The return of cricket to the BBC was slick and cool, but could it have done with more Danny Morrison?
@Ben_Wisden 5 minute read
Ben Gardner finds the return of cricket to the BBC assured and accomplished, but lacking in the enthusiasm to hook all first-time viewers.
So there you have it. After 21 years, cricket was back where it belongs: in front of the masses on a sleepy Sunday afternoon. The game was close to a thriller, with all the players you’d want to see succeed coming and going politely, each adorning the contest although none dominated.
Babar Azam made yet another half-century, never mind that it was slow enough to probably lose the game. Adil Rashid bamboozled in the middle overs. Tom Banton and Jonny Bairstow exploded at the top. Eoin Morgan and Dawid Malan took England within touching distance. And Moeen Ali had the good grace to make the finish a tight one.
The coverage itself had a similarly restrained feel. The graphics shone brightly, and there were a few TMS hangover in-jokes, but on the whole, the imagined new fan would have found little to put them off, and much to keep them around. Isa Guha as host was immensely assured and sensibly softball. “How well is he hitting them?” she asked James Anderson of Eoin Morgan’s latest six-hitting blitz, only just inflecting the question enough to make it not entirely rhetorical.
Phil Tufnell was wisely moved aside into a sort of floating grandfather role, with colourful, clear explanations of the rules serving as a welcome introduction to proceedings. James Anderson and Shan Masood were polished, dapper, insightful and happy to joke about their rivalry with each other.
Michael Vaughan, meanwhile, trended on Twitter for his supposedly poor performance. He did talk slightly too much – a side-effect of a summer spent on the radio, where you can’t let the pictures do the talking and so have to do it yourself – and there were some tactical misunderstandings. Yes, Banton did need to play the shot that got him out because that’s how T20 works; you play as many shots as you feasibly can, and some of them get you out. But he is natural enough behind the mic, and popular enough outside the Twittersphere, that if you weren’t looking for it, he wouldn’t have been noticeably bad. Apart from the horrendous big trainers/no socks combo.
There were other, more jarring missteps. Aatif Nawaz and Yasir Arafat strangely toured the empty stands, the vox poppers without a crowd or anything to say, and Nawaz’s opening ‘explainer’ of Pakistan cricket missed the mark. The attempted screwball style didn’t quite land – cuts and ‘are we done yets?’ aplently, but little in the way of an actual punchline – and too much knowledge was assumed of what we hope were the thousands of casual viewers listening in.
How many would know who the namechecked Zaheer Abbas was, or understand what is being brushed over when he says, “I don’t want to talk about the bad stuff”? There is enough genuinely universal and inspiring in the Pakistan story – the undying support in a country where the team, until recently, have rarely been able to play, and them becoming the No.1 T20I side despite that – that the nods and winks could have been left to one side.
Still, if Nawaz’s error was in trying to be slick and failing, the bigger regret, was that slick and cool seemed to be the BBC’s target. Getting the product in front of the plentiful free-to-air eyeballs is most of the battle, and the coverage being an accomplished accompaniment is in some ways a success. But this, for a newcomer, could have been presented, with only a touch of exaggeration, as a truly remarkable performance, the kind they were lucky to see, rather than the routine England win it was made to feel like.
It was, after all, England’s highest chase against Pakistan, and their third-highest overall, and Morgan’s vein of form is the kind very few have ever enjoyed. England’s white-ball excellence, and the 365-day thrills of the T20 circuit have numbed us to this sort of blitz, but for those tuning in for the first time, this could have been made to seem incredible. In a way, it was, as most cricket matches tend to be.
While Sky rightfully earn praise for most of what they do, maybe it’s not the Murdoch-founded broadcasting giant we should be hoping BBC’s coverage can emulate; maybe the touchpoint should be Danny Morrison, a Marmite figure among converts, but an enthusiast who rarely fails to make any game feel anything less than extraordinary. The third time you hear him, you’re wise to the trick, and it grates. But when you get one or two shots a year to win back a generation, the booming bombast could be exactly what you need.