While England’s Ashes rookies enjoyed a fine day on the field at the Gabba, the same sadly could not be said of BT Sport.
It wasn’t, to be fair, a total disaster. The opening VT was suitably stirring and emotive with its mix of talking heads and archive footage, and in Ricky Ponting they’ve landed the best of the recent crop of Aussie cricketers-turned-commentators. If this sounds like damning with faint praise, it’s not meant to. He’s excellent.
And with the controversy over Channel Nine’s stale, male and pale (plus Warnie, obviously) line-up it felt genuinely innovative and exciting when BT featured a whole section during a men’s sporting event in which a woman spoke to another woman as Ali Mitchell interviewed women’s Ashes hero Alyssa Healy.
Mitchell was the other major bright spot for the new kids on the Ashes broadcasting block. She certainly outperformed main anchor Matt Smith, a safe pair of hands with the football but whose lack of cricket expertise left him too often cutting a nervous, uncertain figure here. An awkward post-play interview with James Vince was his low point. We were left wishing BT had been bold enough to trust Mitchell with the main presenting gig.
— BT Sport Cricket (@btsportcricket) November 23, 2017
There’s a decent chance, though, that Smith will grow into the role as the series develops even if we did found ourselves missing Ian Ward even more than we’d feared.
What other positives were there… having their own on-screen graphics was a boost, sparing bleary-eyed UK viewers having to translate 1-2 from Australian to English after Alastair Cook’s early exit. The lunchtime features with James Anderson and Stuart Broad were solid enough, as was Michael Vaughan and Joe Root’s return to the Sheffield club where both England captains had started out.
Essentially, the pre-prepared stuff was all okay and the live coverage less so. It’s understandable that BT don’t want to be seen to just ape Sky Sports, but in cricket Sky Sports really have set the benchmark. How we longed for the calm, thoughtful analysis of Nasser Hussain and Michael Atherton as we were instead subjected to Graeme Swann chuckling to himself as he struggled to come to terms with the sheer scale of his own dazzling wit, or an ancient-looking Geoffrey Boycott’s descent into repetitive self-parody.
The main problem, though: there was just too much noise. It’s hard enough to get through an Ashes night shift without enduring Boycott adding two wickets to the score for the 37th time. I pity the poor editor tasked with cutting this down for a highlights show, because the commentators incessantly talked over every single ball and, unforgivably, over the third umpire during DRS reviews. The viewer was given no space to breathe, to take in the game for him or herself. There seemed to be no silence that could not be filled with another smirking Swann impression or Boycott reverie or guileless diversions to football and BT’s coverage thereof.
Swann, Boycott and Michael Vaughan are all TMS men and, while it might have been a relatively cheap way for BT to bring in some big names, this too often felt like radio commentary on TV. We know a lot of people like watching the game while also listening to TMS to have the whole thing explained to them in crushing radiophonic detail, but these people are wrong and strange and not to be encouraged.
New people doing things in new ways will always meet with opposition – it’s why everyone’s struggled with Nathan Lyon’s attempted reinvention as snarling enforcer – but this was an iffy start and left us pining for Sky in a way we never did for Channel 4 or the BBC before them.