A goggle-eyed public in the Rocket's pocket

Sport on TV
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The Independent Online
JUST because you're paranoid, as the old saying goes, doesn't mean the world isn't out to get you, and a similar theory seems to apply to some of the BBC's sports coverage. Just because it is the oldest and most respected broadcaster in the world, do not assume for a moment that there is not someone at Television Centre who is employed solely to dream up clever new ways to irritate viewers.

Take, for instance, the undisputed sporting highlight of the week, as the Whirlwind took on the Rocket for a place in the semis of the World Snooker Championship. With all due respect to Ken Doherty and co, this is the match most would have chosen as their dream final, and one to exhaust even a tabloid's supply of headlines with a High Noon theme.

It was on BBC1. And then on BBC2. And then back on BBC1 again. Contrary to what some will have you believe, snooker does not draw its entire audience from the ranks of students who are supposed to be revising. How many people, you wonder, arrived at work 15 minutes late on Tuesday because it had taken them so long to set their video?

It is not as if there was ever much danger of the session over-running. White versus O'Sullivan is the only snooker match in which you can be fairly sure that the mid-session interval will last longer than the four frames either side. But at least the schedulers were shrewd enough to realise that live coverage was essential, and anything else would have brought an angry mob of snooker fans to the gates, wielding their cues in a rather unpleasant manner. Apart from one channel switch, which raised the blood pressure to dangerous levels for two agonising minutes, not a pot was missed.

Other players, including Doherty, the defending champion, were not considered worthy of equal treatment. The second session of Doherty's semi-final with Mark Williams was desperately tight, with several black-ball frames, but somehow being forced to follow it on Teletext removed a little of the excitement. The Sky versus terrestrial argument is a complicated one, but when an event lasts all day every day for a fortnight, and you know that Sky Sports would give it blanket coverage, it is hard not to feel a twinge of sympathy for the satellite side of the debate.

When they actually find space for it, though, the BBC coverage is admirable, as well it should be after so many years of practice. In Dougie Donnelly they have the unthinking man's Des Lynam, ideal for the two-minute interlude between frames, while the sometimes dubious idea of the player-turned- pundit gains much credibility from the efforts of Dennis Taylor and John Virgo.

Both, of course, have milked the Crucible applause in their time, even though in Virgo's case it was only for his party-piece impersonations between matches. His Alex Higgins was quite good, and so too his Terry Griffiths. The one impersonation he could never carry off, sadly, was of "serious contender".

He does not seem to do them any more, probably because the generally robotic new generation of snooker players has very little to latch on to. A shame, because a little light relief was required once White and then O'Sullivan (who looks more like the fourth Gallagher brother with every passing year) had fallen by the wayside. Jimmy's ability to play like a god one day and a mere mortal the next will probably remain a mystery forever, but for those of us who regard him as simply the finest sportsman - in every sense of the word - that we have, the tournament was as good as over the moment he started to put away his cue on Wednesday night.

Jimmy had his chances, of course, most of all when he was in among the balls in the deciding frame of the final four years ago. He stared his finest hour in the face but his courage failed him. Not so Ruby Wax, who, as someone pointed out shortly before her meeting with O J Simpson (BBC1), had spent her entire career preparing for this moment.

It was the performance of a lifetime. The right questions, asked at the right time, including the Big One, and some dumbfounding one-liners sprinkled through her tour of Simpson's daily routine. The only one she didn't ask was why a once-brilliant athlete who has maintained his superb physique and spends five or six hours a day on the golf course has such an irredeemable swing.

From the forced good humour on the way to the club, through a painful silence at the mention of his children and a jittery denial of murder, to the insane stunt with a banana which rounded off the show, the wild instability was never more than a moment away. "I've never shaken the hand of a killer before," one woman said with disgust after stopping Simpson in the street. She thought like almost everyone else that he had got away with murder, but she was only half right. In fact, as became clear when he compared his existence to Bill Murray's in Groundhog Day, O J Simpson will spend the rest of his life in a jail, one he has built all by himself.

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