Sport on TV: World Cup disappears down Murdoch's plughole

IT'S BEEN a bad week. Being a sour bunch, critics are always happiest when indulging in a good kicking, and the return on Monday of On Side, a favourite bete noire, had me giddy with anticipation. I was, however, cruelly cheated.

Previous incarnations of BBC1's sports magazine have tended to resemble a motorway pile-up, metaphorically speaking, with the guests - often legends in their own screen-time - shoe-horned in among the ghastly studio set- ups and low-grade filmed reports. At last, though, the producers have realised that quality, not quantity, is the key.

Viewers can just about manage without fatuous trimmings and tacky longueurs if what they are served up is intelligent and thought-provoking, and the makers have finally got things right. It's all leaner and fitter: four guests, in and out, no messing, a crisp 40 minutes.

First up were Viv Richards and Angus Fraser, followed by Peter Dumbreck, the man who front-flipped so spectacularly in the Le Mans 24 Hour Race last weekend ("I just braced myself," he said), and the smouldering Goran Ivanisevic.

Richards came on first - a blue chip way to kick off the series, although it has to be said that his responses were, without exception, diplomatically bland and noncommital. A career in politics or sports administration beckons, app- arently, and he was too keen not to offend to say anything incisive - or even mildly interesting. For all John Inverdale's best efforts Richards was about as outspoken as Alan Shearer - although perhaps with good reason: "When you step on people's toes," Richards said of Caribbean politics, "that's serious business. You have to wear body armour".

Better value was Angus Fraser (who came off the bench because the first choice, Jeff Thompson, was unable to oblige after being drunk under the table by City types at a private lunch earlier in the day). The fast bowler described by Inverdale as "England's most consistent player of the last few years" (is that right? Are there statistics?) was brought on to tell us why Our Brave Boys exited the World Cup so lamentably. He offered a devastatingly simple analysis of why England should never expect to beat any of the decent sides ever again: you just can't get the staff.

The domestic set-up is replete with hod-carriers, spear-chuckers, jobbers and journeyman. But there's not a single world class player left in Britain (he didn't state it quite as melodramatically as that, although he nearly did).

England's best bowlers concede around 27 to 30 runs per wicket; the others have men who can deliver at around 20. Similarly, our very finest batsmen average 30-40, as opposed to the 40-50 of better endowed teams. As Fraser said, "immediately that's a deficit of 60-70 runs per innings." A few observers are finally beginning to stare the truth in the face, it seems, led by the likes of Fraser.

One subject Inverdale pressed them both on was the tournament's subterranean profile. Even given England's early exit, he couldn't understand the lack of hoopla, and indeed, the event has managed to get through to the semi- finals without large sections of the populace noticing anything happening.

This is partly to do with the bulk of it being on Sky. Sports other than football suffer immeasurably in terms of public perception when they vanish from terrestrial screens. Look at boxing: apart from the handful of usual suspects, name a British fighter. All right, Joe Calzaghe. Name another. You can't, can you? Frankly, once Murdoch bought up the sport, boxing disappeared down the plughole. Sunday League cricket has gone the same way, although rugby league seems to have weathered the transition. So far.

There was a Sky cock-up to cherish on Wednesday, when Maurice Greene broke the world 100 metres record. At the end of the bulletin on Sky News, the presenter said jovially, "We've got 10 seconds left. What can we show you in 10 seconds?"

Cue the race from Athens. Sadly, they included the athletes on their blocks and the starting gun. Fade to black after 30 metres out...

Still, no one's immune to embarrassing blunders. Sometimes there's a pile-up at one of my synaptic junctions and then, frankly, anything can happen. A few years ago, in a column I used to do for the Bermuda Sun, I was writing about the Super Bowl, which was taking place that year at the Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami. In my head, that fact became conflated with the then sports editor of the Independent, whose name was similar but crucially different. I referred throughout the piece to the Vic Robbie Stadium. Not the same thing at all.

Unfortunately, in a somewhat similar brainstorm last week, I named the voice-over artiste in last week's C5 documentary Kevin Keegan - Football Messiah? as Craig Brown. It was, of course, Craig Charles, of Red Dwarf fame. Just call me a stupid smeghead.

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45,000 : SThree: Recruitment is a sales role ...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'