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Sport on TV: Computers will be sending cricket completely batty.

Byline: Alun Rees

HERE'S a nifty notion for English cricket: go bats. The South Africans have come up with this bat-thing (as advertised on Tomorrow's World, BBC1) which they reckon will be just dandy for identifying run-getters of the future.

It looks like a bat. It handles like a bat. But within the willow lurk scads of sensors, enabling computer chappies to count how often a batsman belts the ball with the sweet spot. There, likely, is your star-to-be, they beam.

Unfortunately (the programme tactfully refrained from saying so), this doesn't go far enough for England, who can't hang about while stars-to-be evolve into stars-as-is. England's batting order is one segment of sad humanity which needs no advice about getting out more.

As long as the batsmen - England's aren't renowned for attention span - remember not to interfere (hold and hit, let the bat-thing do the work, boys) it should buck things up no end. Until someone invents a smart ball-thing to target unsweet spots.

Technocratic technocricket. Hold hard, you protest - you're turning the loveliest of sporting pastimes into a video game. And your point would be? Cricket, already well vandalised, is fast heading further downhill towards Gadget Hell. Pretty soon 27 wired-up umpires will be required to decide whether a batsman's out even when his stumps have been relocated near long stop. Plus a computerised panel of appeal.

Mind, even in its present form this bat-thing could help the selectors. Kate Humble tested it for Tomorrow's World in Cape Town; bowled first ball; a pretty fair stay by England standards, so don't be astonished if she opens against Sri Lanka.

Snooker is at a bit of a crossroads: torn between going fully robotic and turning itself into the boxing of the baize. Which latter option is not with-out its logic, since boxing has gone completely to pot and snooker is largely about pot (in the nicest possible sense).

Apart from Jimmy White, Ronnie O'Sullivan - still capable of laughing, even at himself - and Stephen (``Don't ask me who ate all the pies'') Lee, most of those on parade on World Snooker Championship (BBC2) looked like a buy-in-bulk bargain from the automaton shop.

In contrast, the indefatigably irritating Hazel Irvine's introduction of the finalists was more Citizen Naseem Hamed than Citizen Steve Davis: ``Mr Intensity'' (Peter Ebdon) versus ``The Greatest'' (Stephen Hendry). All it lacked was coloured smoke, cacophonous music and promises to destroy each other.

Has there been a gloomier final? Ebdon (the 18-17 winner) might have been an undertaker who thought he was on a nice little earner only to be declared redundant by the client (Lazarus); Hendry the coffin-maker who'd just found out he'd wasted his time and wood.

The usually immaculate Football Italia: La Partita (Channel 4) brought the Serie A campaign to a confusing end. Any of the leading trio - Inter, Juventus and Roma - could still finish top, and the attempt to keep up with all three games was at times bewildering.

Rapid intercutting had me wondering whether Juventus or Roma were at Udinese. If so, where did Torino fit in? As `Kate Humble tested it, bowled first ball. A dececnt stay by England standards, so don't be astonished if she opens against Sri Lanka'for Inter, they seemed to be playing Lazio, Udinese, Juventus, Torino and Roma all at the same time.

Indeed, they might well have been doing exactly that, so alarmingly did they decompose to 4-2 defeat after leading twice against (as it proved) Lazio, who may have been nettled by their own Speaking of which, the second saddest sight in this season's final (Match of the Day Live, BBC2) was the great Jurgen Kohler of Borussia Dortmund being sent off on his farewell appearance. First saddest - the dives; dives all over; they weren't even very good dives, at that.

``A new platform for patriotism was born,'' the voice-over pronounced in The First World Cup (BBC2). And, it might have added, this in turn created a new platform for bigoted yobbishness. Immediately afterwards came a trailer for a programme about soccer hooligans.

Irony? Too much to hope for.

fans' backing for Inter (anything to foil hated Roma). Finishing order: Juventus, Roma, Inter.

Team of the season, though, must be tiny Chievo. A handful of seasons ago they were tiny mice scrabbling in the deepest of basements. But the Flying Donkeys ended an amazing first Serie A term by joining the big cheeses in the Uefa Cup.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUE
Date:May 11, 2002
Words:741
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