Spectator sport

Talksport, cricket’s new radio stars

1 December 2018

9:00 AM

1 December 2018

9:00 AM

‘And I need a wee,’ said the former England fast–bowling legend Darren Gough, as tension built up during the Sri Lankans’ thrilling last–wicket stand against England in the third Test in Colombo.

Not something you would normally expect to hear in cricket commentary, but this was the new kid on the block, the invigorating Talksport, and Gough is one of its stars. He has long been a consummate broadcaster, as well of course as the taker of a Test hat trick (against the Aussies), and the winner of the Strictly glitterball. Not much wrong with that CV.

The BBC had things its own way for so long it just didn’t see it coming when Talksport barged Test Match Special out of the way to secure rights to this winter’s cricket in Sri Lanka and the West Indies. It also has South Africa next winter and, I hope, England’s tour of India in 2019-20.

You underestimate Talksport at your peril. It is fresh and original, but also highly knowledgeable with Gough, the former Surrey captain Gareth Batty (full of insights about England’s quartet of Surrey stars), as well as Matt Prior, all marshalled by the lordly Mark Nicholas, as languidly elegant behind the mic as David Gower was with a bat. Every so often Mike Atherton, David Lloyd and Nasser Hussain pop in to lend some extra credibility. They know when to back off, too: I was listening in the car when Jonny Bairstow reached his colossal century on the Friday. The commentary team let the stump mics do the talking and Bairstow’s epic triple roar sounded as if he were sitting right there with me.

The Talksport anecdotage has been terrific, the expertise worn lightly, and the alliance with the Barmy Army well thought out. They have managed to avoid any of that in-play advertising that can blight sports broadcasting in Australia, for example. Channel 9 has done wonders for Aussie cricket but the spirits sink as the slightest break in play brings a shower of guff about motor franchises in the Sydney suburbs.

The West Indies will be a much more attractive proposition for Talksport advertisers — the time gap is more favourable, for one thing. It will be the channel’s big test. In the meantime, it has been a terrific debut for Talksport. Good stories, great insights, warm and funny. Even the interminable rain breaks were a treat. And no cake either.

For some inexplicable reason Sky TV had managed to pick up the rights to the $9 million Tiger Woods/ Phil Mickelson match. It was dire: terrible golf played by people who clearly disliked each other but were prepared to pretend not to for a shot at the cash prize. The players were miked up and the principle effect was that you came to realise just how unfit Mickelson is — puffing and panting as soon as they hit the first fairway, and the rest of the broadcast for his part sounded like a filthy phone call. Both were utterly charmless, ‘bantering’ in a forced way.

In the end the golf came down to a souped-up bit of crazy golf with a chip and putt under lights on an artificial hole. Phil won $9 million, which he won’t notice, and Tiger didn’t win $9 million, which he won’t miss.

When it comes to huge amounts of money, the £2.2 million being paid to Gordon Taylor, head of the PFA, the footballers’ union, seems outrageous, though those close to him would doubtless say that he does a huge amount behind the scenes. As they always do. To me he looks like an idle bugger. The BBC sports editor, the admirable Dan Roan, tried to interview him the other day and Taylor just ignored him and walked away, as if he were a member of the royal family. Something feels amiss here, too.

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