Sky Cricket: The Analyst is out of the reckoning
Simon Hughes, the man who deconstructed the drama of cricket, has failed to win a place in the new TV commentary line-up
Monday 28 November 2005
It is the close of play. Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell have salvaged England's first-innings total in the second test against Pakistan with a century each. If Simon Hughes were commentating in Faisalabad, he could have instructed viewers on the contrasting nature of Bell and Pietersen's innings, or the fact that the pitch was giving little for the bowlers, or how Shoaib Akhtar was varying the pace of his deliveries.
But Hughes is not in Pakistan. He is in Hammersmith. His days as The Analyst - when he would deconstruct the minutiae of cricket for the Channel 4 commentary team - finished at the end of the Ashes, along with Channel 4's rights to broadcast Test cricket. And he has not, to his chagrin, been asked to be involved with either the Sky commentary team or by Channel Five, who will be showing Test cricket highlights.
"Both the channels that have cricket from now will use their own people," says Hughes. "Michael Atherton, I know, is joining Sky in the New Year. I imagine Mark Nicholas is being courted by Channel Five. I don't know what else Channel Five is doing but I don't think that it involves me."
Test cricket is, from now until 2009, largely in the domain of BSkyB, which outbid Channel 4 for exclusive live rights with a £220m offer. Hughes believes the England and Wales Cricket Board's decision might come back to bite them.
"I see it as dangerous," says Hughes, the former Middlesex medium-pacer. "Clearly the ECB was made a financial offer it couldn't refuse. You couldn't call the move foolish, because Sky was offering more money than anyone else, but it is risky. Seven million homes have Sky, but 12 million homes don't. The danger is that something that was a national event last summer [The Ashes], because it was on terrestrial television, ceases to be a national event."
But in its defence, the ECB was presented with a huge problem - Channel 4 was not offering enough money. The previous deal, struck in 1999, where Channel 4 had rights to all but one home Test, plus a highlights package, while Sky screened foreign Test matches, had come to an end. And Channel 4's final offer this summer fell 40 per cent short of what the ECB felt it needed to continue developing the game.
Hughes' recollection of the final days of both the Ashes and Channel 4's reign are instructive. "It was bittersweet," he says. "But mainly sweet. We'd been willing England to do well for so long and they were finally doing it. And that was a huge thrill. It was a thrill coloured by the fact all of us knew we weren't going to be doing it again. But, over the past six or seven years we'd been used to finishing on a high in September and then nothing happening."
Except that in 2005, Hughes knew that nothing was going to be happening, at least in terms of TV commentary, for a long time. It was a blow for a man who was at the heart of pioneering a new way of broadcasting cricket in the mid-1990s. While at Channel 4, Hughes' use of split screens, of compacting an entire over into 20 seconds of footage, and of colourful graphics, helped to explain a complex game to newcomers and old hacks alike.
"Every man has their place, and I definitely had mine," says Hughes. "I was suited to my role as The Analyst. There was always so much to look at and talk about. I've always tried to explain the game. It's a game that is no longer in the common vernacular, nor is it in state schools. We need to keep reminding people what's happening out there - what's actually going on.
"Cricket's like theatre, whereas football's like film. With football you get 90 minutes. It's easy to understand. Both theatre and cricket take more patience. But, hopefully, they leave you with a deeper sensation. I've tried to provide that insight and explanation, and I think I've been successful in doing so."
Hughes has other irons in fires. His 70-pieces-a-year deal with The Daily Telegraph continues, despite the current ructions at the top end of the paper. He has also recently produced a DVD with Andrew Flintoff and has written a book entitled Morning Everyone, chronicling his life as a sportswriter.
But perhaps the most exciting project for Hughes is a programme he has devised for Indian TV called Cricket Star. The format includes a search for genuine cricket talent, a Big Brother-style house where contestants will cohabit, and a Pop Idol-esque talent contest in front of a live TV audience. On the panel will be "two huge cricket names and one non-cricket name", says Hughes.
Hughes is also keen not to see The Analyst's brand go to waste, and is looking at ways of bringing his interpretative skills onto websites and into print.
"I'd say that my big contribution has been to provide insight," says Hughes. "A lot of cricket fans have said to me that their wives or girlfriends who have never been involved with the game suddenly became interested because of what I was pointing out. And that's great."
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