Ashes December 25, 2010

Get your Bingo cards out

Because Pakistan is playing another series

Wednesday December 22nd Has anyone seen SKY’s objectivity? I could have sworn it was there this summer, or perhaps I only imagined it. Anyway, it’s been missing a long time now and I just thought it might be a good idea if they started looking for it, because frankly, without our old friend objectivity, their cricket coverage is as appetising as a bowl of sandpaper and gravel muesli.

Today I watched their review of the Ashes so far. A slightly fatuous exercise, like pausing coverage of the men’s Olympic 100-metre final at the 60-metre mark and debating which of the runners looks the most tired. Still, I’m a sucker for men in suits moaning about English cricket, indeed, that was what made up most of the BBC’s cricket coverage between 1986 and 2003, so I’d recorded the whole thing.

But I was mistaken. It wasn’t a review of the Ashes so far. It was a series of mock-team talks for the benefit of the English players and for those viewers who don’t particularly like the sport but do grasp the Botham principle of cricket, which is: England win equals good; foreigner win equals bad. Isn’t cricket about more than this? Is that all our great game boils down to?

The only saving grace was the comedy due of Bob Willis and Angus Fraser, who could be the Waldorf and Statler of SKY’s cricket coverage. Fraser still hasn’t yet quite hit his grumbling straps, but he brings a jowly downbeat shtick to the show, which beautifully compliments Willis’s impersonation of a pessimistic soothsayer. And throughout the programme, Long Bob was clearly itching to explain why England’s entire bowling strategy was a complete disaster, but he was kept on a tight leash by the presenter. Don’t worry, Bob, your time will come. It always does.

Thursday, December 23rd Predicting what is going to happen on a Pakistan tour is a little like trying to pin down the weather during hurricane season. We know there will be one or two disasters, a fair few dramatic collapses and the possibility of a wreck or two, interspersed with interludes of astonishing calm and beauty. But which will happen next?

Well, I hope you had your “Pakistan Bingo” cards handy, because Shahid’s chaps ticked off the box marked, “unpredictable collapse” by being skittled for an imaginative 91 against Auckland, a total that the home side reeled in with seven overs to spare. Nice work, chaps, plenty of time left for some sightseeing.

Still, at the post-debacle press conference, coach Waqar wasn’t worried.

“You forget,” he joked, “I’ve seen these guys play before. 91 all out is nothing, believe me.”

But irrational optimism, along with a healthy sense of paranoia, is one of the key attributes required by any Pakistan coach and Waqar has plenty of it.

“I think they’ve learned the lesson and hopefully in the next game it will be a different ball game.”

Unfortunately for Waqar, I have checked with the relevant authorities in New Zealand and apparently it’s the same ball game, the one involving the bat, the ball and the sticks that keep falling over.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England