Sky's team still has much to learn about coping with a dull day

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Sporting history was made yesterday. For the first time in 120 years of winter tours, it was possible to spend Boxing Day at home watching live Test cricket. This is the third time Sky has televised the Christmas Test, but the other two both took place in Melbourne, so you had to go without sleep to see them.

Not that staying awake was easy yesterday. The pitch was as pacy as a sentence from Bob Willis. The South African top order was as dazzling as a comment from Mike Procter. The bowlers had all the bite of a judgement by Ian Botham. Just after tea, I drew up a shortlist of the most exciting moments of the day. It went like this:

9.30am: A cameraman spots that Paul Adams' name has been entered on the scoreboard as ADAMS GOGGO. David Gower smoothly informs us that Goggo, a kind of insect, is Adams' nickname.

10.05: "Forty-nine now without loss South Africa," Charles Colvile says. For those who don't grasp the significance of this, he adds: "One away from notching their 50."

11.10: The resumption after lunch is delayed because there is a problem with the Stumpcam. It is quickly resolved.

11.25: The camera catches Dominic Cork taking a bottle-top out of his pocket. Then it catches him handing it to the umpire. He is having what is known in the trade as a bit of fun.

11.45: Hansie Cronje is caught by Mike Atherton at short extra. "Out!" says Colvile. "Great catch! Great catch!" It is indeed a great catch, but there has never been a catch so good that it fully justified the Colvile shriek.

1.03: After repeated screenings of a fine but illicit diving stop by Robin Smith, the third umpire awards an extra run to South Africa. This is what people have in mind when they talk about the growing power of television in sport.

1.10: Willis notices that the clock on the main scoreboard is an hour fast.

1.24: "Terrific news," Colvile says. "They've fixed the clock."

It was not Sky's fault that the most interesting event in cricket yesterday occurred in Melbourne. But dullness is part of the deal in Test cricket and commentators have to be able to cope with it. Test Match Special, after all, keeps going in the rain.

I'm not sure who coined the phrase "silence is golden" but they were clearly thinking of TV cricket commentary. Sky's coverage has many strengths - the camerawork, the super slow-mo, the extended highlights - but it doesn't have anyone to tell its commentators when to shut up.

Yesterday was the perfect day for a bit of silence. Until Daryll Cullinan got going, there was little to talk about. The average viewer had a sore head. And all day, there was a band playing in a stand - light jazz, more New Orleans than Port Elizabeth. This idea has possibilities: the band could become a sort of Greek chorus, commenting on the action.

They would not get a job on Sky - they are not famous enough. Infinitely richer than BBC Sport, Sky spends its money on big names: Gower, Botham, Willis. None of them is atrocious, but all are out-played by the less celebrated Mark Nicholas.

He talks a lot too, but what he says is lucid and forthright. He avoids the compulsive understatement of some old pros without succumbing to the overkill of Colvileballs. He gushes a bit ("wonderful performance again from Dominic Cork", at 57 for 1), and his voice is a shade too stentorian - the viewer can feel like a foreign waiter taking orders from a retired major. But he has a gift for what he does, not just for what he used to do.

Any criticism of Sky has to be heavily qualified. The bottom line is that they bring you Test cricket on a winter's day - something unheard of before 1990. As play began, the sun was rising here; as the players came off, it was setting. And Boxing Day had been less of an anti-climax than usual.