Quicksilver Sid prefers a wibble to a wobble

Andrew Baker
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The Independent Online
There are more sports commentators than there are sports, yet few have earned a lasting place in the affections of the nation. Richie, Motty and Murray have niches in the Hall of Fame, respectively earned with restrained wit, limitless knowledge and the ability to talk with ignited trousers. But in January it is fitting to celebrate another great communicator who has for too long been wittering in the wilderness. It's darts time: cue Silver-Tongued Sid, articulator of the arrows.

The Circus Tavern at Purfleet is to Sid Waddell what Lord's is to Benaud, Wembley to Motson and Monte Carlo to Walker. During Sky's coverage of the World Darts Championship you get an all-too-rare cutaway of the man at work in a little glass box flanking the stage: bouncing in his seat like a toddler at a tea-party, tie undone, hair everywhere, but never, ever lost for words.

Sid's great skill is suggesting drama and complexity where there is none. The match between Keith Deller and Dennis Smith was a case in point. Deller was a champion a long time ago but you don't hear too much about him these days. Smith looked the part, Meat Loaf with a moustache, a proper darter's gut on him, but he is hardly a household name. Yet Sid talked their group match confrontation into an epic.

He had science on his side. Sky had wheeled out one of the super slo- mo cameras that they normally use to give Andy Gray something to talk about. Slow motion is not something that you would normally associate with Sid, but the opportunity to describe a dart in flight was irresistible to such a keen student of trigonometry.

"Here's the super slo-mo of what's called the parabola of the dart," he enthused, as Deller's fingers performed a graceful dance at the moment of release. "And look at the arc! Look at that! Not a wibble at all in the flight!" He called on his co-commentator, John Gwynne, to compare Smith's action. "Now, John, watch this, it'll be interesting to see if there's a flutter - oh, you see, totally opposite..."

Gwynne bravely interrupted - the only way he was ever going to get any airtime - only to find that Sid had said it all. "Watch it go through," Gwynne murmured. "Yeah, it's a shorter dart and there's more - wibble." You can't quibble with a wibble.

"Trying to analyse the scientific facts of darts by inventing new language," Sid modestly announced, as lexicographers all over the country made a note between "why" and "wick". But he wasn't about to rest on his laurels, moving swiftly from aerodynamics to physiology. "There is a disease called dartitis," he warned. "Eric Bristow used to have it. All 1500 muscles, sinews and nerve-ends in the arm have to be in co-ordination, and if you get dartitis you cannot co-ordinate the release." This frightening condition can also affect commentators, in whom the symptoms are best described as the opposite of lockjaw.

Sid was off again. "You've got to have a mind like a pelican chip to maintain these mathematical abilities," he confusingly asserted. "And then there's the small matter of wrapping your fingers - delicately - around slightly sweaty tungsten. Some of us find it poetic, artistic even. Work it out yourself." We will, Sid, we will - once we have worked out what it must be like to have a brain like a seabird-flavoured snack.

There was more, much more: "Pure ballistic entertainment... the board looking like a prop from Dr Zhivago... it's a bit like pole-vaulting, this..." and so on, hour after unbelievable hour, until Deller, who had started badly, finally administered the coup de grace with a double eight, and Sid could inevitably conclude: "That is one of the greatest comebacks since Lazarus shifted the stone and chucked his winding-sheet away."

Sid is rumoured to have received a classical education, and his employer has already displayed his willingness to fund research at our greatest universities. Surely Sid's appointment as Murdoch Professor of Hyperbole at Cambridge cannot be long delayed.

Sky's coverage of the tragi- comic soap opera that was England's cricket tour of Zimbabwe was dignified by Sid Waddell's standards, and on the whole free from the kind of gimmicks that have marred their coverage in the past. Charles Colvile has taken well to his new role as wandering interviewer, but when a subject that most viewers would have loved to see him tackle turned up on the boundary, Colvile was nowhere to be seen. So Mark Nicholas had to meet the leopard instead.

Ian Wright popped up as a pundit on the midweek edition of Match of the Day (BBC1), resplendent in a purple shirt. "This is my Graceland," he declared with his trademark huge grin. "Graceland, hmm?" Desmond Lynam mused. "I don't know where that leaves me." What a story: dye the hair back to black, strip off the moustache that covers the celebrated sneering upper lip... Elvis Lives! In Shepherd's Bush.