The Last Word: These pointless ambushes are taking the mic

Not-so-flash interview – five seconds with a breathless victim – is intrusive but the god of TV must be obeyed
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The Independent Online

As Andy Roddick left Centre Court following his epic victory over Lleyton Hewitt late on Wednesday evening, Pat Cash was pointing out to BBC television viewers that what he needed now, before giving a thought to a semi-final against Andy Murray, was a good session of "stretching and icing". As a former Wimbledon champion, even from a less scientific age, Cash knows all about priorities in those circumstances.

Yet what was the exhausted Roddick's first port of all? Why, the BBC interview point. Live coverage, already over-running, had finished immediately the match did, but the winner was still forced to bow the knee to the god of television, before stretching it and warming down.

So, too, Serena Williams the following day, her efforts in the longest women's semi-final of the open era rendering her almost too breathless to speak. Not that there was much time to do so in any case, as a word had to be grabbed with sister Venus and Dinara Safina, making their way on to court for the next match and looking as if there was no one in the world they were less keen to see at that particular moment than yet another BBC interviewer.

The so-called flash interview is one of the curses of modern sports coverage. Scarcely is a race run or a final whistle blown than the man with the mic must home in to ask a hero of the hour – or as used to be the case with Sally Gunnell, a beaten British athlete – "how does it feel?"

Poor Sally, taking early retirement after bringing even the less than noble art of sports interviewing into disrepute, complained that the BBC had given her minimal support and less training, which consisted of "what make-up to put on, not about interviewing technique". Her demise did at least persuade the television authorities for a while that having trained broadcasters asking the questions might be an improvement on lovey-dovey former team-mates.

It did not apparently occur to anyone to question the value of what physically and emotionally drained sportspeople might have to say so soon after their event. Or tense, nervous ones immediately before it; at a televised cricket match, the coin has barely touched the ground than the lucky captain must face the cameras invading the hallowed square to account for his decision to bat or field. How long before Nasser Hussain or Mark Nicholas are waiting at the dressing-room door to ask a furious Fred about his dismissal before he kicks it in?

Emotions can run hot on these occasions, which is another good reason to allow them time to cool. When England's football team under Ron Greenwood achieved one of his proudest victories, 3-1 away to Hungary after he had decided to resign that night, he was so annoyed with Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking for giving a television interview on the pitch instead of joining their team-mates in the dressing-room that he stomped into the after-match press conference, threw a tape recorder off the table, gave a 15-second speech and walked out again. But woe betide the manager these days who tries to come between Sky Sports and the presentation to their man of the match by an embarrassed team-mate of the obligatory champagne (are recovering alcoholics ineligible, we have always wondered?). Alas, this year's Wimbledon has taken the whole process to new heights of intrusiveness.

Andy Murray's demeanour on Friday, when ambushed minutes before the biggest match of his career, was so fierce that even the adversarial Garry Richardson dared no more than two quick questions. Needless to say, they elicited no useful information whatsoever. Whereupon Tim Henman, still the tennis man rather than the media man, pointed out from the commentary box: "Five minutes before you walk on court, there isn't much to say, is there?" Precisely.

Pearce is natural as a No 2

Falling into the England Under-21 job and becoming assistant to Fabio Capello soon after being sacked for two unsuccessful seasons with Manchester City, are the sorts of good fortune for Stuart Pearce granted to few men. After an emphatic defeat by Germany in the European Championship final last Monday, to follow an unlucky one in the semi-final two years ago, how do his credentials as a future England manager look?

Much as before, really. The plus marks were again an aptitude for preparation illustrated by knowing exactly how good each of his squad were at penalties after exhaustive study; setting high standards for the players and showing no favours to those, like Theo Walcott, who fell below them; and awareness of the balance required at international level between the determination that he characterised in his playing days and improved technical ability.

The downside included a squad heavy on midfielders and light on strikers; being out-thought tactically by the more experienced Horst Hrubesch in the final; and temperamental touchline outbursts at odds with his claim to be "cool inside".

The more successful Capello is – and the signs so far are promising – the more inclined the FA have to be to choose the best man for the job again, irrespective of nationality. Pearce is looking more and more like a natural No 2.

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