Robin Scott-Elliot: Peaceful early mornings with the Christopher Robin and Eeyore of cricket

View From The Sofa: Pakistan v England, Second Test, Sky Sports, Channel Nine
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The Independent Online

A hot bowl of kedgeree, I like to think, is how David Gower prepares for his early-morning Test-match duty in the winter, eaten in his dressing gown as he reclines on his chaise longue, pondering the theme of the day. Gower likes a theme. Once determined that is that and, with an application that was not always evident in his sporting days, he will not let it go.

On Saturday he decided the Pakistan contingent in Sky's team had been too harsh on their own batsmen. So he asked Bob Willis and Steve Harmison, his staff in the studio, if they agreed and then turned to the screen on the wall that provided the link to Abu Dhabi and put the same question to anyone who stood in front of the camera. Gower, being Gower, does not use a handful of words where a wondrous century of liberally sprinkled bons mots will do. He was right though, as events were to prove.

As a player, Gower appeared to apply his own contented interpretation to Kipling's starched upper-lip suggestion about success and failure; something Willis also does, although in his case it's lugubriously delivered with spoonfuls of doom. It is a pleasure spending early mornings with cricket's Christopher Robin and Eeyore. Test cricket at this time of year is a lifeline, something to make getting up in the gloom of January and February dawns worthwhile.

Some of the mystery has gone from the days when it could only be captured via the radio. Then the beauty and character of Adelaide had to be imagined. Now you can see the empty stands and modern architecture of Abu Dhabi.

The key to watching winter Test cricket is bare feet. Part of the experience of watching somewhere warm, with all the soothing sounds of proper cricket – the scrape of a batsman's boot as he marks his crease, ripples of applause and the chatter of the wicketkeeper punctuated by the occasional alarm call of an appeal – is to feel the contrasting cold at this end. It's the British equivalent of the Scandinavian habit of plunging into frozen lakes after sitting in saunas. Our steam comes from Ian Botham's ears after each England wicket.

There is a rare peaceful pleasure in watching before most people's day begins. It's quiet, cold and dark and so the sun-drenched events on screen, the dramatic unfolding of a Test match, with its sub-plots and individual storylines, offers a cosy embrace. A good Test has a narrative as chunky as a Russian novel, and is sometimes as engagingly meandering and baffling, too. The necessity for the commentator is not to intrude, an approach well realised on Sky. The Australians, with the exception of Richie Benaud, talk too much, possibly because there are three of them shoehorned into the commentary box, a practice with less merit than Tony Greig's passport.

It was Greig, though, who came up with the most striking cricketing line of the week. As Sachin Tendulkar exited the Adelaide Oval pursued by another ovation and another failure Greig said: "This guy has been a champion." He used the past tense for the Little Master.