Sport on TV: After a good stuffing, all I want for Christmas is a fit Freddie

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The Independent Online

The Test series in Sri Lanka has been like a throwback to the old days. Batsmen grinding out runs, slow over-rates, England playing badly. You wake up with a sense of dread at what has happened overnight, and your Christmas stocking is filled with dropped catches and ridiculous run-outs. That's if Santa hasn't got tangled up in the satellite dish on your chimney.

There are always a few rough knights at this time of year, none more than Sir Ian Botham. These days he even makes Bob Willis seem jolly. Once such an exciting player, he has become a dreadful snorein the early hours. Hisheydays of success and excess have become one long, grumpy hangover Beefy is the new turkey.

With their satellites of monopoly twinkling among the stars, Sky put out a shadow commentary team, and the absence of Mike Atherton and Nasser Hussain has not helped to lift the spirits. Insight has been lacking, which is curious given how many players crop up in the studio even before their career has ended. With Sanath Jayasuriya, like Botham a thrilling player, it was as if Sky forced him to retire after the First Test so they could grab him.

Tiny, softly spoken, mangling his syntax, he is the Yoda of commentators, in contrast to when he was wielding his light sabre Botham is his Chewbacca. Privy to Sri Lanka's gameplan for beating England, Jayasuriya seemed like an interesting acquisition, but he has failed to inspire.

The home studio has been graced by Mark Ramprakash and Andrew Strauss. The latter was dropped for this tour due to lack of form, while the former was touted as his replacement and is still very much a candidate for a recall. But they have both shied away from trenchant criticism, no doubt hoping to regain favour with the England management.

Under Duncan Fletcher's tenure, consistency of selection was the key to success. That was bad news for the outsiders. Bringing back Ramps, though, really would be the ghost of Christmas past.

Andrew Flintoff was on 'Friday Night With Jonathan Ross', reflecting his status as the one true star that English cricket possesses, beyond Ramprakash's sequined suits on the dancefloor. "I'm not a hell-raiser, I'm just unfortunate I keep getting caught," said Freddie. It could have been the old Botham talking, the man whose big stockings Flintoff finally filled.

Flintoff had to explain to Wossie that the last time England won the Ashes before 2005 was Botham's Ashes in 1981. "Obviously you've done your research then," he taunted. Actually it was 1987, Freddie, but never mind. We don't want you back for your brains.

He is taking the winter off in Lancashire, wrapped up in cotton wool in a bid to recover from his career-threatening ankle injury. At least he has avoided the festivities indulged in by the other denizens of Old Trafford. Or maybe, like Sri Lanka, he didn't get caught.