TV View: Anodyne BBC should follow Sky’s lead
Cricket World Cup far more engaging than softly, softly approach at Wimbledon
The presence of former England captain Andrew Strauss and Aussie great Shane Warne lit the touch paper for Sky Sports coverage of the Cricket World Cup. Photograph: Lee Smith/Action Images via Reuters
The financial might of satellite broadcasters transcends all other considerations for the majority of sports. The superior viewing figures that terrestrial companies offer with a much wider reach into the sporting community are sacrificed in favour of a better bottom line.
Supporters are encouraged to subscribe financially even if it goes against the grain, philosophically. Two such events have been taking place in Britain over the last couple of weeks, the Cricket World Cup and Wimbledon. Sky Sports has offered every ball of every game in the cricket while BBC broadcast events from the All England club.
There have been several pieces written on the decline in numbers of those playing cricket in Britain since it shifted from terrestrial television. The figures make for a persuasive argument. The universal appeal of Wimbledon is enshrined from childhood by the access that BBC provides.
However, when assessing the production values of Sky and BBC in relation to the cricket and the tennis, it was hard not to find in favour of the former. Sky did an excellent job; a cosmopolitan crew of analysts drawn from around the world managed to strike a balance between humour and debate. The frequent rotation behind the microphone is comforting for those who retain the remote control for the long haul.
Sky’s pundits, a collection of former international captains and some of the game’s outstanding former players to a man and woman agreed beforehand that “the toss was huge” before England’s semi-final against Australia and that whoever won it would elect to bat. Aussie captain Aaron Finch called correctly and declared: “We’ll have a bat.”
Former England international Rob Key decided that “it was a massive toss,” and Australia who had never lost a World Cup semi-final in five attempts, had taken a major step towards preserving that record before a ball had been struck.
A pall descended temporarily but Rush-born Eoin Morgan was having none of it, the main tenet of his interview was that “we are not really bothered” in having to bowl first. Mind you he did say that he would have preferred to bat.
Comedian Catherine Tate’s catchphrase “am I bovvered?” sprung to mind.
Unlike some sports where winning the toss is incidental, in cricket there is generally a preference for batting or bowling first depending on the condition of the wicket.
Sky’s preamble to filling the dead air from toss to the start of play has been sharp, informative and witty, a mixture of the whimsical and the serious punctuated by the odd verbal bouncer. The presence of former England captain Andrew Strauss and Aussie great Shane Warne lit the touch paper and anchor Ian Ward was happy to fan the flames.
A general observation would be that the BBC’s offering at Wimbledon was more anodyne. Anchor Sue Barker is a former player of standing, a smiling, supportive presence in interviews but in general eliciting nothing more than gentle mid-court nudges from panellists or interviewees; small talk at a garden fete, polite but bland.
A classic example was offered in the requiem for Johanna Konta, the Sydney-born, British player, who unexpectedly lost her quarter-final to Barbora Strýcová.
Barker gingerly treaded her way through the postmortem in the company of Chris Evert and John McEnroe, both initially willing participants in expressing a general disappointment at Konta’s loss; the whys and the wherefores lost in a sea of sighs and soft focus.
BBC’s parochial pursuit of British interests in the tournament is understandable and perfectly reasonable – RTÉ would adopt a similar stance if the situation was replicated in Ireland – but it comes with a shelf life; normally the middle of the second week, Andy Murray notwithstanding.
Even the “Murena” team, as Serena Williams called her partnership with the Scot, failed to make the business end of the mixed doubles, their exit met with a middling lament.
The commentary habitually veers towards the elegiac. It’s almost as if someone had tipped out a box of superlatives on the table and there ensued a contest to squeeze as many in as possible. Nuance gets lost in the hyperbole. So when Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal served up a genuine contest for the ages, the box had already been pillaged.
Andrew Cotter offered a point of exception, his commentary in tone and substance typically excellent, as it is when he is behind the microphone for golf tournaments. McEnroe’s occasional candour is a welcome antidote but perhaps it’s time for the BBC to borrow from Sky’s blueprint going forward, where the viewer is placed front and centre as a priority.