Sport on TV: Marvellous Monty's story free of wrong kind of spin
Saturday 15 April 2006
Monty Panesar came across as blissfully oblivious to the fuss surrounding his selection for England's cricket tour to India, in the profile of the young spinner, Monty for England (BBC 1, Wednesday). The interest was not because Duncan Fletcher had unearthed a spinner who could actually spin the ball but because Panesar was the first Sikh to don the three lions. This delightful programme explored the impact on him, his family and friends, his local area and India.
As the film tracked his days prior to the flight to Bombay Panesar was all wide-eyed excitement - not because of his religious barrier-breaking but because he was set to fulfil a childhood dream. He did not so much duck questions on his Sikhism as deem them unworthy to play at. "I'm from Bedfordshire, Luton," he said. "I don't think about whether I'll be the first Sikh or the last Sikh to play for England. It'll just be a coincidence."
Although Panesar was unmoved by his history-making the programme highlighted the positives of his inclusion. "Kids will realise that the colour of their skin or religion will not hold them back," the England and Wales Cricket Board's youth development manager, Dave Mercer, said. "It's fantastic for the Sikh movement," added one of Panesar's friends.
Panesar's arrival in India, and especially in Punjab, the birthplace of his religion and his parents, caused a real stir. It was moving to see his family shine with pride and the Indian support he attracted. His father became a celebrity - "they are asking for my autograph," he said of the local fans. "I don't know why." "It's crazy," his sister added.
The uplifting programme only suffered from the BBC's indifference to live cricket, which left them without footage of Panesar's deeds. There was only radio commentary of his maiden Test wicket - his hero Sachin Tendulkar, no less - and his uncontrolled celebration. "I just ran, jumped and did a dance," he said.
While Panesar was forthcoming, the same could not be said of his team-mate Marcus Trescothick this week when he appeared on Sky Sports to explain his departure from the tour. The blame was not his, rather his interviewer's. Ian Ward failed to ask the screamingly obvious question. Trescothick cited a mystery virus and burn-out, despite the original official line sticking to "personal reasons". Ward failed to ask: "Why was a different story trotted out at the time?" Ward, not long out of his flannels and a former England team-mate of Trescothick's, was too chummy and there was a strong whiff of whitewash.
During Wednesday's one-dayer Charles Colville and Graham Thorpe, no stranger to tour withdrawals, revisited Trescothick's reasoning and discussed player fatigue. An admirable concern, but once more it missed the point.
There was another interviewer reluctant to ruffle his subject on the BBC's Masters golf coverage last weekend. CBS, the host broadcaster which provides the Beeb's feed, is scared stiff of upsetting the powers that be at Augusta - including the leading players - and losing the rights.
The result in the US is sycophantic coverage where the fans are called "patrons" and the rough the "secondary cut". Rough at Augusta? Heaven forbid! Maybe they should do away with the term "hole", given Augusta's prim nature. "Mickelson tees off on the sixth panoramic paradise," has a far nicer ring to it. The BBC boys stuck to their own terminology but were powerless to intervene when Tiger Woods said he had putted like a "spaz" during his final round. Far from apologise for the remark or admonish Woods, CBS's man chuckled obsequiously and continued to stroke the Tiger ego.
Maybe he remembers the fate of Gary McCord, who on CBS in 1994 suggested the greens had been "bikini-waxed", had his mike snatched away and has not been heard from since. Or Jack Whitaker, who referred to the spectators as a "mob" and was whisked from the box faster than a downhill putt on the third.
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