A diplomatic Guy, and not a hair out of place

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The Independent Online
Call the police. Someone is impersonating Ian Botham on Sky's international cricket coverage, and they are not making a very good job of it. The hair is too neatly trimmed, the suit is too dapper and the volume has been turned right down. Good grief, the man even sympathises with Australian batsmen.

"Mark Taylor looks to me like he's got a bit of a problem outside that off-stump," the new, diplomatic Botham opined. Well, you're dead right there - it's called the ball, and Taylor doesn't know what to do with it. It didn't end there: Darren Gough had Steve Waugh plumb in front, and the new Botham murmured: "That's very close - if there is any doubt there, it has got to go the batsman's way," where in his previous incarnation he would surely have exclaimed "HOWZAAAAAT!!!!!?"

Where's the Beef? Is this the man who popularised the Rastafarian armband? Who revolutionised the British Panto industry? Who caroused for his country? Who, out of deference to his wife, titled his autobiography with the often- used phrase Don't Tell Kath? What is going on?

Actually, the hair at least can be explained away: it is still growing back after Botham shaved it all off for charity in New Zealand. But the mildness of manner and the dapper appearance are symptoms of a profound change. As a commentator, Botham is doing what he never did as a cricketer, and submitting to the house style. For "Guy", read "Sky".

And Sky's cricket team follow the same aesthetic guidelines as the England team: not a hair out of place, not a button undone, no one to speak out of line. It's all a little bit spooky, which is not to detract for one moment from the manifest technical excellence of the coverage, the strength of the commentary and summary team (Allan Border is a terrific signing), and reduced doses of Charles Colvile.

The smart dress and statelier style are signs that Sky is taking its responsibilities as a leading provider of the nation's summer game seriously. And by going down such a route it is implicitly challenging the right of BBC Radio's Test Match Special to be regarded as the voice of the game.

The BBC, sadly but unsurprisingly, is abetting this process by continuing to provide a second-class cricket service on radio. If you were dish- or cable-less on Thursday, you would have missed the final overs of the Australian innings at Headingley, because the band of Radio 4 broadcasting cricket was interrupted by the shipping forecast. The solution is so simple. Put the cricket live instead of the guff-filled magazine programmes on Radio 5, and leave the news to Radio 4, where anyone with half a brain goes for it anyway.

The arrival of the cricket season is also the signal for David Gower to hang up his smirk as he swaps from trading smutty remarks on They Think It's All Over to presenting the marginally more serious Gower's Cricket Monthly (BBC2).

Not that the latter is without its silly moments. Jonathan Agnew reported on the likely reorganisation of the English game under the former Tesco supremo Lord MacLaurin. So Gower's introduction was all about labels, brands, packaging and products. They had dispatched Agnew, Gower wittily concluded, "to check things out".

Phew, the viewers thought, at least that's got the supermarket imagery out of the way. But they had barely started. Each of the key individuals in the story had their face magically morphed on to an item from a supermarket shelf - a classic example of using technology because it's there, rather than to aid the explanation of a story.

Unless there was some deeper level of subtlety - maybe the choice of product was significant in each case. Let us see. MacLaurin was a can of baked beans. So, eerily, was Tim Lamb, the ECB chief executive. It is too early for them to be has-beens, surely? Raymond Illingworth's image was superimposed on a pinta, not that he has always been overflowing with the milk of human kindness, while David Graveney was a packet of washing powder, though he seems to be more likely to be on the receiving end of a whitewash than providing one.

David Lloyd was represented by what looked like a bottle of salad dressing - Bumble's Own, perhaps - while Mike Atherton was a bottle of red wine, no doubt in optimistic anticipation of a vintage year. Mike Gatting was a bottle of ale and Graham Gooch a jar of mayonnaise, but here the logic broke down completely: what was required for these two was respectively a tub of lard and a refurbished bog brush.

No, in the end the whole exercise was futile, as Agnew himself admitted. "But English cricket isn't like a supermarket," he concluded, wheeling his trolley down an aisle. "You can't just re-stock the shelves with new products and expect improved results." If that is the case, Jonathan, what were all the fatuous graphics about?

Now that Gower has lined up his summer job, whatever is to become of Nick Hancock, TTIAO's genial host? Don't fret, listen out for Hancock's dulcet tones advertising Imodium, a diarrhoea remedy. Nice job, Nick. Just tell us - does it work for the verbal variety?

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