It’s taken for granted that the behemoths of Test Match Special and Sky Sports dominate the cricketing broadcasting landscape in the UK. Both are rather good at what they do, arguably the world leaders in their field (as our Australian cousin pointed out here). Even more telling is that in the era of online and mobile media, both have moved with the technological times, meaning that office drones, students and no doubt astronauts on the ISS can follow the cricket whilst at work in the same manner as if they were still in their dressing gown on a damp settee eating Krave all day long.
But there is a third wheel to the media bicycle – and we don’t mean Test Match Sofa.
The purpose of Channel 5 / Five / 5ive has never been fully explained, seemingly destined to show low-quality football matches, mediocre films and, well, that’s about it, at least ever since they stopped the late night softcore porn. Despite showing the cricket highlights in their late tea-time slot since 2006, they rarely get even a moment’s consideration. But it does serve a crucial role, far more important than the latest repeat of CSI: Wherever. There are legions of cricket followers who like the sport but don’t live it; they don’t follow dozens of journalists on twitter, they don’t feel the need to listen to TMS all day but they do want to keep abreast of what happened during the Test match. And quite often they won’t have Sky Sports. Therefore, without access to the Colville and Willis Show, the hour-long highlights package on terrestrial television is fundamental.
So what does the program offer? On the face of it, there’s not much to like. The presenter is Mark Nicholas, the wannabe-Australian who perhaps deservedly gets a barrel of abuse around our parts when he is on Channel 9, but whom does a fine job anchoring the highlights – albeit the posturing is only toned down a wee bit, meaning every wicket he commentates on sounds like he wants it to become a YouTube hit of the future. He normally introduces the show from a balcony or from the middle, looks at the pitch and offers a few thoughts, before the cricket starts – i.e. condensing the roles of David Gower and Ian Ward into a two minute piece to camera. He shares commentary (recorded live, we believe) with Simon Hughes (pompous, bald), Geoffrey Boycott (more serious than on the radio) and Michael Vaughan (Yorkshire). Not the most lauded bunch of broadcasters, but in short doses, bearable. They’re helped by the speed of the highlights, with few replays and little time to show the slower passages of play making the result seem as if the commentators are changing willy-nilly, like listening to an iPod on shuffle.
There’s usually one period of analysis by Simon Hughes, reliving his once-trademark role of The Analyst for Channel 4. Although insightful, it doesn’t compare to the constant assessment offered by ball-by-ball coverage, but would be illuminating for the casual fan. Finally, after play, there’s usually a token interview or two, followed by a concluding discussion between Jefford and one of the Yorkshiremen. All over within an hour, including two, three or four – mercifully short – advert breaks.
Whisper it, but considering the likely audience, Cricket on Five is a pretty good effort at reducing six or more (or less) hours of play into around 40 minutes of footage. The commentators don’t outstay their welcome and the aforementioned editing of the footage means you don’t get much banter – which is probably blessed considering the personnel involved. What’s even more astonishing is that on some days, the producers manage to get this programme made and broadcast, even when play hasn’t finished for the day by the time the show starts. It might be cricket reduced to its main actions (good ball, good ball, boundary, good ball, chance, boundary, wicket, boundary etc), but that’s all a lot of people want, particularly those who have a family, a job and a life, and can’t spend all their time dossing around on the internet rabbiting on about cricket. And apparently, there are such people.
So there we go. To Channel 5’s credit, they’ve got a programme that is watchable and well-suited to its audience. Not that we watch it. Just like we never watched The Red Shoe Diaries either.