Sport on TV: TCCB's part in virtual reality Ballardian dystopia

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IS THERE anyone out there, any sane, rational person, who believes there's not enough advertising in sport? Not content with ads on perimeter, flannels and pitch, the Test and County Cricket Board, according to David Gower on the first morning of the Test, are considering a plan for "virtual" advertising inserted on-screen. What further horrors can we be subjected to?

And a bunch of blazered relics can hardly be ahead of the pack on this one, so we can presumably expect a virtual rash all over our screens in the near future. I mean, how far can they go on this? "That goal was sponsored by Terminator boots"? "Julian Dick's foul was sponsored by Plaistow Tae- kwando Academy"? "That nasal clearance came to you in association with Vick's Sinex"? Our sports watching, on and off couch is already saturated with commercial toxins. For the ads to invade the electronic fabric of the programmes themselves is another step towards some horrific Ballardian dystopia in which free will has been obliterated by the pony-tailed hidden persuaders who tread the road between Charlotte Street and Hell. For even entertaining the idea, the TCCB should be locked in a darkened room, their eyelids pinned open a la Clockwork Orange and forced to watch the adverts for the rest of their miserable lives.

All this fulminating kept me from fully appreciating England's recovery after they'd threatened to get their collapse in early with the departure of Mark Butcher - "I could have knocked the big lunk for a loop," as Frank Sinatra remarked after lunch. There were further distractions in the afternoon session, you see, in the form of Sinatra's (and Busby Berkeley's) only, as far as I'm aware, foray into sports movies. Take Me Out to the Ball Game (Channel Four) featured the Mafia's friend (we can say that now and fear no horse's heads) and Gene Kelly as a pair of relentlessly womanising baseball players.

No one in the current England set-up is quite their equivalent, though they probably have enjoyed a night on the town with Ian Botham. The tabloids would have chewed them up and spat them out too. "I kissed a girl in old Poughkeepsie," they sang of life on the road, "that's where the college of Vassar's found/she couldn't study, love made her tipsy/her teachers wouldn't pass her/so she just turned on the gas and now the smartest girl in Vassar's in the cold ground." The inkies would love that. And it got worse: "I kissed a girl in Mississippi/ a Southern belle, name of Mary-Jo/she called me `Lucky Seven', said my kisses were from Heaven/then I found out she was eleven/so I had to go." Wilt Chamberlain, eat your heart out.

In between songs and one-liners (and a synchronised swimming sequence from team owner Esther Williams) it was difficult to tear one's eyes from Muttiah Muralitharan's elbow. Ever since the poor bloke was pulled up for throwing a few times, there's a question mark over every delivery. And it is a strange action. I was convinced I saw the recalcitrant joint unlock time and again, but then I've probably got cabin fever on holiday in the Highlands.

The sickness first set in after I sat through the dismal-to-mediocre European performances of Britain's Caledonian contingent. It was bad enough seeing Celtic go out so lamely on Wednesday (Grampian, Scottish), though it was interesting to see Brian McClair in the studio bringing new levels of lugubriousness to football punditry. With his deadpan delivery and drop-dead glare, there's a career for him in the footsteps Vinnie "Smoking Barrels" Jones. Far, far, worse, was seeing Rangers go through the previous night (BBC2 Scotland) against the stupid, witless, PAOK Salonika. Just when you need them most, these poncey Continentals failed to deliver (the Salonikan poncey continentals I mean, not the Glaswegian poncey Continentals).

You knew the game was up when they brought on two Peruvians, one called Paul and one called Percy. All the Greeks did, all night long, was flounce around like big jessies pretending they had been fouled. Like 95 per cent of Continental sides, they're flashy and useless, attractive to watch for 15 seconds and really, really, irritating for the other 5,385. The only consolation was that Rangers were rubbish too.

Far more entertaining was Top Gear Waterworld (BBC2 Thursday) with its account of the South-West Shingles Yacht Club on the South coast, an invitation- only fraternity of Jonahs. There was Bob Fisher who hit a submarine in the night, causing pounds 3m pounds worth of damage; Harold Cudmore, who wrote off a boat he had borrowed from the King of Norway in the Admiral's Cup; there was a naval chap who rammed London Bridge with his frigate; and Ray Cox, who tacked into the stern of the Royal Yacht Britannia, taking out the ensign and standard. Heroes all. One of them should be persuaded to take the TCCB out for a sail one fine, stormy day.

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