International cricket, as Duncan Fletcher might say, is no place for the old, one-dimensional, nine-to-five viewer. The British Empire spread across almost every time zone and so, on a good day, you can watch almost continuous cricket on Sky Sports from all over the world, just as the Victorians intended.
So every tour throws up new challenges, demanding full flexibility. And not just the adjustment from the steep bounce in the West Indies to the green-tops of New Zealand to the dusty bounce of the subcontinent, issues merely of playing the game. The difference that matters, for the supporters, is that between the long TV evenings of Caribbean tours, the early Asian mornings and various sleep-curtailment plans on offer when England are Down Under.
England are in New Zealand now but the modern game, spread across three formats, demands variety at home too, as it did last week. The tour began with three Twenty20 games, staged as day-nighters but at 6am over here. This was something new; early-morning cricket is usually Tests from the subcontinent, slow pitches and slow scoring allowing fans to ease their way into the day.
But this was different. An entire three-hour T20 game finishing before 9am should have been perfect caffeine-cricket, a sporting substitute for breakfast.
High scoring, tension and twists could have delivered the adrenalin and distraction that a bored Friday-morning nation needed to get through to the weekend.
The problem, for once, was that the Sky Sports coverage rather undersold itself. There was not enough hype, glamour or noise. This was coffee without the hit. Sky had only David Lloyd, Nick Knight and Paul Allott out in Wellington, seemingly employing the same rotation policy as England. Charles Colville and Robert Key were manning the studio at home.
All presenters and pundits were in the T20 uniform of branded polo shirts and there was a distinct holiday feel to it. Allott and Simon Doull spent their commentary box stint discussing the beauty of Wellington, showing pictures of surfers, kayakers, those lounging on the beach or by the harbour. Delightful views, certainly, but those switching on to be woken up wanted competition and intensity, not footage of warm enjoyment. No one about to tackle rush-hour roads wants to see footage of the opposite.
That languid feel perfectly fitted the game. England pinned New Zealand down to 139 for 8 and victory was always likely. Realising that the drama would not be enough, Colville started to plead with viewers. "Go to work at 9.30," he begged, "say that something dreadful happened at home and you couldn't get away." It is a ploy that can only be used so many times and the resourceful fan would not waste such an appeal on a game like this.
England breezed to victory, the commentators bemoaned the "massacre" but most of the fans had left, realising they would get more of a kick out of coffee and a commute after all.
There was a different feel when the one-day internationals started on Saturday night. Beginning at 1am, this was a safer refuge for the late-night cricket follower. If he turned on his television hoping for the warmth and familiarity that others find in an evening out, he would have been pleased. Sky, like England, brought their better players for this series, with Ian Botham in New Zealand and the whole team – in Hamilton as in the studio – in jackets and ties to mark the occasion, providing the comforts of their wisdom all through the night.
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