SPORT ON TV: After the Snickometer, bring on the box-cam

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The Independent Online
SILLY OLD Channel 4. They go to all that trouble and expense to wrest the cricket from the BBC's despairing grasp, and all for what? For highlights of England v New Zealand, that's what.

At least if they'd had the ball-by-ball commentary (which only kicks in for the second Test), they would have had yesterday morning's hilarities to concentrate on. Seven wickets thrown away before lunch is a dramatic process when you see it unfolding moment by moment. In highlights form, there's no sense of that rapid accumulation of small disasters - the seven could have fallen at regular intervals during the day (rather than regular intervals of about five minutes).

Today at the Test (C4, Thursday) felt strange, though it is hard to pinpoint why, other than the shock of the new. Partly it is just the way it sounds - maybe C4 use different microphones from the Beeb. Partly, too, as a colleague remarked, all that white flannel looked so old-fashioned after the colour-blindness tests that the World Cup organisers used for the teams' kits.

One immediate improvement on the BBC's highlights programmes, though, is the time C4 put it out - after the shortened early-evening news, rather than after The Epilogue. In fact, the ideal thing would be to do both (which C4 could easily manage, by holding over one of the cutting-edge computer-animated bits of tosh they're so fond of in the 4 Later strand).

A clear indication of the BBC's commitment to sport was given on Wednesday night - sorry, Thursday morning - when they put on the athletics from Oslo, one of the season's main Grand Prix meetings, at midnight. They did, though, include one bit of new technology that was instructive as well as entertaining: when Haile Gebrselassie was going for the world 5,000 metres record, a dot of light, representing where he would have to be in order to break the record, lead him round the track. It was clear from early in the race that he wasn't going to make it.

When Sky nicked the football all those years ago, much was made of the bag of technical tricks that were supposed to enhance our enjoyment. And the main thrust of C4's cricket launch was its new gadgetry, principally the "Snick- ometer". It seems to work: when Dion Nash got an edge to a Phil Tufnell delivery, there was the evidence, apparently - a clear burst on the scale down the side of the screen, followed by a larger, fuzzier expanse where ball hit glove. The thought occurred, though, that it could all be a con- trick. They could put soundwaves on the screen from down the batsman's trousers and we'd be none the wiser.

The other innovation is an on-screen thin blue line between the two wickets on replays of lbw decisions - Caddick's first wicket, for example, was clearly headed for the stumps - though anyone who has ever watched cricket before could probably have worked it out for themselves. It is difficult to know where else they can go with all this window-dressing. Batcams? Ball-cams? Box-cams?

Other innovations: the scoreboard is a fetching orange and blue Bridget Riley creation, with steel band music playing almost imperceptibly. The title sequence is so packed with bewildering imagery, you wonder what message they are trying to get across: there's a point-of-view shot of a bowler trundling in (never mind the stump-cam; this is eye-cam), followed in ultra-rapid succession by rappers and taggers dancing in a subway; a mad old woman giving the "out" gesture; a spot of salsa; a rocker combing his hair in a pub lavatory while his beehived girlfriend dances at the door (what's that about?); a car falling to the ground in a wreckers' yard; a bloke directing helicopters; martial artists working out on a derelict site; a modernist sculpture being unveiled next to a block of flats; an old couple watching the telly; then come a few cricket images (mostly featuring Dickie Bird). The music, which was presumably chosen by a focus group, bears a distinct resemblance to that music from the Guinness commercial. If anyone can make cricket trendy, I guess Channel 4 are the crowd to do it.

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