Sport on TV: Early summer gloom leads to careful study of the Hotspots
The Lord's Test is one of the social events of the summer, a spectacle in itself even without the cricket – which may be good, given the weather. Lunch in the Harris Garden, old men dribbling on their lurid ties as they doze off, stewards manhandling a docile public; it's all part of the magic and mystique.
But without wishing to "do a Jeremy Hunt" – that's not rhyming slang, by the way – on behalf of an evil empire, it may be better to watch the game on Sky Sports these days. There are so many gadgets and gizmos on offer to the viewer that actually being at a Test match feels like sensory deprivation. One bite of a pork pie at the wrong moment and you might miss a wicket, never to see it again (15 times).
The Decision Review System is essentially just an extension of your remote control at home, but fortunately you don't have to operate it yourself. And this ideal televisual element is changing the nature of the game and even influencing team selection. West Indies went into the Lord's Test without a recognised spinner, no doubt assuming that the ball would never turn in England in May. But by omitting the slow bowler the tourists have eradicated a whole chunk of their wicket-taking capability, because DRS has permitted far more LBW decisions than ever before. Cricket used to enamouredof its players' initials; now it's all about acronyms.
One thing's for sure, when West Indies are in town and summer hasn't arrived yet, there are going to be a lot of edges. With the ball swinging both ways, Mike Atherton and Sir Ian Botham cold-start their habitual mournful refrain: oh, my third man and my deep backward square of long ago. But where has cricket's mysterious third man been hiding these past few years? Perhaps his ghostly presence might show up on Hotspot if you were to look carefully around the margins.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul is perhaps not a player for cricket's televisual coming of age. He may be the world's greatest batsman right now, but you would probably still prefer to read about it in the paper than watch him. His technique looks dreadful, he scores slowly and plays ugly shots, and he bats forever. There's no point replaying his shovel shot into the leg side even once on aesthetic grounds, let alone five times from various different angles.
And yet we are likely to see a lot of him over the next month or so. It's shaping up to be a Chanderpaul kind of summer. Bob Willis summed up the rather downbeat status of this early-summer series after the first day's play. Describing Stuart Broad's bowling, he intoned: "With the ball seaming and swinging under leaden skies, he is unplayable." The funereal Mr Willis loves his negatives, even when he's trying to be positive.
But what of England's new dazzler, with his bright red head and his swishing blade? Jonny Bairstow was presented with his cap before the start of play by another of batting's great spoilsports, Geoff Boycott. No doubt he informed his fellow Yorkshireman that he had never consciously tried to hit a six in his entire career (see Boycott's book Play Cricket The Right Way) and that the lad should try to bat a little more boringly. Well, as we all know about Murdoch's empire, those red tops can get a little excitable.
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