May 16, 2014

Cricketers on TV when they're not playing? We'll pass

We see enough of our heroes on the field. Learn when to say no

Reverse-integrated synergy being monetised. Or something © Getty Images

Should cricketers only be allowed to appear on our screens when they are actually out in the middle playing cricket? This admittedly rather censorious suggestion nipped into my head this week after watching one bland IPL post-match interview too many and then coming across a glossy new TV advert featuring a couple of England players. Our heroes, so sublime and graceful on the field, seem to often transform into bewildered or bewildering automatons off it whenever a camera comes near them, though in some cases this isn't really their fault.

Take the post-match interview, for instance, in which the number of genuinely illuminating answers given by players per season could be written on the back of a business card. This is hardly surprising, of course, when Ravi Shastri's startling interrogation technique involves asking questions while thrusting the microphone towards his interviewee's face as if he's stabbing a pumpkin with a knitting needle. Similarly, Danny Morrison's tactic of shouting his queries in a voice loud enough to take off his unfortunate victim's skin generally induces awkward fear rather than responses of any actual interest. Even in-play interviews with the batting bench - a relatively innovative phenomenon - rarely offer us much aside from how the "lads are working hard" and, occasionally, news on dew levels. Dale Steyn took the ennui of the in-play chat a step further the other week when he was asked what he made of his team's current batting performance. He replied he hadn't been watching because he was playing on his iPod.

It's in the commercial sphere, however, that cricketers can really excel at proving they are cricketers rather than screen idols. There has been the odd triumph in cricket-themed adverts, such as Kevin Pietersen batting blindfolded to advertise a popular hair cream. Can you see the link between the premise and the product there? No, me neither, but at least it was quite compelling viewing.

In general, however, it has been a mixed bag. Chris Gayle has long presumably made a tidy profit out of flogging fizzy drinks by merrily goofing about as young Indian starlets swoon at his impressive physique and disco moves, which are, to be fair, undeniably more stylish than England's sprinkler dance.

The same company also commissioned a campaign starring members of the Pakistan team in which Mohammad Irfan at one point had to pretend to be a hotel water feature. Perhaps it was lost in translation, given my lack of Urdu, but you got the impression even fans in Lahore may have been left feeling a bit confused by it all. At least when Ian "Beefy" Botham and Allan "Lamby" Lamb advertised - and this may shock you - beef and lamb, there was a certain logic to things.

So to the latest addition to the canon of slightly kitsch cricket commercials. The ECB last week unveiled an advert for their new corporate sponsor, an upmarket supermarket chain. The slot features Stuart Broad and James Anderson gallivanting about the aisles like a pair of well-groomed teens bunking off school, and finishes with ex-England coach David Lloyd sitting in a van outside the supermarket, listening to a piece of commentary remarking on "what a great catch that was by Paul Downton".

Now, given the ECB managing director last played professional cricket in 1991, there are two possible explanations for this. 1) Lloyd has a vast collection of archive audio footage of Middlesex matches from the 1980s, which he loves listening to in supermarket car parks, or 2) someone commissioned a piece of commentary specifically for this advert, which inadvertently or otherwise shows Downton to be a man not short of self-regard. It would be folly to speculate which is the more likely and, to be fair, it's far from the most incongruous thing in the whole affair.

This is all, though, possibly being rather smug and curmudgeonly about our beloved cricketers' off-pitch on-screen efforts. Saeed Ajmal's post-match interviews remain a surreal tornado of words and giggles, whilst there are few mothers in Britain who have forgotten the quick-stepped performances of ex-England Test batsman Mark Ramprakash on Strictly Come Dancing. Steyn himself is to appear in an Adam Sandler romantic comedy. The mind boggles, but it's plausible Steyn could go on to become South Africa's answer to Mohsin Khan, the Pakistan opener who dabbled in Bollywood.

At least cricketers have the good grace to stick to their own sport when they get committed to celluloid. Lionel Messi last year appeared in an advert trying his hand at cricket with results that were both beguiling and ugly as he revealed a bowling action so angular even Marlon Samuels may have raised an eyebrow.

So, perhaps, as the football World Cup eats into the English cricketing summer, with all the mind-blunting razor commercials and brain-numbing post-match interviews that it will entail, we shouldn't be too harsh on cricketers' efforts when they get caught in the corporate or commentary box camera's gaze.

James Marsh writes Pavilion Opinions. He is also a Tefl teacher whose students learn superlatives by being shown Graham Thorpe videos