Sunday 18 January 2009

Old school

There was something odd about the Sri Lanka-Bangladesh-Zimbabwe Tri-Series. Not the fact that Sri Lanka were 6-5 in the final, or that Murali (Murali!) got 33 from 16 balls to win it. It was that we didn't see it on TV in England.

It's a rare series that goes by without airtime, what with Sky trying to hold off the red-headed stepchild of 24-hour sports broadcasting, Setanta. You may have to pay, but if can, you can see pretty much everything. 

When I was a kid, you got cricket on the BBC, during the summer, sometimes interrupted by horse racing. Test matches had rest days on sunday. England's tours were available on the radio or in the paper and you'd get to see the Australians play once every four years, when they came to England. 

The BBC covered the John Player League on sundays, too, plus the Gillette Cup and the Benson and Hedges Cup. It was here that you could follow Test stars from overseas because most of them played county cricket: Richards and Garner at Somerset, Clive Lloyd and Farokh Engineer at Lancashire, Greenidge, Marshall and Barry Richards at Hampshire, Alvin Kallicharran at Warwickshire, Sarfraz at Northants, the brooding, much-feared Sylvester Clarke at Surrey, Wayne Daniel and, for one mad season, Jeff Thomson at Middlesex, and Imran Khan and Garth Le Roux taking it in turns to steam down the hill  at Hove.

The only ex-players in the commentary box were men of certain vintage; Jim Laker endured marathon spells at the mike, preserving his voice by saying something about once every three overs. The host was the genial, gaffe-prone Peter West, a BBC man down to the buttons on his blazer who got the gig after being recommended by CB Fry. 

It all has a golden haze to it, but it probably holds better in the memory than in reality. One of the BBC's tropes was to broadcast both ends from a single fixed position, so that every other over was viewed from behind the batsman, with the bowler running towards the camera.

In was from that angle that Bob Willis took 8-43 at Headingley in 1981, and Botham 5-1 a Test later. It was a good way to watch the quick men: you saw less of the batsman, but got his view of the bowler. Spinners fared less well; the last quarter of a delivery was usually obscured by the fuzz of the wicketkeeper's sweater. 

Nonetheless, you could see what the ball was doing, and got a sense of how the bowlers were feeling that you don't have quite as often now. If Sky offered the angle on red button as a kind of hip and knowing retro coverage, I'd watch it.


Anonymous said...

I miss the camera behind the batsman bit too. Somehow the ball seemed to travel faster?

Cricket interrupted by horse racing?? How awful.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure it was not telecasted in India either.

I guess news interruption occurs in 9 network too.

Thankfully, the broadcasters cannot commit any such blasphemy in India. Even the state-owned TV channels give preference to cricket matches and everything else including news takes the backstage.

David Barry said...

LB, Channel 9 in Australia used to cross to a bunch of horse races from Randwick or Caulfield back in the 1990's. "Your caller is John Tapp." Not sure when they started doing that or when they finished.

Anonymous said...


Now you mention it; that rings a bell. In NZ we got the pictures, but no commentary, when Aus viewers were off at the races.