by Michael Byass

THERE are certain times of the year when the make-up of global sporting action dictates that, for some people, football is pushed, if not to the outer limits of the universe, then maybe as far as Mars.

This is, of course, a reference to the impending Ashes cricket series, which features England v Australia. This can be viewed by “Ing-er-landers” as the closest that the former masters of the Empire will come to worldwide sporting supremacy given that England/ United Kingdom are fairly pants in most other sporting departments at the moment (apart from snooker and golf of course). It is quite difficult for cricket to supersede soccer in the UK, but there is a certain way in which the wielders of willow trump the booters of leather.

This is down to the way that we ingest and digest our sport. Obviously, there are always going to be fortnightly publications in certain provinces of Europe that give a light-hearted review of a whole bunch of football matches. But in an age when many of us demand our sport to be instantaneous and interactive with all manner of technological whistles and bells attached; cricket can always provide that second by second, ball-by-ball coverage. Football commentary can often provide this, unless you are listening to the delays caused by John Motson’s “Heh-heh-heh’s” as he delivers yet another prepared quip that is about as subtle and humorous as a knee in the groin. But cricket coverage truly comes into its own via the Internet and good old Teletext. The former provides detailed, witty and knowledgeable comments on every ball bowled and every run scored. It really feels like the equivalent of being sat in the ground and having all the bits of action that you either half see or do not quite understand explained to you by an intelligent person. Teletext is a different kettle of fish altogether and, to be fair, it works almost as well when ‘watching’ football matches. The beauty of its clunky impersonal style is that when the action becomes just too unbearably tense to listen to on the radio or watch on the TV, you can flick back and forth on the remote control, checking out cinema listings and the weather when high octane sport becomes a bit too much to cope with emotionally.

The timing of cricket matches is a bizarre beast indeed. You know where you are with football as the vast majority of league and cup matches occur at reasonably regular and standard times in Spain and England, despite the intervention of non-terrestrial TV. These timings are sometimes a little bit antisocial or inconvenient (late evening or early Sunday matches) and there is the occasional World Cup, which involves us choking on our breakfast cereal (an aside to a certain aforementioned commentator milked the udders dry of during the 2002 World Cup in the Far East). In my recent guise as a teacher I had the surreal experience of watching Ronaldinho’s goal that put Sven’s England out of their misery in the 2002 World Cup in a grotty classroom on a dodgy portable TV in front of a bunch of 14 year olds who were half manically passionate and half extremely disinterested. The disappointment of England losing fairly limply was magnified by spending the next five hours teaching pupils who did not want to do any work: “because England lost.” Mind you, if England had won half of them would have been bouncing off the walls for a week until the inevitable semi-final defeat.

Anyway, I digress away from cricket; forgive me! The main cricketing event of the European winter will kick off in the early hours for 25 days between November 23 and January 6. Let us be honest here, the dilemma as to whether to stay up very late and watch the first few hours on Teletext or wake up very early and watch the last couple of hours on the Internet (or vice versa), is dictated by what one ingests. Coffee and/or a responsible amount of alcohol will favour the former strategy. Plus a large bacon sarnie. The latter strategy means that one barely has time to do one’s allotted household tasks before having a very early night and then waking up the majority of the household before the birds start singing by booting up the PC and spilling cornflakes all over the kitchen floor. The proper hardcore cricket supporter will opt for the first two hours/ last two hours method. This is only to be recommended in extreme circumstances: the deciding day of the deciding Test or when you have the house to yourself with no work or family commitments on the horizon or when you reckon that you might get away with a more rapid than usual reduction of brain cells. And those in-between three hours of sleep will be fairly fitful; with disturbing dreams of David Beckham bowling a Champions League winning doosra at Elland Road, or some such nonsense.

Anyway, I digress away from football; forgive me! In the not too distant past this column speculated as to when the Premiership early over-achievers would be overtaken by the classy slow starters. Arsenal have fulfilled half of that prediction by waltzing their way up to fourth in the table, but Harry Redknapp’s Portsmouth crew are currently defying the exert opinions by being (a distant) third to Chelsea and Manchester United. Tottenham and Liverpool are also giving away too many wides and no-balls and may have to be scrapping for a fair-play entry into Europe next season, lead by their affable, placid managers. The biggest Premiership match of the season so far between the top two looms in the near future: enjoy.

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