Broadcasting in the English summer May 20, 2005

Channel 4 cop out after Reeve's departure

After five years as a Channel 4 summariser, Dermot Reeve has decided to call it a day



Dermot Reeve: more play, less commentary in prospect © Getty Images

There'll be no more Imran Khan impressions to enliven the rain breaks. No more baiting of the uber-geek, Simon Hughes, as he sits, sardine-like, inside his analyst's pod. And no more bleary-eyed stumbling to the mike, several hours' late after another busy night on the tiles. After five years as a Channel 4 summariser, Dermot Reeve has decided to call it a day.

Reeve had no comment to make in the immediate aftermath of his departure, but in his playing days, he was one of the most innovative captains the game has known. As an irrepressibly inventive medium-pace bowler and a hard-hitting lower middle-order batsman, he guided Warwickshire to unprecedented success in the early 1990s, as well as playing in three Tests and 29 one-day internationals, including the World Cup final against Pakistan in 1991-92.

His commentary style was equally off-the-cuff and abrasive. He was by no means the star turn of an impressively varied Channel 4 team, but he more than held his own alongside the likes of Richie Benaud, Geoff Boycott and Mike Atherton, even if his timekeeping wasn't everything it might have been. In 2004, he was disciplined by his employers for a particularly late arrival at the Lord's Test against New Zealand, and was suspended from the commentary team for the second Test at Headingley.

Perhaps thinking that they need to restore some order following the loss of this maverick, Channel 4 have gone to the opposite extreme. For the opening Test of the summer, Reeve's shoes will be filled by the immaculately turned-out and impeccably credentialled former England captain, Alec Stewart. Punctuality's gain, it seems, will be spontaneity's loss.

Stewart, for all that he is English cricket's most-capped player of all time, is not a man renowned for the bon mot. Since retirement, he has been pressing the flesh in a specially created role at his beloved Surrey: "Director of New Business", which is a job description that conjures up images of Jim Hacker's Minister for Administrative Affairs

This is Channel 4's final summer of cricket before Sky swallows up every broadcasting right available, and this appointment is not an auspicious start. Given that Stewart, in September 2003, could barely contain his glee at retiring from Test cricket before being subjected to a tour of Bangladesh - "Ask me again next month" he said at his final press call, "when you're all in Dhaka and I'm in Rome, watching Chelsea playing Lazio!" - it is unlikely that he will be brimful of insight when play gets underway.

In their six years of broadcasting Test cricket, Channel 4 have until now put their emphasis on excellence, rather than relying on big names to reel out the same old banalities. But that's not going to be the case for much longer. Stewart's last Test series as captain - the 1998-99 Ashes - led him to utter such gems as "I'd rather be one-down than two-down", and "I'm all up for keeping nought in the loss column for as long as possible". Stirring stuff indeed. One can but weep for the sad fading of a proud era of domestic broadcasting.

Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Cricinfo