Jack Pitt-Brooke: Sky Sports earn high marks for 'show and tell' at the Ashes
View From the Sofa: From a rev-counter to the Ashes Zone, there's a whole new look to the game in the living room
Wednesday 10 July 2013
The Ashes is the Ashes and does not desperately need embellishment or modernisation. The tradition and the timelessness are part of the point.
In an era of bat-dominance, the felling of 14 wickets was an enjoyable throwback. After Mickey Arthur's futile re-education plans, the Australians charged around like schoolboys finally released on summer holiday, playing with the old aggression and freedom some feared had been lost. There was even an England collapse for nostalgic fans who might recently have felt left behind.
But Sky Sports, unceasingly futuristic, burnished their coverage of the Ashes opening with an assault of innovations. The move to Sky Ashes this summer was clearly not just re-branding – not that Sky Sports are averse to that – but coincided with some improvements too, for those of us sheltering on our sofas from the twin physical threats of sunburn and beer snake.
Some were cosmetic, of course. To help out those slow bowlers who cannot join in the competitive measuring of the speed gun, there is an RPM (revolutions per minute) counter to see how fast the ball spins after release. The revelations were not striking – who knew wily old Graeme Swann would spin the ball harder than Ashton Agar, the 19-year-old trying to keep things tight and flat? There was little suggestion of Agar producing a modern equivalent of the Gatting Ball; the young man was born four months after that key moment in Australian slow bowling.
There was Andrew Strauss in the commentary box, too, serving to drag down the average age of the ex-England club Sky Sports have assembled. He was, to not much surprise, honest, composed and articulate and was even willing to point out the flaws in the games of his recent team-mates. But the best thing about Strauss was he freed up his colleagues to be deployed elsewhere. Sky's meaningful additions were those beyond the commentary box and beyond the sessions of play.
The "Ashes Zone" looked at first glance like an anonymous indoor net and then like a place to keep Ian Ward. But it was where some of the day's best analysis came, as Ward and Nasser Hussain, equipped with a bat, a set of stumps and a highlight reel, demonstrated Jonny Bairstow's great technical issue – dominant bottom hand and closed face – and why that left him particularly liable to missing straight balls and getting bowled – precisely what happened when Mitchell Starc dismissed him soon after tea.
There was more to come when play ended. The interviews immediately after close of play are not always deeply insightful, so coached are the players, but this time Ward had a new weapon with him: a large trolley or cart, with a mounted touch-screen television. So when he captured a tracksuited Peter Siddle on the outfield after stumps were drawn, he could show him his five wickets and seek explanations from the player that were far more revelatory than the usual "good areas". Siddle had taken some of his most important wickets – including Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell – by coming wide of the crease and changing his angle and here he was, outlining his plans to viewers, for those dismissals and then for Matt Prior's mad flash to point.
Coach Darren Lehmann might not be desperately pleased with it – although the Australians are generally more open and forthcoming than the well-protected England players – but on television it was a real material improvement. Steve Finn was next, put through the same show-and-tell process by Ward over his consecutive dismissals of Shane Watson and Ed Cowan.
When Strauss, earlier in the day, was asked what he did not miss about being England captain, he said the "relentlessness of the media", seemingly meaning the intensity of questioning his role put him under. But he is part of the media now and will discover, if he has not already, that television has an innovative relentlessness all of its own.
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