Sport on TV: The inimitable Sid says relax - it will get you nice and tense

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The Independent Online

I see darts is considering introducing tests for alcohol - presumably to make sure no one's holding back. A first negative test will be treated compassionately, apparently, though repeat offenders will be required to go on out-of-competition pub crawls with Andy "The Viking" Fordham, the former world champion who weighs 113st, 110st of which is beer gut.

Even though darters aren't allowed to drink during games any more, booze has always played an integral part, and not just for cultural reasons. A few players have spoken about how before matches they'll gauge precisely how much beer to take on board - enough to get them relaxed, without starting a fight or throwing up on the oche.

There was certainly none of that on Wednesday, day three of the Professional Darts Council's world championship, on Sky Sports 1. In the match I watched, neither Denis Ovens or Geoff Wylie had gauged their blood-alcohol levels accurately enough, both playing like they were on the wagon. A drunken brawl would have been welcome relief.

Except, of course, that gassing for Sky was Sid Waddell - arguably the finest commentator in any sport anywhere. "Some games are like Darren Gough doing the mambo," he observed at one point. "This is like Mr Blobby doing the slow waltz. No rhythm. No rhythm at all."

Ovens should by rights have been steamrollering the Ulsterman, and Waddell mused, "I see him as the eighth man in the Magnificent Seven. If Yul Brynner had had Denis there, those Mexicans would have taken a pounding." (To hear what Waddell has described as his "crazed Geordie verbals" in your head, of course, the above should read, with italics signifying a growl and capitals a roar, something like, "I see him as the eighth man in the MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. If Yul Brynner had had Denis there, THOSE MEXICANS would have taken a pounding.")

If Yul Brynner had had Denis there on Wednesday, however, he'd have been a dead man. "He's got all the momentum of a weary tree sloth, Denis at times," Waddell observed. "Great talent, but sometimes the chemistry's not there."

Waddell had an explanation for the poor play. "I was talking about this to Eric Bristow over a quick sherbet last night," he said, "and Eric's theory is that these players all want Christmas dinner with their first match out of the way. That's why you see nerves. That's why you see Denis Ovens, No 9 in the world, playing like a pub B-team man not sure of his place."

Waddell had the right prescription - and an insight into one of the secrets of sporting success (and perhaps even life itself). "You've got to relax to be nice and tense," he said. "Zen and the art of tungsten maintenance. How? Try, but don't try." Or drink but don't drink.

In such an awful match, Waddell had his work cut out, but he rose to the challenge. "The winner," he said, "will play 'The Snakeman', Steve Alker, who if he wins plans to buy a 16ft anaconda - and I ain't kidding. Some strange people play darts."

The longueurs also gave him a chance to take a few detours, recalling another Ulsterman, for example. "Fred McMullen," he said. "What a character he was at the early Embassies. Couldn't count! Cliff Lazarenko had to tell him his shot-out, and he was his opponent!"

Ovens' ability eventually ended the misery. Still, even a dull game is a jolly holiday with Sid.

"I've been to a few venues in my life," he said at one point. "I've been to the Maracana, I've been to St James' Park. But if darts is your game, the Circus Tavern is your spiritual home - thanks largely to the frisson given it by the folk who come here: face-painters, dancers, deeley-boppers, introverts and extroverts..."

And, of course, the great Waddell himself. Long may he reign as the King of Commentators.