Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Superb or terrible - the strange case of TV cricket commentary

I noticed two things watching the latest ICC Champions Trophy match between England and New Zealand today that reveal a bit of how cricket commentary has changed over the years.

The first was the dismissal of Paul Collingwood by Grant Elliot, the latter a very average international cricket in my book.

Having just been pulled for an imperious four on a track immensely helpful to bowling, Elliot immediately bowled another 70mph half-tracker which Colly duly swatted, unluckily to an amazing midwicket catch by Ross Taylor.

It was a jammy wicket for Elliott, who looked like he'd just cleaned up Brigadier Block with a 95mph inswinging yorker rather than a rank long-hop that deserved to be lashed out of the park.

I'm not sure who the commentator was now, but he lauded Elliott for his persistence. I was a bit baffled by this, as I'm dubious that Elliot's 'persistence' would have met with such praise if Colly had repeated the dose.

Later on the game Kiwi batsman Martin Guptill his the flukiest 50 I've ever seen, repeatedly hitting balls just over the heads of fielders, surviving very good shouts throughout his innings and being tied in knots by not just Jimmy Anderson but also Private Pie (the aforementioned Shotley Bridge terrier).

Upon Gutpill's inevitable and long-overdue dismissal, Sergeant Suicide, Bob Willis, declared it to be a 'superb innings'. In the context of the game a contribution of 53 was a valuable one, but in no way could his innings be declared superb. It was scratchy, flukey and probably should have been curtailed much earlier by the umpires.

This highlights something I've been noticing for a while about cricket commentary, where the skill of critiquing seems to have been overtaken by one of two extremes: superb and terrible.

Any wicket that takes a delivery is now labelled brilliant, likewise any shot that goes for a boundary - regardless of how ugly or lucky the shot it is.

It's hard to say whether this is because critical faculties are in short supply among the commentators in question (hello Sky!) or whether it's simply a case of the way the sport and cricket have gone. Too much overhyped cricket, jaded commentators.

As ever, TMS tends to be rather more guarded in its garlanding of players. Over on Sky David Lloyd is perhaps the ultimate purveyor of hyperbolic praise, and that seems to be Sky's thing - brilliant or rubbish.

It should come as no surprise that my opinion of Sky's commentary lies squarely within one of those two extremes.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Why was the Ashes 2009 so mediocre?

I've been meaning to write an article about the Ashes – bad luck, you Aussies, bad luck! – for a couple of weeks now, but I haven't been able to find the enthusiasm to sit down and bash it off, as it were.

I suppose in itself it's symptomatic of a fairly boring and somehow anti-climactic Ashes battle that was played out between two fairly poor teams, certainly in comparison to the two teams that battled it out four years ago.

2005 was all about England having to pull out every stop to (barely) get the better of one of the best teams of all time. Barring the injuries to McGrath in that series it seems unlikely England would have prevailed, despite Freddie's heroics, KP's emergence, Vaughan brilliant tactics, Tresco's bludgeoning at the top of the order, Strauss' catch, Harmy's vicious fast bowling and the quietly effective bowling of Hoggy and, in particular, Simon Jones.

This time around both teams played their hearts out, but it seemed to be inferior by several leagues to the cricket played four years ago.

Clearly the two teams are not the forces they once were. England had two match-winners in the shape of Freddie and KP. The latter failed, and the former only flickered, albeit brilliantly.

Looking at the Aussies there was only the threat of significant runs from Punter and Pup (the worst nickname ever?) and the occasional threat from a mainly-shot Johnson. Siddle wasn't as dangerous as I expected and Hilfenhaus was nagging, but no-one threatened to precipitate a collapse in the same way that Freddie, Jimmy, Swannny or (God help us) Broad(y) did.

So, the cricket wasn't great, and no-one seemed as up for it as they did in 2005. Only Flintoff, Swann and, latterly, Broad had Ashes moments that will stick in the mind.

The whole country seemed rather less bothered about everything this time around. I witnessed the last wicket with a kind of faint smile and shrug, whereas last time I whooped, jumped, drank and openly wept like a girl.

Could it be, I wonder, because cricket simply did not have the profile it did last time around? Certainly Sky's coverage is only a few rungs above abject, but at least those having to suffer Botham, Ward, Warne, Colville and Willis can actually see cricket.

I'm guessing there are 2–3m cricket fans who can't these days – most of my family among them – and wonder whether an Ashes series can ever be as over-archingly significant again as they did in 2005, when a nation watched with baited breath.

There is currently zero live cricket on free-to-air stations in the UK by my reckoning. There are highlights of England internationals and nothing more. No foreign tests, one dayers or 20/20. No country cricket of any flavour. Certainly no foreign domestic cricket.

I happen to think that this is an absolute disgrace, for reasons ideological, sporting, quaint and selfish. But, most of all, I think it's bad for cricket. Was 2009 the proof of the public's fading awareness of, and affection, cricket? Perhaps, perhaps not.

But at the very least there would have been several million more viewers, and more public awareness. Perhaps then there would have been more coverage, more buzz and more excitement.

Either way there would have been less Bob Willis

• Image by mailliw via Creative Commons

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

RIP Devrill

For some years Sefton Park CC has had an unlikely fan in the shape of Devrill – a man apparently of no fixed abode and immense drinking capacity.

Devrill was essentially a tramp who hung around the cricket club. It wasn't initially clear why, though at a guess the club is situated between two popular drinking spots. Sefton's first contact with Devrill was marked by a threat to 'burn down' the cricket pitch - an intriguing suggestion - and the first airing of his favoured 'woollyback jedis' insult.

As time went on he seemed to develop an interest in the cricket and formed unlikely friendships with various people at the club, particularly groundsmen. He became a kind of unofficial mascot, of great amusement to many of the club's younger people and great consternation to opposing teams.

Frankly he was, also, a nuisance and often abusive to anyone and everyone. There's often a funny side to alcoholism, but it never totally masks the tragic nature of alcoholics and substance abusers. The two parts were never really lost on me and I regarded him as a rather pathetic character.

This duality was marked by a spell where Devrill lived under a downed tree in the Sefton garden. In many ways this was amusing, but when the tree was cleared I once noticed him sleeping on the stone steps of the lower pavilion one night, wrapped in a blanket and at the mercy of the elements.

Poor Devrill. It seemed he had got himself a flat, but his life didn't seem to change much. I last saw him a couple of weeks ago promising to smarten himself up and expressing his apologies for previous behaviour. He was clearly drunk at the time, but I expect life looked rather more pleasant through a fog of addiction than in the cold, hard light of day.

Devrill was a pain in the arse and was often a source of abuse and vitriol aimed at people in and around the club. And I'm fairly sure he once did my car over. But I felt sorry for him - he was a walking warning against falling into a trap that so many do.

Most people have a story about a funny alco, but I'm betting every one of them dies a lonely, slightly pathetic death. I can almost see Devrill stumbling across Ullet Road, another day's hard drinking behind him. He will, in his own way, be missed at the club but there will be no bench plaque, no minute's silence - just a moment's contemplation.

So, this one has little to do with cricket, but it says a lot about the nature of cricket clubs and the bizarre mix of people they tend to attract. No doubt, in the future, the club will attract another oddball. They always do. Poor Devrill.