Robin Scott-Elliot: Holding's honeyed growl drowned out by Sky's Chelsea cheerleaders
View From The Sofa: Test Cricket, Sky / Champions League final, Sky/ITV
Monday 21 May 2012
It's a personal suggestion for sporting heaven. The Saturday morning of the first Test of the summer, newspapers, coffee and David Gower caressing you into the day. Above all it is the sounds of a Test match morning that allow gentle waves to wash away the week.
It is a slow unveiling that teases and tantalises; the gentle rhubarb rumble around the ground, interrupted by ripples of applause and occasionally, if a wicket falls, the sharp increase in volume snapping back drifting attention. Listen and luxuriate; the scratch of the batsman's boot as he marks the crease, the toc-toc of the bat as he prepares to take strike, then the thud-scrape of the bowler's delivery.
Jonathan Bairstow's first ball in Test cricket carried a convincing oomph as well as it reared to strike him on the chest. For a moment, just a moment, it might have been West Indies of old, but they have gone. There are compensations, not least having Michael Holding in the commentary box with his honeyed growl.
The contrast between Sky's cricket and football teams was acute on Saturday. The cricket lot possess an honest authenticity. Discussing swing, one of the mysteries of any sport, Michael Atherton offered a verbal shrug as to why it had swung on day one but not day two. Ian Botham and David Lloyd exchanged opinions on Alan Titchmarsh's hollyhocks in an exchange worthy of the old days of Test Match Special. There is never a sense of trying to ramp up events beyond what they already are, nor of it being all about England and only England.
In wearying contrast, coverage of the Champions League final was more one-eyed than a Cyclopes' convention for which only Polyphemus has bothered turning up. Chelsea were willed to victory by Sky's cheerleaders, with the honourable exception of the ever-excellent Graeme Souness. There is an odd view shared by broadcasters that, when an English club plays, everyone wants the English club to win. If a poll had been possible among viewers of Sky and ITV's coverage I suggest there would have been many more wanting a Bayern Munich victory than a Chelsea one. That does not mean Sky should have dressed themselves in red-tinged lederhosen, although I'm sure Jamie Redknapp could have carried off the look, but their desperation for it to be "written in the [bloody] stars" grated long before the end of extra time.
Gary Neville has enjoyed a hugely impressive switch to the studio but he works less well in the commentary box. His attempt at a Norway moment – "Maggie Thatcher... your boys took a hell of a beating" – was frankly bizarre, and lacked the wit and breadth of the original. He yelled: "It can never get better than this for English football, 19 May 2012, Fifa, Uefa stop football."
The best exchange of the day came on ITV. "Chelsea need to be more cynical in front of goal," said Gianfranco Zola. "Clinical?" suggested Adrian Chiles helpfully. "No, cynical," insisted Zola. "It's a good word." You spent too much time at Upton Park, Gianfranco.
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