Replayed replays let down master of murmur

Sport on TV
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The Independent Online
Something must be done about the proliferation of action replays in cricket coverage on television. As far as cricket on television goes, there must be something done about action replays. Action replay-wise, something must be done about the television coverage of cricket. Pointless repetition from slightly different angles has its purposes but most of the time it is just plain dull.

Last Friday morning at Edgbaston, Javagal Srinath of India bowled a ball to Nasser Hussain of England. Srinath appealed for a catch behind the wicket. Umpire Darrell Hair turned down the appeal. End of story? Not on your telly.

The BBC replayed the incident eight times from three different angles. Five times they played the view from behind the bowler's arm, twice at normal speed, twice quite slowly and once very slowly. Twice they played the view from mid-on, quite slowly. And once they played the view from behind the wicket-keeper, very slowly.

All this allowed first David Gower and then Tony Lewis to agree with their fellow commentator Ravi Shastri that Hussain was probably out. Which had precious little effect on Hussain, who was in (and stayed in for some considerable time).

There is nothing wrong with action replays, but the dodgiest decision in cricket history would not deserve eight of them. The irony is that the BBC's Test match commentary team are so good that they don't need replays to give them something to talk about.

To watch Hussain playing the spinner Anil Kumble while listening to Richie Benaud and Geoffrey Boycott was to experience televised sport at its very best. It is true, as Peter Tinniswood once observed, that Benaud's mouth resembles the rear orifice of a hamster. And his hair-style bears an ever- closer resemblance to that of Quentin Crisp, the erstwhile Naked Civil Servant. But it is also a fact that he is the greatest cricket commentator of the age: knowledgeable, amusing, and - most priceless gift of all - silent when there is nothing to say.

Cricket fans treasure memories of Benaud's finest moments. A batsman and wicket-keeper collide at top speed in a whirl of limbs, Benaud murmurs: "Trouble there." A seagull is struck by the ball, and carried stunned from the square by a fielder. Benaud, with sincere solemnity, comments: "A most unfortunate occurrence." And - when a wicket is taken, especially when one of his beloved leg-spinners is involved - "Goddeem!"

He is also wise to the ways of directors, and wary of the cheap crack prompted by amusing out-takes between balls. On Thursday one of the BBC cameras focused on a pair of pigeons in the outfield, one of whom clearly had amorous intentions. "Let's leave them to it," Benaud sighed, and the director obeyed.

And Boycott? He's still the curmudgeonly old sod he always has been. But - as he would no doubt be the first to agree - he knows more about batting than England's top order put together. If only he would learn to pronounce "Azza Roodin" as one word.

More pronunciation problems on ITV's Euro 96 Preview. The programme's lame satirical team suggested that Jack Charlton may have trouble with the names of foreign players. "I'm not that bad," Big Jack robustly responded. Shortly afterwards, he was asked to name midfielders for his fantasy squad. "There's two from Portugal," he said, glancing nervously at his notepad. "Rui Sosa and Paola." Bob Wilson, the presenter, smilingly helped out. "Er, that's Rui Costa and Paulo Sousa, right, Jack?" "Aye," Charlton said, entirely unabashed. "They're big, quality players." Whoever they are.

Earlier in the programme, the panel of experts interviewed Terry Venables, live from a studio in the grounds of England's training base at Bisham Abbey. John Barnes asked about the difficulties of keeping the squad from becoming bored. As Venables launched into an earnest answer, two shadowy figures in blue emerged from the abbey in the background, crept up behind the England manager, and cavorted gaily for a few moments before sneaking away. High-spirited spectral monks? Perhaps. But one of them looked like Robbie Fowler. [Lawyers: please note the "L" words in the previous sentence.]

Fair Game (Channel 4), the programme that started the "old farts" kerfuffle, returned to rugby union and found that the game was in a mess. No change there, then. No change, either, in the presentation style of Greg Dyke's programme, which dictates that the camera should point anywhere other than straight at the person it is filming. Thus we got to find out a fair bit about the murky depths of the code, and a fair bit more about the hidden world of Dyke's nostrils.

The director also took a literal approach to Dyke's metaphors: he stood in a yard full of waste paper to announce that the game was "in tatters". How fortunate for him that it was not "up shit creek without a paddle".