Sport on TV: Village green behind the ears? Call for England's Knight in shining armour
Sunday 18 March 2007
It's a cruel game, merciless and one-sided. Wickets falling in hapless clusters, simple catches being put down, the opposition scoring runs at will while your blunt attack looks on helplessly. But enough about England. What about the plucky minnows floundering around in the Caribbean?
What entertainment they are providing, in the oldest traditions of the game. From the moment Bermuda's Dwayne Leverock wobbled up to the crease and ensnared Kevin Pietersen with his loopy spin, we were in the long grass beside the village green.
Six sixes in an over, scores like 29 for 6; the breathless excitement of Zimbabwe's run-chase against Ireland, an epic tale which began with a batsman giving three chances in one crazy over, the heroic Irish centurion (an Australian ringer, of course) putting down a crucial chance on the boundary, the excruciating climax as the bowlers sent down huge full tosses and the tailenders could not hit it off the square. It drove the former West Indies captain Jimmy Adams to do an unlikely Fred Trueman impression in his Jamaican brogue: "What is going on out there?"
Given the array of nationalities among the commentators, we could have done with some Irish opinion. Alas there are no ex-pros who have turned to punditry. How about some stark, pithy observations from Samuel Beckett, who played first-class cricket twice, or James Joyce with his rambling stream of consciousness, not unlike listening to Ian Botham's thought processes?
Botham apparently wrote the script as he went along when he was a player. Unfortunately, he still seems to think he can do it. It's the old Boycott ruse, prefacing each comment with the words "As I said before...", when in fact he had said nothing of the sort. It may be a reason why neither made a good captain. But listening to Nasser Hussain repeatedly asking Mike Atherton "What would you do if you were in this situation?" as England stumbled to defeat against New Zealand, it was hard to know what makes a good captain, easy to see why England made a mess of their last three World Cup campaigns.
In the "studio" Nick Knight was on hand to explain everything. He is the new totty for the discerning lady punter while poor old Mark Nicholas is stuck, faceless, in the commentary box. But Knight was also one of England's most effective one-day players last century. He left David Gower's cosy seaside chat, took to the beach, rolled up his trousers and, using a palm tree as the wicket, showed how each of England's batsmen had gone wrong. He will be taking his shirt off next. If England make the final, he could be down to his Speedos, but don't hold your breath.
At first it looked as if Sky had superimposed an idyllic Caribbean backdrop on to their usual studio, throwing in a few items of garden furniture and even a pebble to hold down Gower's notes. He looks like he is relaxing over a few rum punches wherever he is, and Paul Allott perspires freely under the television lights anyway, so it could have been. But as soon as the waves washed over Knight's feet, it became clear that Sky had not put a sand pit in the studio.
As if watching England playing one-day cricket was not bad enough, we have to endure this shameless gloating by Gower and company while we emerge slowly from the English winter with its flooded village greens. By the end of Friday night, it would have been more fitting if Sky's waves had been crashing in, lightning forking across the horizon.
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