Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Sound and Vision

Whilst we at TRSM Towers are still avoiding all possible mention of the A*****e Test (sociologists call it 'denial') we thought it best to stick to peripheral cricketing issues for the time being - until we reach the level of 'acceptance' and are ready to 'forget it and move on'.

So, how about another of our regular looks at the goings on in the Sky TV booth.

Generally, Sky are having a 'good war'. The absence of Bob Willis and Paul Allott has meant that the other guys in the box can relax in the knowledge that a push to mid-wicket for an easy single is not going to be met with hysterial, screaming-pitch hyperbole - more appropriate for the sight of Martians landing on the wicket than a passage of play in a Test Match.

Mike Atherton is continuing in his, so far successful, quest to make the rest of the team look totally incompetent. He manages to raise the performance of everyone he gets paired with - even David Lloyd for heavens sake! This skill makes Athers the Colin Montgomerie in the Sky TV team. Stretching the golfing analogy, Lloyd would normally be the novice hacker who cards a 92, but in the reflected aura of Atherton actually manages to string coherent sentences together - often in English, which is a real bonus.

If you don't believe the power of Atherton, listen to the contrast in Ian Botham's performance in the next Test between his spells with 'Mikey' and his time with Atherton. Alongside Holding, Botham sounds like a pissed up teenager trying far too hard to ingratiate himself with the local 'cool dude' - and failing miserably - whereas with Atherton he sounds like exactly what he is - a good analyst, and the best English all-rounder ever.

Of the rest of the team, Nasser is good value, although he overdoes the 'Angry Ex-Skipper' act a bit - but am I the only one who feels that Gower's languid, semi-hungover 'Champagne Charlie' act is starting to wear a bit thin.

Bottom line is that the team needs a refresh - but you just know that the Sky heavy-handed response will be to send for more ex-skippers (Alec Stewart, Michael Vaughan and, by next summer - a wheelchair bound Freddie Flintoff) without stopping to consider cricket commentary as a skilled trade rather than an extension of a sporting career.

The classic sports arrangement consists of a commentator who actually describes what's going on out in the middle, alongside a 'colour' man who, well, adds the colour to the picture the commentator has described - effectively providing deeper analysis of what's going on.

Every other sport seems to recognise this - football commentary is left to the professional commentators (Motson, Davies, Tyler) with ex-pros like the exemplary Andy Gray, just providing the 'colour' - the same with Rugby Union where Miles Harrison and Stuart Barnes have developed a level of understanding that rugby hasn't witnessed since Gareth Edwards and Phil Bennett were strutting their stuff.

Sky Cricket's problem is that they have too many 'colour' guys and not enough commentators - in fact, they haven't actually got any at all. You need balance to ensure that the commentary flows with the game - but instead, with Sky, we get a series of ex players who feel that they have to continually justify their presence with elaborate analysis of every thought, word and deed of the players in the middle - plus a whole lot more beyond that, without realising that all we actually need is some sort of insight into what is actually happening, and why. No one is doing orthodox commentary, because no one has been asked/told to - so the Sky product is fundamentally flawed.

The Sky TV booth seems to be the place where ex-England captains end up when they're playing days are over. Luckily, this generalisation doesn't include Graham Gooch (too bland vocally, and too tied up with his toupe ads) or Mike Gatting (too money-grabbing, even for Murdoch owned Sky, which is saying something)

You probably need ex-players to provide the best 'colour' insight, but there's no hard and fast rule which says that ex-players make the best 'commentators'. After all, the acknowledged master of the art was John Arlott, who never played cricket professionally (he was far too clever for that...) whilst his Australian counterpart was Alan McGilvray, who was actually a pretty good cricketer, but never came close to playing for his country. Incidently, there's a whole generation of us who grew up in the 70's assuming that all Australians sounded like McGilvray, and who therefore got a nasty, and rather pleasant shock, when Kylie Minogue appeared on our TV screens!

Sky did seem to recognise the need for 'civilians' in their cricket coverage from the outset, but sadly the person they chose to carry the flag for non-professional cricketers everywhere was Charles 'Bouffant' Colville - which was a bit like asking Arthur Mullard to be the representative face of the English National Opera. Colville was treated with amused contempt by the ex-players in the booth to begin with, but after a while it descended to badly concealed loathing, to the extent that you started to suspect that Botham and Co were setting light to his trousers whilst he was on air and doing unmentionable things in his coffee.

Since that debacle, it's been professional cricketers all the way.

To be fair, Sky have taken some steps to improve the quality of their coverage. Leaving Willis and Allott at home was a definite 'addition by subtraction' move. This demotion hasn't stopped Willis popping up in almost every English paper of the past week or so - taking every opportunity to continue his frankly worrying one-man campaign against the very existance of Geraint Jones. The level of his vitriol for the Kent keeper goes beyond simple 'vendetta' into the realms of the irrational, where you start thinking that Jones must have done something outrageous to RGDW in the past - stolen his signed copy of 'Highway 61 Revisited' perhaps, or suggested that the Zim peaked with 'Blood on the Tracks'.


Tony.T said...

Ripping post, Mark. You could apply the very same to our very own Channel 9.

I hope you don't mind that link to you.

Scott said...

I don't have anything to do this weekend, so I might sign up for Willis' campaign against the very existence of Geriant Jones.

I don't have anything against the guy, but I do have a need to do something different.