Manic tendencies and the anti-depressin'
Sport on TV
Sunday 18 August 1996
He was referring to that passage of play that began with the first ball of the day and terminated around tea-time with the dismissal of the final Pakistani batsman: a four-hour period during much of which Moin Khan's doggedly scampered century was accompanied by one of the most horrible fifties ever scored by a batsman other than Chris Tavare, against a full range of long-hops and half-volleys from Chris Lewis (who was so out of sorts, incidentally, that he dispensed entirely with his am-I-not-gorgeous? head-wobble before turning to start his run-up).
Asif Mujtaba was the half- centurion in question. He scored his runs with two shots. One, a half- intentional driven squirt behind square on the off side between gulley and slip (Michael Atherton making like a porpoise and getting nowhere near); two, an attempted punch through midwicket which he would mistime on to his foot, causing the ball to dribble out towards square-leg, which allowed plenty of time for a jogged single while Dominic Cork came haring in like a madman to fling the ball over Jack Russell's head for overthrows. Depressin' was the word.
It was marvellous that Boycott felt able to use it, however. TV sports commentators are allowed to say lots of robust things in the course of their work. One thinks of Barry Davies declaring that "it's important that Southampton don't get carried away here," as Francis Benali chases an opposing winger into the Solent with an axe, or the barbed rhetoric David Coleman likes to use when a runner gets spiked and elbowed out of a race: "Bllbbb blllb flub-a-dub Bulmerka inna babylonout-tath'lympic final!" And so on. But one word sports commentators are supposed never to use is "depressin'". It's a grey word, a word that does not encourage the viewer to continue watching television, for the obvious technical reason that it's not a word you can shout very loudly. You have to hiss it or, like Boycott, squeeze it sideways out of the corner of your mouth like sausage meat.
Anyway, as a consequence of the great man's sudden uncensored honesty, I resolved to look out for instances of authentically depressin' (as opposed to merely bad) sport on telly over the week in the hope that I might piece together a thesis either proving or disproving that sport itself is in some way deleterious to the psychological well-being of TV sports fans.
Naturally, I expected much of Match of the Day's (BBC1) coverage of the Charity Shield highlights, which the BBC took as an opportunity to give Messrs Lynam and Davies a rest after their summer labours and increase speculation that John Motson might be on his way to the Nationwide League on a free transfer. Sunday's dream team consisted of Gary Lineker in the anchor position with a huge microphone and several new teeth, and Tony Gubba, who commentated with his usual mixture of of excitable banality and tremulous disbelief that, yes, oh no, ...er, yes, YES, it's football being played out there on Wembley's green, er, turf. I tried to take notes but the guy just refused to say anything worth writing down. Not authentically depressin', then. Just par for the course.
As for Monday night's episode of Match of the Seventies (BBC1), there was nothing depressin' there, either; just Ipswich Town's brilliant haircuts on the road to Wembley in 1978. Being an East Anglian myself, and having a complicated fondness for Paul Mariner, this was about as far from depressin' as you can get. I'm sure I even recognised some late-Seventies cousins going mental in a typical East Anglian pub, with waistbands up to their ears and feathercuts down to their waists.
In the end the only depressin' thing to occur was that my wife fell asleep on the sofa during the highlights of the final day of the Test match, thus depriving me of my traditional enjoyment of the moment when Richie Benaud comes on at the end to summarise the day's play. Usually when he appears, my wife suddenly rouses herself and runs screaming into the kitchen and starts banging pots and pans around as if to expunge the memory of what she has just seen.
I always think this is a great shame because it means we never get to share the greatest editorial trope in TV sport: the moment at the conclusion of Benaud's round-up when he turns to "Geoffrey Boycott" and announces that the empty space, off camera, somewhat below the level of his left shoulder will now give us the benefit of "his ideas on the events of the day".
Cut to Geoffrey, looking mad, with a different lighting set-up and subject to completely different weather conditions, with his mouth open in readiness and angled in the direction of short midwicket. "Well..."
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