When the world and its wife / girlfriend / 17-year old webdominatrix were still enjoying the winterval before returning to work, all sensible eyes were pinned to the cricket on the box – and despite our best efforts, this means the Test series, rather than the Big Bash. The current England tour is being covered by Sky Sports, but they haven’t actually got their own team out there in South Africa. Instead, the commentary is the South African coverage, but with the addition of four of Sky’s men: Michael “Mikey” Holding (hooray!), Michael “Mike” Atherton (thankfully), Bumble “David” Lloyd (wahey!) and “Sir” Ian Botham (just here for the charity walking).
With the SuperSport coverage taking the Australian approach and filling the commentary box at all times, there are always three men on the mike. So we get to hear a lot of the fellas talking at different tangents. This means that topics of debate are cut short when the third man (usually Mike Haysman – who we must clarify is actually an Australian) hasn’t anything to offer and finds a new subject to drone on about. By and large the SuperSport team are far from super and collectively dull. Not necessarily as blinkered as the Indian commentators, or as boorish as the Channel 9 mob, but just uninteresting, bland and stale.
Admittedly during Sunday’s two sessions of incredible batting the commentators did turn up the excitement level, but in T20 style this tended to involve awestruck descriptions of how big a shot Ben Stokes had just played, with little or no analysis of why he was finding it so easy to punish the South African team. Usually however, it is like taking a long relaxing bath in tepid recycled rainwater without the addition of any bubbles, or feasting on Costcutter Chicken Sandwiches.
One notable problem is that the commentators tend to be very slow to criticise. When Hashim Amla was making illogical decisions late on Day One, it was generally the guests from Britain who were most vocal in their incredulity, backed up, it must be said, by the honorary South African Robin Jackman. Shaun Pollock seems far too righteous to present negative opinions and has yet to give insight into seam bowling that warrants even the lightest nod of interest. Graeme Smith has probably had the most to say – this stems from being on every other half-hour shift – but is too close to many of the players to be objective or critical. Whilst we’re not expecting them all to publish their own Warnifestos – far from it, in fact Warnifestos and Botham Reports should be buried in lead at the bottom of the sea – the role of a commentator should, we think, comprise more than just describing what we can see for ourselves.
Related to this, the commentary just doesn’t have the wit and joy that is associated with the best commentators from Britain, New Zealand and, dare we say it, even Australia. Although radio is a more natural territory for humour, there is still room on television for emotion and character to be displayed. Yet Pollock, Haysman and HD Ackerman verge on being more boring than a Pet Shop Boys single.
Yet even boredom is better than the assault on our ears that is Pommie Mbangwa. The man who speaks LOUDLY…AND…SLOWLY as if trying to explain himself to an impish French child. His observations make Garth Crooks seem the master of brevity.
So yep, we’re not fans of the SuperSport team. But when you’re watching Ben Stokes blast Test cricketers to all parts of Cape Town, we can put up with them – but that’s because the cricket did the talking.