A untimely bout of tonsillitis earlier this week confined me to the sports channels and gave me the chance to run the eye over some of the certainties, hopefuls and outsiders for this summer. Not the England side, but the Sky Commentary Box.
Setanta have baggsied the IPL TV action - though to be honest the crash-bang-wallop format was always going to be a tad too rich for my feverished constitution to cope with, but luckily they'd dusted off the old Sky Charabang and all gone off to the West Country for a few days, so it was Somerset v Durham from Taunton in the LV= County Championship. (Pain of death if you forget the '=' apparently... :-) )
It's one of the unspoken sub plots of this early part of the cricketing summer. What will be the impact of Shane Warne joining the Sky team? The very fact that there'll be someone in the box with more test wickets that Ian Botham will change the dynamic immediately, but the more immediate issue is whether or not someone going to move aside to make room for him - figuratively that is, or will Sky be moving to the new fangled three man line up favoured by Channel 9?
So it was a chance for those safely esconsed in the test line up to give themselves a tune-up behind the mike (Atherton) a chance for a couple of the newer faces to give the producers a nudge in case the three man ploy meant overall numbers were being expanded (Knight) and a chance for the previously discarded to try and wheedle their way back into favour (Willis and Allott) All under the supervision of Charles Colville - no possible chance of him getting back into test match contention, but still with a few points to prove.
So how did they do?
Athers was the usual model of erudition - though he was helped by being paired with Willis for most of the time, someone who would make Jimmy Knankie seem profound behind the microphone. Atherton did come out with one bizarre comment that raised a few eyebrows when he suggested that Graham Onions was a good choice for the England side because he 'spoke well' - the sort of thing you might have last heard from the MCC Long Room in about 1949. Those who see Atherton as hailing from the old Manchester School of Radicalism because of some of his more enlightened comments on the cricketing establishment might need to have a rethink.
Allott did little to cast off the 'Alittle' soubriquet previously given to him here in terms of what he adds to your viewing enjoyment. Banality personified, his periods on commentary only enlivened by the fact that he does tend to spar rather with Nick Knight - fresh from his stint in the 2am graveyard slot hosting the Women's World Cup coverage. Maybe it's professional jelousy that riles Alittle - he can see that Knight is rapidly ascending to the levels he used to take for granted a few years back, or maybe Knight used to smear him all over the park when the two were in county opposition.
Alittle only really came into his own on the first day when a series of 78mph trundlers were serving up a succession of four balls to the Durham batsmen. Whilst Willis predictably came over all tabloid as is his wont - continually asking 'where are all the fast bowlers, eh' like a drunk in the pub wandering around trying to pick a fight with someone, Allott was able to offer some insight on that sort of bowling because, as amusingly admittedly when asked, he gave up bowling fast when he was about 13! Willis asked the question so often that I thought something had gone wrong with the TV transmission, until I realised that I was simply falling asleep and waking up at regular intervals.
To my mind Nick Knight hasn't quite clinched the deal. He's obviously knowledgeable, has played the game with a lot of the players still on the circuit and is easy on the ear, but he sometimes a bit lightweight and on others seemingly argumentative for the sake of it.
Then you have Willis and Colville. They are rapidly becoming a double act like Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis - loathing each other, but each dependent on the other because the shtik works so well. At County level Colville is in his element. He's comfortable away from well away from the bullying in the test box, where he was patronised unmercifully - though he was often asking for it, and has found his metier in the domestic game. Don't forget he's lived the dream and has done the sort of job that most of us would willingly give up a limb for, and rather touchingly he still has the wide eyed 'is this happening to me' attitude - even though the location is now Taunton rather than Trinidad. He's also not afraid to ask the seemingly simple questions - that's what you want from the 'civilian' in the team.
He still has to put up with the occasional barbed commments. Occasionally from Alittle, but normally from his regular side-kick, Willis. During the West Country Tour (Wonder if they had those T shirts made up that you see touring teams have produced with 'nicknames' and in-jokes) the double act came up with some gems...
At one stage Colville called Willis out for referring to the 'rules of cricket' - call me pedantic, but quite rightly. "It's 'laws' " said Colville. There was a long pause, Willis sighed audibly and then completly changed the subject.
Later Willis counter-punched by referring to the birds then on camera and asking Charles to name them as he was at least an expert in ornithology. Ooh - meeow!!
From that point there were very long pauses between comments - so you wondered what was going on- various hand gestures maybe, or the two of them having to be held back like a pair of brawling schoolboys.
Then Colville went on about a bird outside his house waking him up early every morning. Willis asked if Colville knew what it was and CC admitted that he'd had to look it up.
"So what was it?" asked the mad aunt.
"A great big tit" said Colville, with not a little relish. "I do wish it would shut up."
So do we Charles!