Sport on TV: Bollywood soap with plenty of blather in cricket free-for-all

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The Independent Online

Traditionalists who rose at dawn to watch England crawl to victory against Bangladesh over five days in the Second Test (Sky Sports 1) probably haven't got much time for the Indian Premier League (ITV4); far too lively. But it's the first free-to-air cricket we've been able to watch in ages, so we might as well make the most of it, as indeed ITV are, broadcasting live 59 of the 60 Twenty20 games.

They're picking up the local feed, with a motley crew of commentators including superannuated Australian Test players such as Andy Bichel, while back in the studio they've innovated by giving the presenters, Matt Smith and Mandira Bedi, superannuated English Test players to chat with instead. Enter Alec Stewart and Graeme Hick, square of jaw, sensible of haircut, but distinctly short on laughs. For light relief Ronnie Irani indulges in banter with Bedi, a vivacious and immaculately groomed Bollywood soap star who also likes to display her sure comedic touch.

A sample: Irani points out a serious-looking Tom Moody, the coach of the Kings XI Punjab. "He's never happy, always Moody," chirrups Mandira. "I cross 'em, you knock 'em in," chortles Ronnie. Excuse us while we go and split our sides.

Mandira is not related to Bishen Bedi, India's turbanned tweaker of yore, but is a self-confessed fan of the game who presented coverage of the IPL back home last year. She has kept her cricket knowledge to herself so far, though as the sixes soar, the crowds roar and the cheerleaders wiggle some more there's plenty of time left for her to tell us how to spot Murali's doosra or ponder why there is no third man in place. At least there would be were it not for the interminable ads, endlessly touting men's hair colouring, laser eye surgery or opticians. It's official: there's nothing grey about the IPL, it's a sight for sore eyes.

* Which is more than can be said of the BBC's coverage of the Winter Paralympics (BBC2, Monday). Britain had more genuine medal chances than in the Winter Olympics itself, so how much time did the corporation devote to the live action? None. It was felt a one-hour highlights package, screened at 1pm, was sufficient, despite the fact that what little we saw of the skiing and curling action seemed just as dramatic as the able-bodied equivalents. A poor show in every respect.

The government are considering adding the Ashes to the list of "crown jewel" events reserved for free-to-air television after Sky's contract runs out in 2013. It remains to be seen how interested the BBC will be in bidding for the rights next time round. Maybe ITV with their new-found experience are the answer. They could rope in one of their own soap stars: that Deirdre Barlow off Corrie, for instance, certainly knows how to spot a wrong 'un.