Will Hawkes: Non-stop rain and a deluge of stats adds up to one dull day

View From The Sofa: England v Sri Lanka, Sky Sports 1
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The Independent Online

It's not often that the term "reversion to the mean" gets used in sports broadcasting. Can you imagine Mark Lawrenson slipping it into a Match of the Day conversation about, say, Blackpool's precipitous descent down the Premier League last season? Lawro may be well-acquainted with the concept but the chances are he'd not want to use it in front of Hansen and Lineker in case they thought he was a bit of a swot.

No such concerns restrict the boys on Sky Sport's cricket coverage. It was Michael Atherton – perhaps inevitably – who slipped "reversion to the mean" into an incredibly lengthy discussion about how many runs England's batsmen may or may not score in the future during Friday's lack of action. The rain tumbling on the Rose Bowl meant there was plenty of time to fill during the morning session and David Gower had kick-started a conversation about his Favourite Toy.

By which I mean, of course, a statistical formula used in baseball to calculate players' future performances and not that Tiger Moth. Alastair Cook, it emerges, will break all English batting records, ending up with some 35 centuries. Fellow Essex man Nasser Hussain could not have looked more delighted at this news, but luckily Atherton was on hand to cool his ardour.

"There are lots of potential glitches," he pointed out. "You could find a particular bowler who has the wood on you." Athers' eyes misted over. "If Glenn McGrath had not come along I would have scored a lot more runs at a better average."

Did an evil grin spread across Nasser's face at that point? Perhaps, but if it did, he was just about the only happy man in the Rose Bowl. There were numerous shots of miserable-looking spectators huddled under umbrellas, desperately hoping for a bit of cricket. Test-match fans these days tend to fall into one of two camps: middle-aged, middle-class men in ill-fitting clothes and the sort of genial nerd who carries his belongings in a plastic bag. Both were represented at the Rose Bowl.

There was also a brief but entertaining vignette featuring umpire Aleem Dar. Just after the obligatory shot of rain on a camera's lens, we saw Dar kicking a ball across the outfield before he came to the side of fellow adjudicator Rod Tucker. With one deft movement, he flicked the ball into the hands of Tucker with his feet and drew appreciative comment from the Sky team: "Good skills," remarked Atherton. A slow-motion replay followed.

To be fair, Sky's response to rain is in a different class to that of the BBC. As I recall, rain during the 1990s – when the Beeb covered Test cricket – inevitably led to footage from a Seventies Test, which sounds good until you see how the game was covered in that pre-Packer era. The paucity of cameras meant that for much of the time the most prominent thing on screen was the wicketkeeper's backside. There may be people who enjoy looking at Alan Knott's rear end for six hours, but most viewers will surely give thanks for Sky's more refined approach.

Eventually, Gower had to give in and accept he had wrung all that could be wrung from a discussion about statistics. "Sometimes the game is overly obsessed with statistics," said Atherton. Well, quite. And then it was time for an old cricket match: England against Sri Lanka in a T20 contest at the Rose Bowl in 2006 – during which, stats fans, 16 players made their T20 international debuts. "Very interesting, NOT," as Lawro might put it.