Brian Viner: While Shahzad was hitting India for six I was left thumping my steering wheel

The Last Word

Saturday 05 March 2011 01:00

The media's coverage of football might not unreasonably be likened to a juggernaut, which consistently crushes every other sport beneath its wheels.

But there have been better days to issue that whinge than last Sunday, for if part of the beauty of the Beautiful Game is its capacity for springing surprises, then 27 February 2011, yielded one of its more beautiful afternoons.

In the Premier League, beleaguered West Ham subjected resurgent Liverpool to the hammer, while Mark Hughes took his Fulham side to the City of Manchester Stadium and proved a point by taking a point. In Scotland, Motherwell beat league leaders Celtic 2-0. And in the Carling Cup final, of course, relegation-threatened Birmingham City confounded every pundit and even the realistic expectations of their own fans by first outplaying and then beating mighty Arsenal.

I happened to be on a long car journey on Sunday afternoon, so followed the final on BBC Radio 5 Live, and listening to Robbie Savage hyperventilating in the last moments of the match brought some welcome cheer to a rain-splattered M4. If you recall, though, at half-time it was 1-1. The match was interestingly poised, but there was nothing for even Savage to shriek about.

At precisely the same time in Bangalore, by contrast, the one-day cricketers of England and India were engaged in the thrilling crescendo to one of the most exciting World Cup matches ever played. It might now seem slightly eclipsed by what subsequently happened to England against Ireland, but at the time it sounded like history in the making. How fortuitous, I thought, that it should be half-time at Wembley, enabling 5 Live to cover the last over at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, where Graeme Swann and Ajmal Shahzad, the latter newly arrived at the crease, required 14 more runs to overhaul India's formidable total of 338.

Except that 5 Live didn't. Instead, they left the cricket to our imagination, preferring to conduct an interview with injured Birmingham City defender Curtis Davies, quizzing him on what he'd thought of the first half. An engaging enough fellow but not the most eloquent of interviewees, Davies delivered a few platitudes, all containing the word "obviously". Meanwhile, if you happened to be on the M4 somewhere between junctions 14 and 15, you might have spotted a Volvo driver thumping his steering wheel in incredulity and frustration.

By the time 5 Live had finished showcasing the reflections of Curtis Davies, and deigned to return to the electrifying conclusion in Bangalore, Munaf Patel had bowled three balls of the final over, the third of which, alas described for us only in retrospect, Shahzad had smacked down the ground for six. Five required to win, and this time the BBC stayed put, evidently recognising that the last three balls, at least, might be more significant than further analysis of Lee Bowyer's first 45 minutes at Wembley.

Now, it could be that I am unaware of some contractual or technical reason for all this, and that it wasn't the egregious editorial misjudgement it seemed. I also know that I could have twiddled some knobs and found full coverage of the cricket, but then 5 Live is BBC radio's sporting flagship and anyway, who has time for knob-twiddling in the middle lane of the M4? As I've asserted already, last Sunday is not the best day to cite as yet another example of our media kicking other sporting stories to one side in the haste to prostrate themselves before the god (much as I worship it myself) that is association football. But I think I'll cite it anyway, on behalf of all those who were on the motorway at the same time, thinking the same thing.

Unique sporting talents often share a singular surname

What is the most illustrious sporting surname of all time? I am minded to ask the question following an email from a reader, Malcolm Harris, who tells me that, as a side-effect of the steroids he is currently taking, he spends hours awake in the dead of night. This was good news during the Ashes, he informs me, but less so now, so he has devised a nocturnal game whereby he chooses common surnames and tries to think of leading sportsmen and women who share that name. He's done well with Smith, predictably enough, and also Lewis. I would add Brown, Johnson, Jones, Richards, Robinson, Thompson (or Thomson) and Williams, although I think Davies might take pole position, certainly if it embraces Davis too.

Whatever, it is Mr Harris's intriguing contention that the real one-offs in terms of talent, are also, more often than not, one-offs as surnames. He offers Bradman, Botham, Nicklaus and Federer as evidence, to which I'll add Warne, Sobers, Flintoff, Maradona, Zidane, Cruyff, Francome, Lomu, Fangio, Senna, Clay, Louis, Laver, Navratilova, Nadal, Bolt, Spitz, Blankers-Koen, Zatopek and Gebrselassie as names that, despite the best efforts of a few offspring, will surely only ever evoke a single sporting great, with no room for confusion.

It's a no-brainer to blast Clattenburg

We at "The Last Word" prefer not to stick the boot into individual football referees, recognising their job as jolly difficult. But then so is brain surgery, and we wouldn't hesitate to lambast a brain surgeon if he left his scalpel inside a patient's head or in some other way got his decision-making as indefensibly wrong as Mark Clattenburg has these past seven days.

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