Bahhhhhhhhh bleat bahhhh

Oh the Sky Sports chaps are loving this, absolutely loving it. Hampshire have just beaten Ireland, and they can’t stop inferring that they’re all going to get pissed on Guinness. I don’t doubt they will, but SHUT UP about it.

After [whoever] got the Man-of-the-Match award, they said “Ooh, err, I don’t think there will be many clear heads tomorrow morning; Champagne and Guinness. Not the best mixture.” Well fuck me dead. Aren’t you insightful. No, it’s not a good mixture, and nor is the current crop of Sky Sports presenters.

I have no problem with any of them as people. They’re all thoroughly decent and were/are fine cricketers. I just wish they wouldn’t state the bleeding obvious – something I felt Channel 4 got spot on. They had a duty to provide a balance between teaching the game to newcomers (roadshows) and not patronising the longterm fans (us). Sky are all about glitz, glamour and shoving the blatant down our throats. It’s especially hard so early in the season, because it makes me want to eat my feet and stick a pen up my nose, ala Blackadder on the right.

Channel 4 got it so right. It’s now all so wrong, not to mention a total injustice that a large slice of the population will simply not see any cricket on TV for the next few years.

The importance of being earnest

Tim de Lisle opened up in Cricinfo with an interesting post relating to independence in the media.

Trescothick is much liked, and even after his story changed, most commentators were gentle with him. But one pundit was conspicuously tough: Mike Atherton, cricket columnist for the Sunday Telegraph, who said Trescothick’s virus line was “so utterly implausible” that “ridicule is the only proper response”.

Atherton used to open the batting for England with Trescothick. He was a team-mate for years at Lancashire of Trescothick’s agent, Neil Fairbrother, who also came in for criticism in Atherton’s piece, albeit unnamed. The condemnation possibly went a touch too far, but it came from the right place: a belief in honesty. Atherton can’t stand spin – of the PR variety – and he is right to highlight the way it is spreading through the sports world.

Atherton is one of the best ex-player pundits for three reasons. He wants to get better; after a tentative start, his writing has steadily acquired more scope and flair. He is curious: he asks questions, while some ex-players still wait for the questions to come to them. And he has a clear grasp of the importance of being independent. He knows he is now batting not for England, but for his readers.

In a free press, that distinction is straightforward. In televised sport, it is becoming a grey area. The ultimate producer of cricket in India is now the Indian board. Atherton, who commentated for Sky on the India-England series, says local commentators were “asked not to mention sensitive subjects”. This provoked denials, but it will continue to be an issue. And some ex-players just don’t seem to see that it matters.

I posit that it is not quite so simple as this though. As a general rule of thumb, in whatever field you work in, you do not crap in your own nest. Cricket authorities are different in various places but all of them expect their broadcast partners to be supportive. And the management of the broadcasters themselves would be most displeased if the commentators were to disparage the game, lest they invite viewers to change the channel.

After all Michael Atherton would hardly expect the Sunday Telegraph to be very friendly to him if he bagged the paper in his column.

That is why there will always be a role for newspapers and blogs in cricket and indeed, in many other areas. We can ask the questions that broadcast media can not ask.

England in a state

Crikey, England are already in a bit of a mess. Vaughan’s wonky knee is giving him trouble, and Pietersen’s fallen over. The spinners have Delhi-belly – or Baroda Belly might be more accurate – and it’s all looking a bit rubbish.

Meanwhile, the Times reckon Sky will be offered rights by Nimbus, so we won’t have to endure listening to it on TMS (which actually I wouldn’t mind, were it now not my job to write about cricket).

Can’t blog for a bit. Hopefully Scott will resume duties soonish and Gideon might be posting something soon too.

BBC secure radio rights

The BBC have secured radio rights in India for four years, which is a welcome relief to those who enjoy Test Match Special. The deal allows them to broadcast England’s current tour of India, and other international teams who visit, over the next four years. Sky, meanwhile, are being shafted by Nimbus, who paid an astonishing amount of money (over $600m) for exclusive rights to broadcast cricket on TV in India.

End of the road (for now) for BSkyB deal

The ECB’s decision to give BSkyB exclusive rights to show all Tests on PPV (pay per view) TV is now, almost certainly, non-overturnable. (I don’t know if that word exists, but it’s a cracker.) The following people participated in today’s Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee:

Mr David Collier, Chief Executive, England and Wales Cricket Board, Mr Richard Bevan, Chief Executive, Professional Cricketers’ Association; Mr Roger Mosey, Director of Sport, BBC, Mr Mark Sharman, Controller of Sport, ITV, Mr Andy Duncan, Chief Executive, Channel 4, Mr Colin Campbell, Director of Legal and Business Affairs, Five, Mr Vic Wakeling, Managing Director, Sky Sports (at approximately 10.30 a.m.); Lord Smith of Finsbury and Lord MacLaurin (at approximately 11.00 a.m.); Mr David Brook, Mr Anthony Wreford, and Mr Stedford Wallen, Keep Cricket Free Campaign (at approximately 11.30 a.m.); Rt Hon Richard Caborn MP, Minister for Sport, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (at approximately 11.50 a.m.).

There’s nothing yet at Hansard (incidentally, my family descend from Luke Hansard – the House’s original printer), but Cricinfo have a report here. In it, Caborn says:

“If you are asking me ‘Can a deal be done?’, I don’t think it can,” Caborn said. “I am making no bones about it. I am supporting the ECB in what it has done.”

2009 is how long we’ll have to wait for it to return to terrestrial – although that’s only the end-date of Sky’s contract which will go up for review again. John Howard wouldn’t put up with it, would he? (Scott or whoever – fill me in on the state of play as regards cricket on TV in Australia)

England’s tour of Pakistan on Vodafone

If you like watching TV on a screen about an inch-square, whose battery runs out quicker than anything, and you’re a cricket fan, you might like this:

In order to attract customers to the service Sky is giving all Vodafone Live 3G customers exclusive live coverage of the England cricket team’s tour to Pakistan, starting with the first test in Multan on 12 November. Sky also claims that it will offer both breaking news and sports headlines to Vodafone’s 3G customer base

[Via email – thanks JB]

Cricket’s foot-shooting ability

Can’t help feeling that today, having witnessed the most brilliant celebration of an English side to win the Ashes, the ECB’s decision to sell the rights to B$kyB has been even more foolish than we first suspected. Cricket’s ability to shoot itself in the foot is legendary; maybe this sport really is the new Football…

And today I heard that Tessa Jowell, bless ‘er cotton socks, has hinted that it might return as one of the country’s “listed” sports. These “listed” sports, the “crown jewels” (which has its own, unfortunate and obvious meaning in cricket…) are to be reviewed, said Ms Jowell. Hurrah! All is not lost; cricket will return to terrestrial TV after all.

Err, no. The “review” won’t be until 2009.

The BBC and football’s intrusion on our summer of cricket

The BBC, who now must be regretting their decision not to fight for the TV rights of cricket in Britain, published an interesting piece on football’s intrusion on our summer of Ashes fun. The Beeb are a non-commercial organisation, despite taxing us each year for the privledge of watching TV, yet their fondness of Football has always irked me somewhat. BBC Radio Five Live is an excellent station, but the dominance Football has had on our airwaves has been depressing for a cricket fan…until this summer! It has been encouraging to see the Beeb spend so much time on cricket on the radio; even their newsreaders seem to have been taught the rules of the game.

They no longer look surprised when uttering “England ended with a score of four HUNDRED and fourty four runs today.” Massive emphasis on HUNDRED. It’s a cricket score, BBC people – they tend to get into the hundreds you know.

Also noteworthy today was the news that the BBC are to broadcast their first cricket match on TV for six years. Before you get excited, it’s only available to the lucky Scots, for their one-day game against the mighty Australians. The Telegraph have more on this.

Are the BBC regretting handing over the rights to Channel 4 (in 1999), and now Sky? You bet they are…

Collingwood as a Test batsman?

I recorded Extra Cover (Sky+ is essential for any cricket fan – it’s pretty much all I use it for, perhaps I’ll call it Cricket+) which I’m watching now, and Charles Colville is interviewing Paul Collingwood. I’m a fan of Colly’s, although not sure he quite has it at Test level. They’re mainly talking about his being pigeon-holed as an ODI specialist (like Fairbrother, Moody, Knight, Bevan etc). I’m too knackered to offer my opinion, so it’s up to you: is he in the running for a post-Thorpe batting slot?

Channel 4, Sky and Channel 5

Channel 4 were the first to use Hawk-eye

As was widely reported here in the UK yesterday, Channel 4 have lost the rights to show live cricket in Britain. (not that interesting for non-UK readers…sorry) This has quite massive potential implications on cricket in England and Wales. I don’t know what to think – any comments, feel free to post them. I’d be particularly interested to hear what other countries’ TV rights are (India & Australia in particular – I also remember reading recently that NZ rarely get cricket coverage on TV…true or false?)

Channel 4 bought the rights from the BBC, who lost interest (and couldn’t pay enough) – back then (1998?), opinion was divided as to whether Channel 4 could match the quality of the BBC’s coverage. Channel 4, like the BBC, are “free to air” on terrestrial TV – but unlike the BBC, are a commercial TV station and there was concern that adverts would impede the viewer’s enjoyment of watching live cricket.

All in all, Channel 4 provided excellent coverage with reasonably good commentators (Mark Nicholas, Richie Benaud, Mike Atherton, Boycott, Simon Hughes, Ian Smith, Slater and more) and summarisers. They implemented a number of technological enhancements which have now been used or bought by other stations around the world. They were the first to use Hawk-eye, for example – although none of this technology used was necessarily produced by Channel 4, they had the foresight to use technology to improve the customer’s viewing pleasure.

Most of all – viewers didn’t need to pay extra to watch the cricket. Sky, as most people know, charge exorbitant fees for their services which will dramatically reduce the numbers of armchair cricket fans. Isn’t that how a whole generation were introduced to cricket? By seeing it on TV? I know I was. (Paul Reiffel bowling to England in 1993). Some people are claiming the enourmous fee the ECB have received from Sky (£200m+) will be injected into grass-roots, and will be of massive benefit for the future of English cricket. But, wasn’t it Nasser Hussain who once said that Cricket is entertainment? That the most important people in the game are the spectators and fans?

I’m not anti-Sky – I find their fees very expensive, but they offer undeniable benefits. Digital-quality Television which is unsurpassed in quality (pictorial quality!); they have the majority of radio stations available in digital for no extra cost; regardless of whether you’re a TV-addict or not, there is generally something available to watch that most people would find interesting. I only bought Sky a few years ago and purely to watch the winter tours and rugby, but I must admit to having enjoyed the films and other channels available to me.

It is, as Marcus Trescothick said today, inevitable that Sky would win eventually. The true ramifications won’t be known for a while. Long live TMS, I guess.