Broadcast Views

Reverse Swinging Mark has his say on Sky’s broadcast roster.

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.

As it happens, I tuned in my television to watch the New Zealand vs Sri Lanka Test match, and to my surprise the first voice I heard was that of the veteran West Indies commentator, Tony Cozier. Whether or not he’s emigrated to New Zealand, or doing some freelancing, I have no idea, but it was a delight to hear him.

Cricket in New Zealand is broadcast by Sky NZ, and it suffers from almost the opposite problem to that described by Mark- too much commentary, and not enough colour. I’m not sure where Jeremy Coney has got to, but the rest of the local commentators are too descriptive and.. boring.

Unfortunately, there’s not a great market for Test cricket in New Zealand. Shane Bond is giving the Sri Lankans a royal grilling before a nearly empty stadium, and so when broadcasting in this sort of environment, it is important to ‘pep it up’ a bit. You do not need the ‘Barmy Army’ to create atmosphere but you do need to have more then 15% of the seats sold.

This isn’t meant to be an attack on Sky NZ, who are doing a great job- the camera work is as good as anything Nine in Australia can come up with. The graphics are smart and professional. They just need to think ‘outside the square’ somewhat to liven things up. If they hired Tony Cosier to this end, then they have made a good start.

Never too old to learn

Brett Lee is making good use of his time in Bangladesh, talking to Wasim Akram about reverse swing.

Wasim Akram has given Brett Lee, the Australian fast bowler, a tip or two on reverse-swing and believes he will unleash it on England in this winter’s Ashes. Lee and two of his Australian bowling mates, Nathan Bracken and Mitchell Johnson, approached Akram, now a television commentator, during the second Test against Bangladesh earlier this week.

“These guys want to improve, so they want to ask the top cricketers [for advice] and that’s good,” Akram told AAP. “I did tell them the little details about reverse-swing. I think soon in the Ashes we will be seeing Brett Lee bowling reverse-swing.”

Akram, perhaps the finest practioner of the art of reverse swing, tormented many batsman during the 1990s in partnership with Waqar Younis. “It was about action, about seam, a lot of talk about reverse-swing,” Akram said. “Brett Lee is a sight to watch in world cricket. Any bowler comes to me from any nationality, I am there to help.”

I’m very glad to see the Australian bowlers go out of their way to learn. Wasim Akram was one of the all time great bowlers, a player I loved to watch, and I’m glad that he’s been willing to teach. One of the best ways for players to learn is to ask, and I hope that when he’s retired, Lee in turn will help all comers in the finer points of fast bowling and reverse swing.

A Barmy Englishman in India

Phil Long is with the Barmy Army and he wrote an account of the riot at Gawahati for the BBC.

I’m not sure what sparked off the initial trouble but certainly where I was perched it wasn’t the result of any tannoy announcement as there simply hadn’t been any.

Only when the first advertising hoardings were being ripped from their frames to be used as material for the on-terrace fires that followed was a plea of ‘Please be patient’ made – and ignored.

After that, the whole thing snowballed and although I later found out that some injuries occurred I never felt in any particular danger.

 

This feeling was reinforced by the local police who instead of tackling the trouble head on found it inconveniently coincided with their lunch break.

So we witnessed the somewhat surreal sight of the local constabulary munching contentedly on their lunch as chaos ruled around them.

I don’t think there was anything particularly sinister about the riot. Just the locals were extremely peeved about not seeing any cricket. Sadly, rain interruptions and soaked outfields are just as much a part of the game as reverse swing and cover drives. Anyway, it was a very interesting read by Phil Long.

The Irish sweets of the Englishmen

Cricinfo ran a story on Nathen Bracken making suggestions that England’s control (use of) reverse-swing wasn’t, erm, entirely legal. (When has reverse-swing ever been entirely legal though?) Bracken suggested the England team might have used mints/sweets, and the sugar contained in them might have assisted the Irish swing, which bowlers like Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff used to such great success in the summer. And I thought the whinging Aussies had finished their diatribes by now…

A few hours later, Mr Bracken retracted his comments

And while on the Irish theme, here’s a joke for you. Try to say these four words without sounding like an “astonished” Irishman: Well, Oil, Beef, Hooked.

Replacing the Welsh swinger

My article on Cricinfo about Simon Jones’s replacement is up:

Replacing the Welsh swinger

The things the modern cricketer has to endure. Twenty years ago, prominent England players would have winced at the thought of sitting in an Oxygen chamber, no doubt scoffing at its supposed benefits. Simon Jones has little choice: after he injured his ankle in the last Test, England have been doing everything they can to patch him up for the final fling. He has been a key, reverse-swinging cog in England’s success this summer, and if he fails a fitness test, his replacement could hold the key to wrestling the urn from Australia’s 18-year-long grasp. Or not…

Who could replace him? His long-term understudy, James Anderson, is finally playing cricket regularly. For Lancashire this season, he has taken 48 wickets but averages over 30: this is not what England, or Anderson, wants. He’d played just three games for Lancashire in 2002, before England called him into the one-day squad against Australia the following winter, and his success was instant. But his confidence was fragile, and attempts by England’s coaches to modify his bowling action sapped it further still. He remains promising and, importantly, is still only 23, but England can’t afford to risk his selection in what is the biggest match of England’s recent history.

Chris Tremlett, 24 tomorrow, has usurped Anderson as the young, English fast-bowling hope but is yet to play a Test. He played three one-day matches earlier in the season, and performed reasonably well, picking up 4 for 32 on debut against Bangladesh, and the useful wicket of Adam Gilchrist in the following match against Australia. Importantly, he has remained in the England “bubble”, Duncan Fletcher’s protective cushion, throughout this series which signifies he is very well regarded. Indeed, his extreme height has excited many observers: he is 6′ 7″ and generates bounce from a natural short-of-a-length, something Michael Vaughan can testify to as Tremlett smashed a ball into his elbow at Edgbaston. For Hampshire this season, he has taken 45 wickets at 26 – a good performance, if not a spectacular one – but he doesn’t move the ball a la Jones. Worryingly, in Hampshire’s latest match against Warwickshire, his two wickets cost 98 runs and included six-no balls.

Paul Collingwood is desperate to play Test cricket again, to add to his two matches played against Sri Lanka in 2003. While he is primarily a batsman, his bowling has improved steadily this season with 19 wickets for Durham. He remains very much a wobbling medium-pacer, though and it is a front-line bowler England needs to win at The Oval. His inclusion would strengthen the home side’s batting considerably, and this could yet win the selectors over. England, after all, only need to draw the fifth Test to regain the Ashes. But the remaining England bowlers’ workloads would be become even heavier. He is in excellent batting form, though, and his catching and fielding abilities are almost without peer. His bowling won’t win England the Test, but his batting and fielding could.

England’s former pace bowlers Andrew Caddick and Darren Gough are both a year either side of 35, but each would give their eye-teeth to be a part of a successful England side, and especially one which has, at long last, dominated an Ashes series. Caddick, 36, last played for England in Sydney in 2002-03, a Test England won, but injuries have since forced him out of the side. Despite his age, he is still the leading English-qualified wicket-taker this season with 54 at 27.79. Meanwhile it has been rumoured, rather cheekily, that Gough was asked to attend a training session by England. Mind you, Gough is the closest like-for-like replacement for Jones: he was England’s best exponent of reverse-swing throughout the 1990s, but with age comes medium-pace. England’s consistency in selection has arguably been a key factor in their successes spanning two years, and it remains unlikely Gough or Caddick will buck that trend.

Whoever is chosen – and other names in the mix include Kabir Ali and Jon Lewis – it is unlikely they will match the skill Simon Jones has shown this summer. His rare and surprising ability to move the new and the old ball is almost irreplaceable. Britain will be praying the German doctors can work their oxygen-chamber magic on him; and for Jones himself, it would be devastating to miss the finale of a series he has played such an integral part in swinging England’s way.