What with Katherine Jenkins' warbling, David Lloyd's twittering and the Aussies' chirruping, all the Ashes needs now is Dickie Bird. Before the First Test (Sky Sports 1), the Welsh singer had set the tone for a long, hard summer of suffering by belting out the anthems of every country in the world except Spain, whose anthem has no words. But you have to wonder how long "Bumble" can keep it up: "18 minutes ago: Australia 610 for 5. I've stolen one of Sir Ian's pork pies." "Nine minutes ago: Australia 730 for 5. Sir Ian has discovered one of his pies is missing." "Three minutes ago: Australia 1,236 for 5. Sir Ian has me pinned to the sightscreen. He reckons I'm telling pork pies about his pork pies."
There have been precious few crumbs of comfort for England so far. One of them is that Shane Warne has still not shown up – he's playing poker in Las Vegas, apparently – and there have been no Aussies behind the microphone to rub it in like crumbs in the bed. So Sky's array of former England captains have been getting their excuses in early.
The reason why the ball isn't swinging is that it's the wrong colour. The reason why the ball isn't spinning either is that the Australians used the heavy roller on the pitch. And the reason why the batsmen keep getting themselves out? The ball isn't round enough, they're not playing at home, they've been put off by the sight of Max Boyce in the crowd... take your pick.
Sky's great innovation so far is the pitch camera, some kind of satellite system dedicated purely to examining bowlers' footmarks. No wonder people's SatNavs keep going wrong. The powers of Sky in the sky know no bounds in this era of non-terrestrial cricket. It's even rumoured that Rupert Murdoch will get rid of the stump microphones and simply bug the umpires' walky-talkies instead.
What the pitch close-up does show is England's hopes turning to dust. Ashes to ashes, and all that.
* The new kids on the block, ESPN, have been showing plenty of cricket programmes, among them Inside the Ashes (ESPN Classic, Thursday), in which Mark Butcher and Gladstone Small pick the greatest ever England team to contest the urn. Such polls always tend to favour recent history over the classics but sadly, before 2005, there had been nothing to shout about for a couple of decades. So the panel had to stick their necks out a bit, which has never been easy for Gladstone.
But the choices provided to them were pretty limited. Where was Harold Larwood, or Tom Graveney, or Jack Hobbs? Butcher tried to put a Surrey player into every slot on the teamsheet, which in Alec Stewart's case was just about possible. He couldn't get his dad into the team, though. Alan Butcher played one Test for England, and it wasn't against the Aussies.
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