I love cricket. I play, I watch, I read books about cricket. I surreptitiously track over-by-over feeds while at work and listen to Test Match Special – something else that justifies the licence fee in itself in my opinion – throughout the Summer. Cricket is a great sport and one of the most fascinating to take in across many media.
Unfortunately Sky is the only place you can watch virtually any cricket. Yep, because successive governments have been spineless creeps our second sport is relegated to what is still, despite rocketing numbers, a televisual ghetto. Cheap if you can afford it. Very expensive to millions across the country.
I have an ideological objection to this, but an aesthetic one too. Despite some clever technical toys, Sky’s cricket coverage is terrible. It’s comically bad. From Professor Doom himself, Bob Willis (a man who sounds like he’s trying to speak through a mouth of taramasalata with a voice that sounds like it was invented to tell people they have cancer), to Sir Ian Botham, a fat idiot continually verbalising his wish to be doing something monumentally boring (playing golf, fishing) as if trying to insult every single viewer who’s paying for the privilege of watching him want to be somewhere else, to Tory-backbench-via-middle-management bore-a-trons like Ian Ward and Nick Knight to a role-call of the more boring ex-England skippers (Andrew Strauss is the most recent addition and has a voice so tedious that it could stun an ox at 40 yards).
None of it is really much good, with only some comedy from David Lloyd, occasional wry asides from Mike Atherton and dash of spice from Nasser Hussain when he remembers why he he hates the Aussies going for it. Oh, I forgot David Gower, an ineffectual school master and likeable enough, in the same way that a pastel-painted wall is.
This leads me to cricket advertising. Forever associated with merchant banks, high-end cars, financial services and expensive suits – the kind of things that about 90 per cent of people who play cricket can’t afford – it’s as if the Conservative Party has its own national sport as far as the ads are concerned. Dull, pompous, stiff, awkward and about as much fun as sex in a loveless marriage.
So it should come as no surprise that Wolf Blass – a kind of middle-of-the-road wine vendor, like if Gardener’s World was a wine – is sponsoring Sky’s Ashes coverage with some wraparounds, those bits that bookened ad breaks. Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss do the voiceovers – as the last two recently-retired England skippers to give the Aussies a bloody lip that’s fair enough, but their voices are bad and the lines they’ve been given to read so clunkingly awful it’s hard to believe the whole things isn’t simply a send-up. And just look at this picture! They look like they’re about to start discussing the Boer War and suffragettes, just prior to eating quail-on-toast and quaffing their MOR Aussie wine.
Reciting these stilted, vaguely macho and thoroughly laughable lines simply reinforce how using sportspeople to fill commentary, presenting and summariser positions is so frequently doomed to failure. Exactly who wrote these hilariously banal, crushingly uninteresting and parodically cliched snippets of Ashes vignettes is a question that bears asking: have they ever watched cricket? Heard of the Twitter meme #accidentalpartridge? I mean, just parse these sentences:
KP was the star of the show. He showed his real class that day.
I had to make a lot of tough decisions to make Ashes victories – shying away wasn’t an option
Of course the lads didn’t always agree with me, but I wasn’t trying to be popular – I was trying to win.
Cricket is a glorious sport. It’s hard, it’s dangerous, it’s incredibly skilful, it ebbs and flows like a tidal river, it’s incredibly sapping both physically and mentally; it’s chess played with a ball that can rearrange your face. Yet Strauss and Vaughan sound like they’re discussing the sales success of a refrigeration unit manufacturer – combined with the carpet-warehouse strings and soft-focus ambiance they might as well be advertising Horlicks.
Watch the spots below and ask yourself if you can ever bear to watch The Ashes ever again. They are a perfect example of the Skyification of cricket: slick, boring, empty and utterly without character.
Howzat? Shit, mate.