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Rating and reviewing the wrong-handed bowling of three Sky Sports commentators

Rob Key bowling left-handed (via Sky Sports)

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The Ashes on the BT Sport app – a review

We’re not generally enamoured with apps, as they often seem to make the absolute least of storage space and processing power to deliver much the same content that can be found on the equivalent website.

However, as a result of the televisual shenanigans that have seen BT broadcasting this Ashes series, we have uncharacteristically seen fit to take the plunge with the BT Sport app. And we rather like it.

Phone screens don’t make for the finest viewing experience, but the way the app is set up is great for matches where half the day’s play takes place before you wake up.

Various little video snippets showing major wickets and quirkier events are presented in the cricket section of the app, but the big advantage is being able to scan the whole day’s play to watch a far greater number of meaningful events.

One of the things we hate most in the entire universe is the assumption that people want to watch videos instead of reading articles. The reason for this is that you can’t scan a video. You just have to sit there and tolerate it while the information drips out at a brain-aggravatingly slow pace, like olive oil from one of those dribbly pourers.

The BT Sport app though? The BT Sport app has an annotated timeline.

Annotated timelines are better than blue stilton on toast

In all honesty, a furious ongoing attempt to ‘get through the stilton’ means this comparison isn’t quite as complimentary as it was when we started writing this article a few days ago. But even so, the annotated timeline is unequivocally ‘a good thing’.

Maybe it’s the same on other apps, but we’re a huge fan of the smear of iconry down at the bottom of the screengrab above. It lets you pick out boundaries, wickets and chances, but also little mini highlights montages and chunks of punditry.

As you wake, bleary-eyed, it’s easy to pass a good little while catching up with cricketing events while you try and summon the will to emerge for the three hours of twilight that pass for daytime at this point in the British winter.

We’re going to give the BT Sport app a score of 9/10 because while we can’t think of what else we’d like to see, that’s only because we haven’t actually given the matter a great deal of thought.


BT Sport are doing a free daily 10-minute Ashes highlights package

It’s Ronseally named The Ashes Catch-Up Show and it’s available on their website from 7pm each day.

10 minutes isn’t exactly life-changing but it’s better than the proverbial kick in the teeth and far, far better than a literal kick in the teeth. It’s also a very dense, action-packed ten minutes, so it’s decent value. Pretty much all you get is a barrage of the day’s boundaries, chances and wickets with only a very quick word at the start and end.

A certain strand of fans is annoyed that this year’s Magellan Ashes (movement rate of all ships is increased by two) is on a slightly different subscription TV channel. They will doubtless also be unhappy that this highlights package is relatively brief. However, we’re going to go out on a limb here and say that it isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Genocide is definitely worse than a well put-together 10-minute highlights package of a day’s cricket.

You may also be able to subscribe to BT Sport for less than you thought (no promises).


BT Sport to use Geoffrey Boycott as Ashes commentator

We got a bit distracted when we tried to write about this last week, but BT Sport has revealed its commentary line-up for the Ashes.

For some reason the press release led with “legendary cricket captains” Michael Vaughan and Ricky Ponting, but we’re far more interested in the others. Geoffrey Boycott’s the most eye-catching name, and he’ll be joined by Alison Mitchell, Adam Gilchrist, Graeme Swann, Michael Slater and Damien Fleming.

They’ll also be producing a daily 90-minute highlights programme. We can’t decide how we feel about this. On the one hand, 90 minutes seems too long for highlights. On the other hand, you’ve got to love a sport where the highlights are longer than a rugby match.

No word yet on whether they’ll also be dumping the show on some minor free-to-air channel in the hope that no-one notices. We’re assuming not, given it seems likely to be such a comprehensive recap of the day’s play.

Those wondering what the hell today’s photo is all about, see here.


Subscribing to BT Sport for the Ashes

We’ve been bemoaning the out-of-date way in which broadcasters sell sport to consumers for quite a while now. We were mildly encouraged by changes to Sky Sports announced earlier this year, but they only went so far and also had zero bearing on the upcoming Ashes as BT Sport has the broadcast rights for that series.

So how is BT going about signing up cricket fans?

A recent Ashes-related BT Sport press release asked the following leading question somewhere near the bottom: “Not a BT customer and don’t want to switch your broadband to us?”

You don’t ask a question like that without having an answer lined up. The answer was this: “If it’s just our wide-range of premium sport that interests you then you can also simply sign-up to watch BT Sport right now.”

Yes, yes, yes. This is exactly what we want. No phone line, broadband, or other TV package serving as some sort of eye-wateringly expensive and unnecessary entry fee – just the one thing we want.

We only want access to BT Sport so we only want to pay for that.

Huzzah?

Following the link somewhat confusingly takes you to the View and Manage your Broadband Extras page. Among the very many frequently asked questions on that page (maybe you should rewrite the page if so much is left unclear) is: “Can I pay for the BT Sport app if I don’t have BT broadband?”

The answer, apparently, is: “No, you need to get a BT Broadband or BT TV package, or get BT Sport on Sky Digital Satellite Platform.”

BT doesn’t seem to be on the same page as itself on this one.

Sadly, we’ve checked all around their site and that does seem to be correct. Maybe BT have got something in the pipeline, but as things stand you do need to subscribe to their broadband or TV service to get access to the BT Sport App.

Update

No, you don’t. See below for how to get BT Sport via various different broadband/TV providers.

Signing up for BT Sport via Plusnet

This page appears to imply that it’s only a fiver a month, which is a bit of a result (if true).

Signing up for BT Sport via TalkTalk

You can sign up here.

The bad news is it’s £22.99 a month and there’s also a sign-up fee of £20 if you commit for a year and £35 if you only commit for a month.

The Ashes runs for over a month, so the minimum cost of subscribing to BT Sport if you’re a TalkTalk customer is £80.98.

Signing up for BT Sport via EE

EE seems to be offering its customers three months of the BT Sport app for free. More details on this page.

If you’re on an EE mobile contract, we suppose you could take them up on this and then work out how to cast the footage to your TV.

Christ this is complicated. Don’t blame us. We’re just the messenger.

Disclaimer

We’re doing our best here, but thanks to the opaque policies and labyrinthine websites of the various media companies involved, there’s a decent chance that some of this is wrong – and even if it isn’t, it is of course subject to change.

If none of these options suits (and we’ll be honest, they didn’t suit us) then there’s always the free 10-minute daily highlights package. It’s not a lot, but it is actually pretty good considering its length. Combined with Test Match Special and extensive coverage in the written media (do feel free to sign up for this website’s email) you’re not in too a bad place.


BBC to show “some” live cricket from 2020 as highlights move from Channel 5

The England and Wales Cricket Board has recently accepted that it needs to get some live cricket onto free-to-air TV. The question most of us have been asking is what constitutes “some”.

From 2020 (appropriately enough) the BBC will be showing two men’s and one women’s T20 internationals each summer. They’ve also won the right to broadcast Test highlights from Channel 5. After Champions Trophy highlights were dumped at midnight, Test Match Special’s Jonathan Agnew made it clear that highlights will be shown at prime time, which is something of a relief.

The Beeb will also broadcast 10 men’s matches from the ECB’s new T20 competition, including the final, and up to eight matches from the women’s T20 tournament, again including the final.

What does this mean?

It means everyone will be able to watch some cricket and with the finals of the domestic T20 competitions secured, much of that will have some sort of context too. It won’t just be random T20 matches in a competition you can’t follow to the end.

Conversely, you can well imagine the T20 internationals might be the kinds of low priority fixtures we’ve just seen played out between England and South Africa. Or maybe the very fact that they’ll be broadcast live on the BBC might mean a proper turn-out from all the stars. That could prove an interesting development. If that proves to be the case, the next rights deal for 2025 onwards could be an interesting one.

Where’s the rest of the live cricket going to be broadcast?

On Sky Sports – which, considering they announced a channel called Sky Cricket earlier this week, should have been pretty bloody obvious. It was highly unlikely they’d have been keen to devote a whole channel to an insect.

There’s good news there though with talk that you might be able to subscribe to just that one channel, which would presumably work out a bit/lot cheaper.

What about Channel 5?

Nowt. We’re a bit sad for them really, because they’ve been holding the fort all this time and have been doing a super job. It’ll be interesting/irritating to see how quickly the BBC get up to speed highlights-wise.


Mike Selvey leaving the Guardian

The Guardian’s cricket correspondent, Mike Selvey, is to part ways with the newspaper at the end of September. “Guardian no longer want 50 yrs intimate knowledge of cricket, cricketers and how game is played for future coverage,” he said in a tweet – later adding the hash tag #abitshitreally to leave us under no illusions that he would have preferred to continue.

This news may seem of no real interest to many of you, but it does raise questions about the changing nature of written cricket coverage. In the absence of any comment from the Guardian, we can only guess why they might have made the decision. In all honesty, nothing especially obvious comes to mind.

History repeating?

In 2008, Selvey was given the boot by Test Match Special. At the time, there was a reference to wanting to make use of ‘more recent Test cricketers’. Since then, they’ve added people like Graeme Swann and Michael Vaughan. Phil Tufnell is from the previous generation and then there is the continued presence of Geoffrey Boycott, who is for many people synonymous with the ‘in my day’ view – despite also holding a number of progressive opinions.

But a newspaper is different. There’s only so much space, so you’re never going to offer such a broad palette of voices. Instead, you pick someone who can write and who knows what they’re talking about and who will find angles that are perhaps unexplored by writers on other newspapers.

Selvey’s writing

We’ve long enjoyed Selvey’s articles. He can occasionally be prone to overloading sentences with far too many clauses, but time pressures can bring wonkiness out in all of us. The content itself was generally intriguing, especially when talking about the mechanics and mentality of bowling.

You might question just how many stories one can wring out of a three-Test career, but it’s presumably decidedly more than can be wrung out of the zero-Test careers enjoyed by the majority of cricket writers. The point is that Selvey’s international playing experience is just one aspect of a longer career that has also included 278 first-class matches and a lifetime spent following the game.

Impartiality

Selvey sacrificed a lot of goodwill among the Guardian readership during “the KP affair.” It was an oddly confrontational time among followers of the sport, but it wasn’t so much for his opinions that Selvey got people’s backs up as for being unable or unwilling to express why he held them.

It was frustrating for the reader to read bold assertions without knowing how they were arrived at. Questioning sorts of people like to see your workings out. Selvey then compounded this disconnect by being slightly tetchy and thin-skinned in the comments section and on Twitter. There will always be someone slagging off your writing online and everyone has their breaking point, but managing that is a vital skill for a modern journo.

We thought of all of this again recently when Selvey made a few dismissive comments about Chris Woakes at the start of the summer and followed that up with a piece talking up Steven Finn after the last Test.

Finn plays for Middlesex, as did Selvey, so we initially felt a bit uncomfortable about his position – but the points made in that article about confidence and implicit messages sent by a captain’s field settings were pertinent and gave ample food for thought. It was a top piece; exactly the kind of thing we’d want to read.

Cost

It’s proabably just this, isn’t it? Selvey has written for the Guardian for 31 years. They probably pay him more than they’ll pay his replacement.

No-one pays to read about cricket in the internet age. Not enough people read about cricket full stop to financially justify the volume of writing we have at present. Something has to give.


Following the protagonist through the formats – players and audience in the T20 era

We had an interesting (to us) chat to Charles Dagnall of Test Match Special (TMS) via Twitter yesterday. At one point he said something closely related to a number of our recurrent themes/hobby horses on this site and we were faintly annoyed with ourself for not having put the thought into words ourself.

We were discussing how people become cricket fans in the first place and more specifically where Test Match Special’s future audience will come from. In response to our comment that some people (not him) seem to think that it’ll arrive fully-formed, grey-haired in blazer and tie, Daggers said: “Much like the actual players who are playing tests via T20, expect audiences to do exactly the same.”

We immediately felt that there was a lot of truth in this; that a hypothetical fan might grow with a player and follow him/her through the formats. We’ve always felt that cricket’s shorter formats offer a route towards Test cricket and we’re also big on the following of a sport being about narrative and characters. Despite this, we’d somehow never taken this to the logical conclusion of one fan following one player to their five-day destination.

To provide some background to the conversation…

It came about after we had bitched and moaned about an article by Roy Greenslade in the Guardian. Roy basically thinks that cricket’s going to die because he sat a child down in front of a session of a Test match and they weren’t instantly enthralled.

He might as well have sat this kid down for episode seven of series three of The Wire. You need to work your way up to and then into these things and to draw conclusions without comprehending that seems almost wilfully wrong-headed.

This is almost certainly unfair, but it seemed symptomatic of the sort of person who became a fan of Test cricket by listening to TMS when they were 10 and who cannot comprehend that others may have arrived at the same destination via a rather different route.

There are many paths. As a 10-year-old, we struggled to sit and watch more than five minutes of cricket. We’d have much rather been doing something else. While that something was quite often cricket, it could also have been football or it may not even have been sport at all.

If that were today, there would doubtless be those who would despair at our impatience and lament modern society’s role in the slow demise of Test cricket. But it wasn’t today. It was 1988. In 2016 we write about Test cricket near enough daily and near enough for free.


Why play Test cricket in the North of England in spring? Why play there at all?

Some have questioned why Tests are scheduled for the North of England in May. The weather has been used as one argument against doing so, but attendances have earned a few mentions too. Let’s take a look at where Test cricket is played in England and when, and examine the merits of the Test schedule we have at present.

Jonathan Agnew asked why we play Test cricket in the North of England in spring in a recent BBC column. To be fair to Agnew, he isn’t advocating spurning that half of the country altogether, but shuffling Tests about so that northern Tests take place later in the year.

“I don’t understand why Sri Lanka have been sent to Leeds and Durham for these opening two Tests.

“You could say that the cold, grey conditions quite likely in the north of England at this part of the year give the hosts their best chance of winning – but there’s much more to it than that.”

Agnew goes on to argue that such scheduling is not what’s best for Test cricket because it exaggerates England’s home advantage and the matches can therefore sometimes become less of a spectacle.

To answer Agnew’s implicit question and the title of this article, one reason to play in the North of England in spring is because it’s actually a drier time of year, so spectators are less likely to experience rain interruptions.

According to Met Office figures, the average precipitation in Durham is 44.2mm in May and 60.8mm in August (raining on 9.2 days in May and 9.6 days in August).

Manchester gets 54.8mm in May and 79.4mm in August; Leeds gets 65.2mm in May and 81.1mm in August; while Nottingham (if that’s the North) gets 51.8mm in May and 62mm in August.

But does the weather negatively affect the cricket?

The conventional wisdom that it swings more when it’s cloudy shouldn’t really apply. Going by the figures above, it’s not really greyer in the North in spring. Even allowing for heavier rain in the summer months, it’s probably on balance less grey.

It is colder though – more so in the east – and this matters because it means pitches aren’t as dry and a juicy pitch will tend to seam more. You could argue that seaming conditions are as valid as any other, but this is, perhaps, another argument that could easily run to a full length article in its own right.

What Test when?

A related point, voiced recently by MCC President Roger Knight, is that Test cricket is ‘thriving’ in London in May and not elsewhere.

This is to a great extent true. But why?

An obvious reason is that London has a bigger catchment area (or, more accurately, a larger catchment population). A simplistic conclusion might also be that this area is more interested in seeing live Test cricket than others. We’d temper the latter with another point though.

Appointment to view

If you regularly watch Test cricket at Lord’s, there’s a very simple thought process at the start of each year: who’s touring and do you want to see them? If the answer is yes, you then decide which day of the Test you would like to attend.

Every touring side plays a Test at Lord’s, both Tests start on a Thursday and barring unusual circumstances, one will always be the first Test of summer. Across the city, it isn’t much more complicated. The Oval always hosts a Test, it is usually the last of summer and as often as not, it starts on a Thursday. Test attendances at The Oval aren’t quite as reliable as at Lord’s.

Now let’s take a look elsewhere. The following thought process applies to pretty much any of the nation’s other Test venues. Who’s touring this year? Is either side playing a Test at your local ground? If so, in what month and on what day does the match start?

It’s not fiendishly complicated, but with every question you lose a bunch of people. If you want to sell something, you make the transaction as straightforward as possible.

A final thought

We could also get into the cost of hosting a Test match and what northern grounds can charge for tickets versus what grounds in the south-east can charge.

The ECB’s bidding process is not just about money, so there’s more to it than that. Nevertheless, speaking as someone living in ‘the regions’, Test tickets now cost more than we’re really happy to spend. We would hazard a guess that the proportion of people who feel similarly has been growing at a faster rate in the North than in the South-East.


Tony Cozier – the man who saw all and knew all of West Indies cricket

Cricket fans moan about commentators a lot, but in general we are well served by our sport. Tastes differ, but very few talk down to us and the majority have the capacity to offer some sort of insight when working in the right environment.

But as the world becomes smaller, even the best broadcasters are becoming more homogenous. They watch the same games, read the same articles and they know the same things about the same players. There’s a slick Dubai internationalism about it all.

Not everyone’s like that though. There are still a select few – generally from the smaller Test nations – who bring a distinct flavour of their region with them. Tony Cozier was of course one.

It is not about knowing the players. Every commentator should know the players. It is about knowing the people. When the West Indies toured, Cozier could tell you not only how a player played, but why he did so. He would know his upbringing; he would know where he learned his cricket; he would know how that player was viewed in the region.

Cozier would know the player’s background better than the player himself did. He would know the history of the club he had played for in his youth and how the island’s cricket and culture had evolved since the last great player from that same club. Some commentators tell you everything they know. It’s not that Cozier wouldn’t – he couldn’t. He could show you the relevant tip of the iceberg but you always got the sense that there was infinitely more left concealed.

In recent years Cozier seemed increasingly pissed off with the chronic ill health of West Indies cricket, but his despair never reached the point of giving up on it. It was almost as if the bouts of impotent frustration would renew his energy to look for solutions – and by the broad bat of Sobers, he had to look hard to find them.

He’d cover the latest spat between players and board, or the latest Test series defeat and you’d forgive him for being worn down by it all. But then next thing you know, he’d be full of cautious hope about Rahkeem Cornwall or someone. That is what you might accurately call irrepressible enthusiasm for the sport.

Cozier was one of the few men with an impartial overview of West Indies cricket. You’d think a man who could take a step back and see things for how they were and how problems might be resolved would be greatly valued, but this doesn’t seem to have been the case.

More than one obituary has mentioned that Cozier recently filed a lawsuit against WICB president Dave Cameron. Cameron pretty much called him a blind old man.

Blind? Tony Cozier? The man who saw all and knew all of West Indies cricket surely had the clearest vision of all.


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