The England cricket team became national treasures a couple of months ago when more than seven million of us watched the last day of the Ashes and the country looked on agog as the victors drank London dry. It was Channel 4's biggest audience since the 2003 Big Brother final. Yes, it was that huge.
As it happens, that's about the same number of direct subscribers to Sky, but Duncan Fletcher and his boys must be grateful that not all of them would have been watching on Wednesday, when the national treasures were reverting to type and ballsing up a winning position in the first Test against Pakistan before a nearly empty stadium in Multan.
Tumbleweed was rolling through the stands when I began watching at 71 for 4, soon after three wickets had fallen in eight balls. OK, good ship England was holed, but there was still enough muscle power for bailing-out duties, and they only needed 120-odd. But as Sky went through the fallen wickets again in rapid succession, the Pakistan wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal - regarded as possessing one of the loudest voices in Test cricket - could be heard on the stump mic cackling madly over each wicket, sounding like one of the inbreds from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. From an England point of view, it wasn't encouraging.
Ian Botham, though, was trying to stay perky. "This has all the makings of something very special here," he said. "Both sides think they can win it, and that's the perfect scenario."
He said the same thing again a few minutes later in case we had missed it first time, but once Freddie Flintoff had gone it was down to Kevin Pietersen. So there was still hope, and Sanjay Manjrekar, Botham's commentary colleague, wondered which of the bowlers Pietersen might pick on. "I think he'll fancy scoring off all the bowlers," Botham replied, still bullish.
I guess we all were: one 54-day blip on the graph and the nation issues a collective bellow to bring on the World Cup. As any sports psychologist will tell you, what matters most is who's "up for it" - and by that criterion, Pakistan were streets ahead. Mohammed Sami - "an angry young man", as Waqar Younis put it in the commentary box - bowled Pietersen with an outswinger and went wild. Then as he was scooped up in the great big arms of Inzamam-ul-Haq, he looked suddenly drained, his emotions spent (unless it was the pressure on his chest cavity).
Once Pietersen had gone, that was it, really. "What a turn-around," Waqar marvelled. He was commentating with Ramiz Raja, and they did their best to maintain a façade of objectivity. Until Shoaib Akhtar parted Ashley Giles' stumps and they could contain themselves no longer. A a squeal of joy emanated from one of them - and suddenly, the crowd began making a noise.
David Lloyd came on to sum the day up: "It all started very sedately, things were going very nicely for England, and then bang-bang-bang, 67 for 4." Afterwards, the winning coach, Bob Woolmer, was asked if it was one of the finer moments of his career. "Well, it's a funny question," he said. "But it was a good performance." He should try to calm down a bit.
The EU has been blamed for many things - typing in "bonkers EU" into Google gives 89,900 results - and although it seems to be motivated by a sense of natural justice, it can easily lead to some right old dogs' dinners.
So it was this week with the Premiership TV rights. Sky won't be able to bid for all six packages, but they will be able to bid for five, leaving the rest to scrap for the left-overs. The football-rights sweetshop, it seems, is selling only fudge at the moment.
Apart from the main players, who's likely to bid? Channel 4 aren't interested (for which let us give thanks: they eventually mess up everything), but BT and NTL apparently are. This is not good. In a survey this week, the two companies were at the bottom of a consumer satisfaction league table. But don't think that means fans may end up shafted, you old cynics. That would never be allowed to happen.Reuse content