Channel 4 makes hay while sun shines on glorious main event

After all, Jacob was so far from being born when England last won the Ashes that even his grandparents were virgins. Or so it sometimes seems. Yet it is beginning to look, whatever the result of this wonderful match at Old Trafford, as if the balance of power between Test cricket's oldest adversaries might finally be about to shift.

Channel 4 has followed this fantastic series in exemplary fashion, and even those of us with satellite dishes, let alone those without, will be sorry when its Test cricket contract expires. Michael Atherton is developing into a broadcaster as classy as he was a batsman. Maybe, when you have duelled with the likes of Allan Donald at their most ferocious, the commentary box holds no fears. At any rate, Atherton certainly looked relaxed during his tea-break interview with Sir Alex Ferguson yesterday, which for a Manchester United devotee can't have been easy. The instinct to take a rag to the great man's boots is probably hard to suppress.

Whatever, Fergie made the point to Atherton that he can't remember the start of a Premier League season being upstaged by cricket as it has been this weekend, and it seemed significant that he himself had chosen to be at the Test match rather than at Wigan's JJB Stadium just along the motorway, to watch Chelsea start the defence of their title. On Saturday, had it not been for the rain that wiped out most of the day's cricket, football would have seemed like a sideshow.

Still, Channel 4 has made hay whether the Manchester sun has been shining or not, and there was a particularly brilliant piece of camera work at around 4.20pm yesterday afternoon, just after Ian Bell had cover-driven Glenn McGrath for successive fours. All over the field there were urgent huddles of conspicuously anxious Australians and one by one the cameras focused on them all. It was glorious.

Admirably, the triumphalism permitted through the lens is rarely discernible through the microphone. A transcript of Richie Benaud's commentary would offer no clues to his nationality, and the same is true of Atherton. That is how it should be, partisanship transcended by the quality of the cricket.

The same is emphatically not true of Geoffrey Boycott, who admitted at Edgbaston that he would have laughed like a drain had he been in the England dressing-room when the news arrived of McGrath's ankle injury, but Boycott is a law unto himself and long may he remain so.

If I had to pick holes in Channel 4's coverage, I might question the substantial use of Tony Greig, who seems 10 per cent less astute than you might expect of a man Mike Brearley considers to be one of the shrewdest captains he played for.

He is a little too inclined to state the bleedin' obvious, such as yesterday's gem: "They definitely don't want to be the first Australian side for a while to lose the Ashes, that's for sure." That falls a tad short of devastating insight.

And while I'm sniping for the sake of it, I don't understand why, when a sporting event so lends itself to sitting comfortably on the sofa for days on end, every advertising break during the cricket seems to contain a commercial for Germoloids piles cream. On the other hand, maybe it makes perfect sense.

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