Posted by: tootingtrumpet | November 24, 2010

Ashes Media – What’s your poison?

They won't all be drunk - not all the time.

On my 45th birthday, I took breakfast in the Wynn Hotel, Las Vegas. Ignoring the meat and fish, I went for eggs and was asked how I wanted them. “Well, what options are there?” Bad mistake. Rather than the “Fried or boiled?” this Englishman was used to, out came a bewildering list from a waiter who had me marked for a rube. The cheese, spinach and mushroom omelette I settled on was, needless to say, superb.

I relate that story as, not so long ago, coverage of an Ashes Tour was limited to the fried eggs of a crackling radio commentary or the boiled eggs of out of date newspaper reports. Come the New Media revolution and the list of options for following the struggle for The Urn can feel as long and intimidating as the Wynn waiter’s list of egg preparations. So here’s The Trumpet’s non-comprehensive guide to the best of the options available (in England).

 

Television

Few things divide cricket fans like Sky’s exclusive deal to cover England matches. For some, the price, the impact on cricket’s place in the national consciousness and the sheer Murdochisation of The Game is too much: for others, the breadth of coverage, the technical excellence and the absence of BBC complacency make Sky, for all its faults, a fantastic deal. You pays your money (or not) and you takes your chance.

Sky Sports will use the newly teched-up Channel 9 feed, but has its own dedicated commentary team comprising the mixed bag of Botham, the boring one-eyed Little Englander; Bumble, the Northern stand-up; Gower, the smooth operator; Atherton, the grit in the oyster; Hussain, the tough guy and Warne the Aussie cheerleader. They’ll be supplemented by guests to provide a local flavour, but they can function as a self-contained unit. Their knowledge, voices and approaches complement each other well and if only Michael Holding were to bag Botham’s seat bringing his knowledge of bowling (and getting Botham off mic), it’s a pretty good team.

ITV4 will show highlights delayed by almost 24 hours, which is great for the game and for non-Skyed up fans. One shudders a little at the choice of commentators and anchors if the station’s IPL coverage was anything to go by.

 

Radio

The boys from the Upper Sixth Remove will reconvene in Brisbane for the institution that is the BBC’s Test Match Special. Led by Aggers but without Southern stand-up, Henry Blofeld, expect marmitey stuff from Geoffrey Boycott, old-proing from Christopher Martin-Jenkins, technical, if slightly breathless, interventions from Simon Hughes and some captaincy comments from Baby Boycott, Michael Vaughan. TMS’s strength is that you know exactly what you’re getting – that’s its weakness too.

Having cut its teeth (or should that be fangs) in 2009, TestMatchSofa.com will be covering its second Ashes series with its mix of ball-by-ball commentary, acerbic wit and vicious jingles. With a mixed bag of men and (yes) women on mic, and hundreds of years of obsessive cricket watching informing their coverage, TMSofa is not what you think – no matter what you think! Unlike the other broadcasters, it is also fully global and fully interactive, with listeners tweeting in (and sometimes coming in) to lock horns with Daniel Norcross over the modern trend not to post a Third Man, describe exactly how Twattoish Twatto Watson is proving or provoke Nigel the Bear into an avalanche of curses. Declaration of interest – I shall be on The Sofa for some sessions of the Third, Fourth and Fifth Tests – but don’t let that put you off.

 

Text

The days of waiting for considered reports from “Our Cricket Correspondent” to land behind the front door to be read over the er.. boiled eggs, have long gone (though there is still very good coverage in the written hard-copy press). Most fans will get their text coverage of The Ashes online and many will want it ball-by-ball or, at least, over-by-over.

The grand old lady of online cricket coverage is the incomparable Cricinfo. Few readers will need to be told of its extraordinary Statsguru tool and its archive of matches, player profiles and arcana and, despite its long journey from its geekish roots to corporate branding, it er.. does what it says on the tin. Similar in approach is Cricbuzz, which will also give you each ball lovingly transcribed and bang up to date scorecards and stats.

The upstart of text coverage is the much imitated and never bettered Guardian Over-By-Over coverage, with Rob Smyth back on the conductor’s stand for The Ashes, alternating with the penetrating insight of Andy Bull. Like TMSofa, the OBO is fully global and interactive, with the mordant wit of Smyth reflected by England fans who can find a downside to 551-6 dec (and they weren’t wrong!) Such is the mastery of Bull and Smyth that their reports work perfectly well long after the last over of the day has been called and can be enjoyed over an early coffee (or late beer).

 

So what to do? I’ll be watching Sky’s live coverage on a ten second delay to synchronise it with TestMatchSofa’s commentary with the Guardian’s OBO bubbling away under a tab. What about you?

 

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Responses

  1. I will watch it with the sound down and ABC radio on. The problem is lack of synching. Whatever happened to the Gerard Whately Synchrotron? This was a tool designed by some Australian uni students to overcome the radio TV delay nexus!

    There will be times I listen to the TV commentary and testmatchsofa. As for text, there will be Twitter, OBO coverage by the Guardian and BBC. And so on.

    The surfeit of communications options can become a trap. By and large I’m going to try and just focus on watching the cricket, revolutionary concept that that has become, avoiding all these distractions. I did say TRY.

    • Pete – you’re right about concentrating on the cricket with all the distractions! Fortunately, the game has plenty of long breaks – Punter conferring with MJ after three deliveries etc. The Sky+ system allows you to pause the action to synch the commentary – though radio is often ahead, so streaming it is a better option.

      • That Sky system sounds great. I wish there was an option to listen to the TV coverage without the commentary but with the sound affects on. So you could get the aural atmosphere coupled with the discursive nature of radio (or Test Match Special/Sofa) commentary. But I can’t complain. There’s so many ways to enjoy the coverage nowadays during and after the day. And forecasts suggest taht rain delays will play their part this summer.

        You’re not wrong about Punter’s mid-over bowler discussions. It’s a minor complaint, but I wish he wouldn’t do that so much.

      • I can’t believe I’ve never thought to watch sky with a slight delay to sync it up with TMS (or TMS). That’s going to revolutionise my winter.

  2. My first taste of the Ashes was reading match reports of late 70s Ashes Aldreman, Hogg, Boycott, et all in used copies of “World Cricket Digest” bought at a local newspaper stall a decade later in Bombay.

    Then I read about Botham’s Ashes in a book which was essentially daily reports from the Telegraph…again a good 5 years after the series had taken place

    This year I will watch it live “prime time” on willow tv in the US. I can’t believe my luck. I believe the feed will be from Sky Tv.

    From a delay of a decade, to a near real time feed, the Ashes has come a long way for me.

    The nice thing this year…whoever wins it will seem like an upset

  3. Yes Goandaaz – it’s amazingly easy to follow the cricket anywhere these days. In the 90s, used to travel 6okm in Sweden to buy a two day old paper with three day old reports! Seems like five minutes ago!

  4. Our ABC of course – the sound of summer. Worth a mention Toots in this global blog?!

    Expecting Aggers to do his usual guest spots and be reduced to tears and bafflement by KoK.

    Speaking of Whateley l wish he had come on as something of a post-modern Tim Lane calling the cricket as well as his beloved AFL (Go Cats!). l tire of bombastic Maxwell, boring Mitchell etc. Do we have the final ABC radio line up at hand?

    • Whateley reminds me a lot of the much missed Tim Lane. I expect Tim was a model of his. I don’t think Whately is as passionate about cricket as he is AFL and that infernal horse racing. Maxwell does have certain bugbears which he tends to go on and on about. The commentary team is in the ABC Cricket Book for this season which I don’t have to hand, but it’s something like Maxwell, Mitchell, Aggers, O’Keefe, Alderman, Fleming ….

      • I know that Jim Maxwell and ABC are as much an institution as TMS and BBC, but I’ve no personal knowledge, so I didn’t write about it. Maxwell is always considered and fair when on the BBC.

        • Yeah cricket on the ABC certainly is a similar institution. Burbling from cars and backyard radios across the Summer…Nothing as pure as the radio for mine.

          The ABC team has become somewhat staid in recent years for mine, with the obvious exception of Kerry as court jester. His cricketing insights are as good as any l have ever heard when he manages to get to them.

          My experience with the BBC has obviously been limited to away Ashes tours but l have found it extremely enjoyable and very well done. “Lovely drive through the covers there, rolling across the green, towards the Houses of Parliament” kind of thing.

  5. It will be ESPN/Star Sports for me till lunch, and then Cricinfo/Guardian OBO, with the Sofa commentary coming through the headphones. The day in OZ will end around lunch time in India, and the afternoon shall largely be spent reading up the day’s analyses, blog posts etc.

    Head says Eng are the form team, but my heart always roots for the underdog.Here’s hoping my favourite players from both sides (Trott, KP, Clarke) are among the runs.

    2-2 is my prediction.

    • Kumar – that’s a tough schedule – I hope you enjoy it!

  6. I had the huevos ranchos at the Wynn with a Bloody Mary on the side. Not so much a breakfast as a dinner in the morning.

    I think I’ll be having a go at watching each morning session and then retiring to bed with my portable DAB under the pillow and Aggers et al in my ear all night and the radio alarm set to wake us up with TMS. Thankfully Mrs Percinho is a forgiving soul and knew what she was signing up for when she said ‘I do’.

    I’ve recently started to listen to TMSofa for non-England games and thoroughly enjoy it, but I’m still a little too addicted to TMS to give it up

    • Perc – You’ve got to break the habit. The TMS one in favour of TMSofa, not the listening!

      Like Homer would say, Hmm… Vegas food! The Aria is even better than The Wynn!!

  7. Illegal feeds online, turn down the sound (loathe most commentators) and listen to TMS though I’d prefer the ABC radio commentary as they make me laugh a lot as a rule.

  8. The Stan James audio commentary is usually quite good with guys who know their cricket. Goes offline during lunch and tea though.

    http://commentaries.mediaondemand.net/?c=stanjames

    Anyone know if ABC radio is available online outside Australia – eg here in Uruguay?

  9. Digital radio may help with the sync issue pete. Then again may not.

    At work currently so its GU OBO and the Fairfax scorecard till Saturday. Then its the tv, radio added to the above.

  10. I do not know why we should study the intelligence of some athletes. I say without hesitation, and, therefore, does not think through these, it should be the same as a doctor, scientist or an actor.

    There is no reason to believe that intelligence to decide what skills they want to develop.


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