another that came close to knee-capping Stewart, who by now was surely eligible to apply to the World Wildlife Fund for endangered species status. Botham had had enough. "I'm sorry," he spat, "this is a complete joke ... someone is going to get seriously hurt, and that is not what cricket is supposed to be about."

At last, sanity prevailed, and as the captains and umpires deliberated in the middle, a record called "Cool Running" was playing in the stadium, presumably a tribute to the Jamaican bobsleigh team immortalised by the movie of the same name.

I'm not sure whether there'll be a repeat performance at Nagano. They may have been squeezed out by raised entry requirements like Eddie Edwards, who bemoaned his fate in The Essential Winter Olympics (BBC2). Ten years after he raised incompetence to an art form - sport's very own Tommy Cooper - he had come out of retirement and had been practising for this year, but the British Olympic Association, embarrassed by the way he hijacked the show in Calgary, have churlishly raised qualifying standards. "They didn't like the fact that the guy who came 55th got more attention than the guy who won the gold medal," he said.

He comes across as a slightly strange bloke, it must be said. Describing his early days of struggle, he said, "I went to Finland, stayed in a mental hospital and scraped in the bins." Still, he got his 15 minutes, including an appearance on Johnny Carson. "You look like a sportsman," lied Burt Reynolds, while Carson was clearly finding it difficult to hide his distaste.

There is, by all accounts, a new Carson in town. Away last week, I sadly missed the Ian Wright chat-show pilot, All Wright On The Night (ITV). Though apparently a little raw, he impressed the suits enough to spark a bidding war. I reckon when he gets the real thing going, his first guests should be Peter Schmeichel, the referee he called a muppet and the disabled linesman to whom he addressed the immortal question - perfect for any chat show - "Where are your f---ing arms?"

Comments