Matt Butler: Wall-to-wall Ashes to Ashes too much of a good thing

View from the sofa: Sky Sports Ashes

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The Independent Online

Hyperbole is possibly the worst thing that can happen to sport ever. No, really, there are very few sporting events which live up to the overblown descriptions foisted upon them. The biggest this, the most important that, there seems to be one every week.

There are a few events that live up to the hype. Few would argue against the Badwater Ultramarathon, which starts next Monday, being called the world’s toughest foot race, as it is 135 miles long, along featureless roads through California’s Death Valley, where temperatures surpass 40  degrees, then up a mountain. But the superlatives ladled on to other events – such as this year’s Ashes series – grate.

Whatever Sky Sports’ willingness to drum up this series as crucial for national pride and possibly more important than life itself, there is no getting away from the fact that the Australian team is far from a vintage side. And you need two good teams to make a classic contest. Even so, they have devoted a whole channel to the upcoming series. Not a series of preview programmes or a few reminiscences detailing classic series in the past; a whole darn channel.

Strictly speaking, Sky Sports Ashes is not a new channel, it is merely Sky Sports 2 with the rugby league, golf and other sports sidelined in favour of wall-to-wall cricket. The channel was relaunched last Sunday, and the centrepiece of its  first day’s coverage was England’s Ashes warm-up match against Essex.

It was a good start, as it gave the familiar team, including Andrew Strauss and Nasser Hussain, a chance to chew the fat over such topics as who deserves to be in line to face the Aussies and what sort of grass England would most probably like to bat or bowl on. Incidentally, a note to Hussain: the less we hear over the summer of the clumsy rhyming slang “raging bunsen” (we presume it means turner) when describing types of pitches, the better.

But just as England v Essex lost its first-class status during the week, Sky Ashes looked as if it was already running out of steam by Thursday. The glut of cricket fixtures during the summer, whether they are internationals, tour matches or county championships, means the channel is not short of material to fill most days.

But how many county-level Twenty20 matches can one viewer take? On Thursday we had a rerun of Glamorgan v Warwickshire from the previous day, followed by a live showing of Middlesex v Essex at Lord’s. The former match could only be generously described as sparcely populated, while the latter looked only slightly better patronised. It was a similar formula the rest of the week; a Twenty20 match, interspersed with 90-minute highlights of England’s best Ashes matches. Of course, once the Ashes start in a couple of days’ time there will be ample material to fill airtime, while the Tests are on, at least. Sky even has enough pundits to keep us entertained during rain delays. Shane Warne, who has signed up for the series, could fill an afternoon on his own, waxing lyrical on anything from poker to boozy card games on wet days at Hampshire.

But what about now? More pyjama cricket? Yet more misty-eyed features on that miracle final-wicket stand by those blokes, um, whatisname and thingy in the third Test of the 1982-83 series?

Sky Sports 2 used to be interesting because it wasn’t one-dimensional; it featured sports other than football, such as golf, fishing, basketball and even professional wrestling. But now all we have is cricket. And too much of it. Roll on the autumn.