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By Chris Marshall
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Lockdown 3.0: What COVID-19 Has Taught Us About Broadcasting Cricket

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Back in March 2020 as the UK entered it’s first, and let’s be honest only thing remotely like a, Lockdown much was made of the opportunity for a ‘new’ normal: less travel, more working from home, cleaner air, climate benefits, a fitter country, talking to the neighbours, the return of community spirit, more cooking at home ……

Then the shackles were relaxed/removed and back we went to the pub, the fast food restaurants, 2 for 1 meals, flights abroad ……

For the record at the time I was skeptical as to how “new” the normal would become as a) we are creatures of habit, and b) companies and the Government needed a greedy, fat, services driven economy/population to keep an economy going that was operating on the brink of bankruptcy despite claims to the contrary: a service led economy operating on high volumes/low margins, with everyone encouraged to want (and have) everything – let’s be honest most of us have to much stuff – was never a robust foundation.

Don’t get me wrong there have some excellent, and much appreciated, creative adaptions from many in the arts, entertainment, and sports, but the question remains: how many of the enforced changes will become habit: the “new’ normal?

I write about this now because of the recent coverage of the cricket from Sri Lanka. In my opinion Sky Cricket have been both creative and successful in the way they have addressed the issues thrown up by the pandemic. Back in Lockdown 1.0 there “watch alongs” of the World Cup Final, Final Day at Headingley etc were exceptional, and the way that The Debate/Verdict/Cricket Show have evolved has been impressive. Rather than a host and two guests in a studio we get a host and three guests on line. The studio format provides no action so we lose nothing with the online format, but we do gain a wider range of guests with the huge benefit of having one from the country we are playing: a far more balanced and insightful discussion, and the more people became comfortable with the technology (led I think by Mark Butcher in particular, and the Key and Hussain double act) the better these shows have become.

And let’s be honest: who doesn’t like a glimpse at the variety of bookcases, living rooms, kitchens or sheds we have seen, not to mention the variety of headsets that many use: shares in Apple have surely risen even more as the AirPods became this seasons must have technological kit. I do not jest, these insights and distractions have provided a much more human, real fan feel to the shows than the stiff, formal, Sky Polo shirt uniformed approach of the old format. There was much debate (pardon the pun) as to who and how to replace the irreplaceable Bob Willis RIP, but there is no need: these new formats work well enough, without the costs and restrictions of the studio guest format, and I hope they become a permanent fixture.

Back to the recent Sri Lanka series and the coverage which included Bumble in his bedroom, filling the gaps with commentary about his bins, dog, shed and wallpaper, Atherton, Hussain, Key and Ward in a studio close to their hotel, and Mark Butcher over in Sri Lanka.

Watching the same feed as the rest of us, keeping in touch with each other via video calls, the coverage was more than adequate. Not the same, and lacking on one area, but as a first attempt it really did show the way things could progress: a “new” normal. Think how much longer Bumble could continue to entertain and inform, how many more opinions we could benefit from, how smoother and slicker it would become with investment in home studios.

One area that needed improvement was the lack of comment about field placings. Because they were only seeing what we saw, they did not know if there was a man on the boundary at long off, so a shot hit that way could not be commented on with the fact that “there is a man on the boundary”. This is relatively easy to fix: include someone on the commentary team that can actually contribute this information. Ideally from the ground, or lacking that a vantage point. Again not ideal but the technology would allow a shared screen with a document mapping out the field positions: we may not know it was Bairstow at deep mid wicket, but we could be told there was a man there which would add to the detail, and provide a sense of anticipation.

Cricket is fortunate as it is a great game for TV. Don’t get me wrong a day at the cricket is one of life’s joys and one I hope returns in 2021, but if you want to really watch the techniques, what the ball does, the insane skills of the players these days you can’t get better than a comfy sofa, a knowledgeable viewing companion and your drink of choice. Yes, being at the ground provides the atmosphere, the overall picture, but you are a long way from the action.

Football on the other hand is the opposite. The skill levels are not so great that you need to be close up, the real beauty (for me) of watching a game is to see the whole picture: the open spaces, the runs off the ball, the vision behind the pass. At live games it is better up in the stands than on the touchline, although in recent years at Old Trafford is is often best watched through the bottom of a beer glass!

Featured Image Source: The Irish Times

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