A black cloud hangs over Sky. The build-up to the Ashes has been excruciating, like waiting in the muggy heat for a storm to start. Sky have even set up a bespoke Ashes channel – well actually it's just Sky Sports 2 by another name – but now they have ditched their estimable two-hour highlights package just at the crucial moment and brought in a whole lot more Bob Willis instead. This may be the Ashes, but does that really have to mean the resurrection of his funereal tones?
The old two-hour slot used to be almost like settling down for a mini-version of the day's play for those poor folk who have to go out and work in order to pay for their Sky subscriptions. At the end there would be a quarter of an hour of doom and gloom from big, bad Bob, the indefatigable Charles Colvile and some other poor sidekick – in this case the appropriately named Tom Moody.
But now there's just an hour of the action, then a whole hour of punditry which it is well-nigh impossible to get to the end of. It's the same problem that Channel 4's highlights had during the thrilling summer of 2005: not enough footage and far too much chatter. Mentioning no names, but Mark Nicholas, you know who you are. At least you're not likely to get too many "gee whizzes" and "crikeys" off Willis. Now he has his own "analysis area", where presumably you can get your head looked at if you're still tuned in.
The guys on the ground have the "Ashes zone", a kind of giant kiddies' toy with lots of buttons and flashing lights which they trundle on to the playing area – presumably pulled by a toddler on a tricycle. The pundits then throw their hands around, analysing data like they're Tom Cruise in Minority Report. This minute dissection of the action is actually becoming a minority interest.
With all these technical gadgets and gizmos, the game itself is turning into a farce, a succession of reviews and counter-reviews with some cricket occasionally breaking out in the middle. So it seems all the more odd that the likes of Stuart Broad can refuse to leave the crease and insist that all the evidence is wrong.
Then there was the revelation that Jonathan Trott was given out first ball because Hotspot could not be fired up quick enough to save him after being used for the previous dismissal.
There is something spooky about Hotspot's images, like an infrared camera in a haunted house, so really it's only right that there should be a ghost in the machine.
* From one Australia media empire to another, and Howzat! Kerry Packer's War (BBC4, Monday) arrives from Down Under and turns out to be more hard-hitting than the Australian tourists. Dennis Lillee's manager, Austin Robertson, dreams of "the best cricketers in Australia, all on one ground, all at the same time". Darren Lehmann must have been wishing he could achieve something similar now.
It's very good stuff. The gateman at Sussex did have a peculiarly strong northern accent, and despite all the effing and blinding this is a very sympathetic portrait of Packer, who ripped the game apart ruthlessly in creating his World Series of rebel players. But then it was commissioned by Channel Nine, which he owned.
His increased remuneration for the impoverished players of the Seventies did do a lot to help the game. And we also hear that he introduced day-night cricket under lights, stump microphones and extra cameras to show run-outs. In part two we will no doubt hear of his greatest achievement: to make West Indies, the most feared team in the world, wear pink pyjamas. It was a fitting climax to the realisation of one man's dream.
- More about:
- Channel 4