Bowling over the viewers: Behind the scenes of televised cricket

From veteran voices to modern techies, Brian Viner goes behind the scenes to meet the team that puts England cricket on screen

David Lloyd's unvarnished Accrington accent is one of the joys of watching cricket on Sky Sports. His voice is the sound that black pudding would make if it could speak, just as Michael Holding's is the sound that callaloo would make, but on the morning of 5 September at Trent Bridge only one of these titans of the commentary box was projecting any noise.

"Bumble" woke up almost completely silenced by laryngitis, and although he gamely reported for duty, the producer of the day's coverage of the fifth one-day international between England and South Africa, a genial Scotsman called Bryan Henderson, sent him home.

This meant a swift rejigging of the commentating schedule, although it was only a minor headache for Henderson. When your "comms" team includes Holding, Mike Atherton, Nasser Hussain, Ian Botham, Shane Warne, Shaun Pollock and David Gower, even Bumble is dispensable.

But Henderson, in the way of a Ryder Cup captain, still had to consider where and how to place his pairings. Holding is "an outstanding lead commentator", while Warne "only does colour". And some pairings produce easy banter, while others generate sparks. Hussain and Warne exemplify the latter, which is why Henderson likes to put them together; Botham and Warne the former.

During their stint during the game, the great Aussie and the mighty Englishman had a lively chat, mostly off-mic, about the best places to eat on the Melbourne waterfront. "Donovan's is Elizabeth's favourite," said Warne, proudly, of his fiancée, Liz Hurley.

Gower usually does less time in the commentary box than the others because he doubles as the show's anchorman. He arrived for the day-nighter, beginning at 2pm, at 11.45am, having broken the long drive from his home in Hampshire by staying with friends the night before.

Holding, who had done a Q&A at Whaley Bridge Bowling Club in Derbyshire the evening before, arrived at noon. The "talent", by their own cheerful admission, have it easy. For veteran production manager Roger Chambers, preparation for the broadcast had begun two days prior on Monday afternoon, when the vast production trucks rolled up to Sky's pitch at the back of the Fox Road stand.

Stepping behind the scenes of a day's international cricket broadcast is to be overwhelmed by numbers, especially for those of us who grew up watching televised cricket in the days of only a single camera at one end of the ground. Sky had 30 cameras at Trent Bridge, and, excluding commentators, 85 personnel either on staff or working for contracted companies such as Hawk-Eye. It was Chambers' job to oversee the whole shebang. "I don't make programmes but I make them work," he said.

The man who more than anyone did make the programme was director Mark Lynch, who sat in the scanner truck from morning until night, surveying a bank of 80 screens and, almost every second of the long day, determining which shot to use next from a staggering array of options. These included the images collected by the neighbouring VT truck, where every dramatic incident in the match was replayed and deconstructed from every conceivable angle.

To an onlooker who needs only a pad and a pen to go about his business, it was bewildering, and yet easy to see why those who work with "Lynchy" consider him the best in the business. Certainly, he ran the operation as unflappably and authoritatively as Captain Kirk ever ran the Starship Enterprise. But then, like Kirk, he knows he can rely on his crew. Lynch's Lieutenant Uhura is Heather Holmes, the production assistant who sits to his left and is responsible for all the timings. I know now that Gower's characteristically calm delivery is measured in more ways than one, because, during his introduction from the outfield, Heather's precise countdown from 15, cueing his switch to the studio, loomed loud in his earpiece. He must sometimes hear it in his sleep.

The studio and the adjacent commentary box at Trent Bridge are more than a little cramped, certainly by comparison with the spaciousness at Durham (along with Galle the best cricket ground in the world to broadcast from, according to Henderson). There wasn't room to swing a bat once the two commentators had taken their places alongside Sky's statistician, Richard Isaacs.

By the time the transmission began, there was nothing Isaacs didn't know about previous meetings between England and South Africa at Trent Bridge, which made the commentators, as Pollock happily acknowledged to me, look far more clued-up than they actually were. I asked the splendid Isaacs if he had a favourite stat from the hundreds he had spent the previous few days assembling in a sturdy red folder. "Yes," he said. "This is the 50th one-day international between these two sides, but there is only one other ODI fixture involving the top cricketing nations that hasn't reached that mark, and that's between the West Indies and Sri Lanka." Enjoyably abstruse, nerdishly interesting, it was the perfect statistician's stat.

Meanwhile, out in the middle, the wretched form of Ravi Bopara had just taken a turn for the worse, with a second-ball duck. By the time he had trudged back to the pavilion, removed his pads, and taken up a glum vigil over the rest of the proceedings, one of Sky's cameramen, Riaan on camera 10, had him centre-frame. For Lynch, it was the perfect backdrop to Atherton and Gower talking about Bopara being miserably out of nick: the man himself looking like he'd just accidentally set fire to a winning Lottery ticket. It was the sort of shot that we now take entirely for granted in TV cricket coverage, and yet for all that, just one of many tiny dividends from a huge investment of time, technology, money and expertise, all of which add up to an impressive whole.

Sky should not take all the credit for this. The benchmark of excellence was set decades ago by the BBC – Gower admits finding a style of his own by studying the "cool eloquence" of Tony Lewis and the "genius that is [Richie] Benaud" – and Channel 4's coverage at the end of the 1990s was genuinely pioneering. But Sky has moved things on, and it's worth reminding ourselves occasionally that the unseen 85 do their jobs at least as well as the ex-players on-screen do theirs.

That they also work harder is beyond debate. After South Africa's comfortable victory at Trent Bridge, the trucks rumbled up to Durham for the start of the three-match Twenty20 series. Botham and Gower were given the series off, meaning that the one-day international at Trent Bridge was their last gig until November's tour of India. "It's similar to playing in that, after talking about the same people all summer, it's nice to have a change of topic for a while," Gower told me. "But I don't want to make the job sound onerous. That would be a lie."

The ICC World Twenty20, starting today, is part of the year-round cricket coverage live on Sky Sports HD and is also available on the move via Sky Go

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering