Botham will have to get better. He has a good face for television, but commentators are heard, not seen, and his voice is not so compelling

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Several moulds were broken in the 1995 Texaco Trophy. Mike Atherton discovered how to dominate. England fought back from 1-0 down - and the series was shown live on Sky Sports.

This led to other little landmarks. These were the first home internationals to be accompanied by advertising. And they were the first under the new deal between the TCCB, Sky and the BBC. The two television companies used the same pictures, but different commentators. By watching live on Sky, then switching to BBC2 for the new user-friendly highlights, you could compare and contrast the two teams.

The BBC fielded its familiar line-up: Richie Benaud, David Gower, Geoff Boycott and Tony Lewis, plus Colin Croft. Nothing in Croft's playing career suggested that he would be capable of speech, let alone coherence, but he's a find, making crisp points in an incongruously high voice.

Sky, less sure of its quality, went for greater quantity. Its ubiquitous frontman, Charles Colville, was joined by an all-seam attack - Bob Willis, Michael Holding, Ian Botham, Paul Allott and Derek Pringle. The result was much like the one Test in which they all played, at Headingley in 1984 - Holding alone emerged victorious.

Holding's remarks are seldom remarkable. But the way he says them is as alluring as his run-up used to be. Famous then for being soundless, he turns out to have a spectacularly deep, rich voice. In the words of Michael Parkinson, his vocal cords appear to have been soaked in molasses.

As in 1984, the Englishmen are hard pressed to match up. The senior pro, Willis, is the opposite of Holding: trenchant content, dismal delivery. As a player Willis had trouble getting to sleep. As a commentator he struggles to stay awake. His voice remains on one note - the drone of your neighbour's mower.

Pringle and Allott, by comparison, are live-wires. Allott may be the new Jim Laker - flat but not dour, plain but not dull. Pringle is harder to place. He spots things, which is what ex-players are for, and he's genial. But he's not very distinctive. If he didn't start most sentences with "that's what Keith Fletcher used to say to us at Essex", you might think he was Dermot Reeve.

The newest recruit is Botham. Once an all-rounder, always an all-rounder. While still playing, Botham became a columnist (not hard, you might say), a footballer, a fund-raiser, a pantomime artist and a quiz contestant. Since retiring, he has become a best-selling author, a touring raconteur, and now a commentator.

He made a nervous debut, garbling a few sentences, but that was endearing. So was his habit of referring to England as "the boys", unless you were supporting West Indies.

As the nerves receded, a couple of catchphrases emerged. One was "a little bit". As in: "this Oval pitch has a little bit more bounce than Trent Bridge". The problem was that it didn't. It had much more. And we could see that for ourselves. But when you're larger-than-life, maybe everything looks a bit little.

His other phrase is "who knows?" as in "England could be looking at 250, 260 - who knows - maybe more?" Of course, no one knows, but Botham is paid to have an opinion, and it needs to be more illuminating than that.

Mike Brearley used to say that Botham had a sharp cricket brain, which was like being complimented on your dress sense by Cary Grant. But there's not much evidence of it here. He swings from the obvious ("It's a nice feeling in a one-dayer when you've got 300") to the unsubtly sarcastic "easy-peasy" when Lara pulled off a run-out with a 70-yard side-on direct hit.

In Sky's touring party for South Africa this winter, Botham will take the place normally occupied by Boycott, who may be grating but is also incisive. Botham will have to get better.

All those years on A Question of Sport ought to have prepared him for this. But there are two vital differences between the roles. Commentating is not competitive. You can try to make it so, by scoring points off your colleagues (for some reason everyone paired with Colville favours this approach). But it's hard to pull off without seeming graceless.

The other thing is that on A Question of Sport Botham was visible. Tanned and weather-beaten, greying nicely at the temples, he has a good TV face. But commentators are heard and not seen, and his voice is not so compelling.

Knowing him - as I don't, but feel I do, after 15 years as a fan - he'll raise his game. Gower has moved rapidly from burbling beginnings to cogent composure by sitting alongside Benaud, the master, and consciously trying to learn. Botham may need to sit down with a pile of BBC videos.

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