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Alun Rees on TV: Cricket can't match World Cup for airtime but equals it for banality; GOBSTOPPER: Big cigar or a ton or two from the late Brian Johnston's fabled cake mine.

Byline: Alun Rees

HAND that man a big cigar. If he doesn't smoke make it an extra-large gobstopper. Anything to give his mouth something else to do. A ton or two from the late Brian Johnston's fabled cake-mine, maybe.

The man? Michael Slater, a prominent member of the ex-players' pension fund known as the Channel 4 cricket commentary team. Mind, it was nearly fellow-member Mark Nicholas, a chap so posh you want to throw fresh cowpats at him.

Nicholas, who makes upper-class showjumping twits sound like bits of rough out of EastEnders, put in a strong cigar bid on the last day of the third Test. Still being there at tea, he offered, had to be Sri Lankan Russel Arnold's aim.

Dingbat. As diagnosis this was straight from the nether reaches of plonkerdom. With survival the only ambition left open to Sri Lanka, staying till stumps had to be Arnold's target. As a cigar bid, though, it was brilliant - until Slater topped it.

When you examine the statistics, declared the amazing Aussie intellect, you'll find that most teams following on lose.

So that's why they hire ex-players as pundits: to clue us up on great trade secrets such as that following on is a bad thing.

It might just be that this is horribly unfair to Channel 4's chunterers. Maybe they were simply trying to prove that while cricket can't compete with the World Cup for airtime or audience it can still, by crikey, match soccer for banality.

And they'd have done it but for BBC's Ian Wright, 100pc Cyclopean fan, zero per cent detached observer.

Back with cricket for a moment, HTV News did some job on Glamorgan's one-day thrash at The Oval. That's some job as in approximately 0.000001pc of a job. That footage was available was proved by the fact that they had some.

But with records thicker than former players in a commentary box and 28 sixes and 87 fours being clumped, we were treated to an edge, a dab and a nearly-out. It was only one-day floss, true, but events were still a bit startling.

Nor was the short boundary mentioned. On seeing the scores I murmured, ``Short boundary.'' Had to be, unless the attacks were the feeblest since Little Puddleduck Over-75s played Littler Puddleduck UnderSixes.

Speaking of things not mentioned, how about Hand of God II? Zillions of hours devoted to Argentina's most famous urchin, including Maradona: The Good, the Mad and the Ugly (Channel 5), have shunned reference to his sequel to the infamous goal against England in 1986.

Four years later in Italy, Maradona thwarted the Russians with a manual interception in his own penalty area with the game still scoreless. Argentina won 2-0. If you don't believe me try Brian Glanville's masterly The Story of the World Cup.

Despite his high profile Maradona remains a mystery which this programme went nowhere near solving. But was it trying? It wasn't easy to make out what its intention was. Dubbing with silly voices, for example: was that designed for anything but mocking foreigners?

Mark Webster, as sound a sports broadcaster as there is, injected moments of serious wonder. All great people have a dark side, he said, and against England in 1986 we saw both Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader. Nobody's put it more neatly.

But mostly, with tone ranging from crude lampoon to silly sociobabble, the whole resembled one of those cod documentaries about fictitious pop groups.

Which it could have been, Maradona now being the size of a pop group. No, that's silly. Size of a big brass band.

Here's another mystery - The Case of the Colombian Bracelet, of which World Cup Hero: Bobby Moore (BBC2) provided another chapter in between the usual bursts of hagiography. Jeff Powell, the subject's biographer, said Moore had confided the name of the real culprit to him.

This was new. The commonest theory is that no bracelet ever was stolen, and Moore's first wife, Tina, rubbished the Powell account. All I can say is that I once knew Powell well (we learned the hackery trade together) and I can't believe he'd make such a yarn up.

My colour consultant ('er indoors) informed me that Clare Balding's Wednesday outfit (Royal Ascot, BBC1) was silvery blue. The hat (I knew this) was white. Looked like an iceberg to me. If I'd been the Titanic I'd have been steaming for exits.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jun 22, 2002
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