David Gower has been airlifted in, one presumes via Tiger Moth, and the coverage of the Ashes has picked up markedly. The only concern for BT Sport viewers is that he gets poached from the commentary box to stiffen the England top order.
For UK viewers, the Boxing Day Test has provided blessed relief from having our ears assaulted at this difficult time by the Aussie banter mates on Fox Sports, the host broadcaster whose feed BT Sport had been piping in throughout the first two Tests. With the presence of Gower, Mark Ramprakash, and Dan Norcoss on comms, and the reliably brassy Steve Harmison being joined by the likeable, if earnest, Moeen Ali and Jonathan Trott for punditry, it feels like the BT cricket coverage has eventually settled down into something half decent.
BT Sport had previously engaged the services of Michael Vaughan, the Telegraph Sport columnist, but then dropped him from the coverage after he was accused by Azeem Rafiq of making racially insensitive remarks, claims that Vaughan has repeatedly and strenuously denied.
BT’s rationale was that hearing him might have been too much for… well, who knows? For somebody watching somewhere. Vaughan then got Covid, but finally began his Fox duties on Saturday night, so during his stints, BT is instead using a separate commentary from Gower, Norcross et al. And Rosebud was the name of the sled all along. Do keep up. Much like an English batsman’s technique, it’s all a confusing mess.
Anyway, by hook or by crook, it has been excellent having Lord Gower back on the cricket commentary: assured, amusing, urbane. And always a steelier character than his insouciance suggested – you don’t score 8,000 Test runs by being a flake, after all – perhaps he might even be enjoying reminding his former employers at Sky that he is still a quality broadcaster.
Ramps, etc as mentioned above gave a flavour of Test Match Special’s decency and calm that was welcome on Christmas Night, and certainly easier on the ears than the partisan yelling and yakking that Fox Sports have been offering. One curiosity: it struck me for a while that Gower must have the most incredible eyesight and reactions even still, because he was calling the outcomes of deliveries pretty much as soon as they left the bowler’s hand. Either the languid leftie really should be batting three for England, or the commentary feed was a bit out of sync.
Having a battery of non-Aussie commentators and pundits has meant that the Matt Smith studio section, which had previously done most of the heavy lifting, is now a sparsely used chatzone. That seems to work well enough: Trott and Moeen have given England fans a great deal of pleasure over the last decade or so; the idea with using pundits who are that recently retired is that they will give you insights because they are close to the guys in the dressing room. The problem, as ever: they are close to the guys in the dressing room so you tend to get bland fare. Still, a big improvement on the Fox locker room, and whether by luck or judgement, BT’s cricket coverage has landed on its feet.