Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Sky/ECB 0, ITV/Lalit Modi 1

The IPL is back and – for the first time since 2005 – so is live cricket on UK free-to-air TV.

After all the hype about the IPL-YouTube deal, I’ve actually found myself watching ITV4’s live stream more of the time. The one thing I've been struck by so far has been the contrast between the IPL match commentators and the ITV studio pundits. It’s as if the former are on ecstasy – hallucinating “unbelievable” shots, DLF Maximums, Karbon Kamaal Catches and Citi Moments of Success at ten second intervals – while the latter have been sedated: just what do presenters Mandira Bedi and Matt Smith need to do to get Graeme Hick, John Emburey and co. to sound even vaguely enthusiastic about what they're watching?

Bedi must be considering getting a new agent. A year ago, the former actress and reality TV show host was anchoring coverage of the IPL in India for official broadcaster SET Max. She is hardly an expert cricket analyst, but is at least familiar with the ins and outs of the players and franchises. She is no doubt wondering how the hell she ended up in a rather budget-looking television studio in London (with a backdrop that looks like it was designed in about five minutes using Microsoft Paint), teamed up with a football presenter, having her attempts to dramatise on-field events dead-batted away by the lugubrious Vikram Solanki. She was on a totally different wavelength to those around her for the first couple of days, which made for rather cringeworthy viewing.

However, Bedi does gradually seem to be developing a rapport with her genial co-host Matt Smith and becoming more at ease with her new surroundings. Which is just as well, as a fair number of people are watching!

Despite the fact that the IPL had to compete with Six Nations rugby, Premiership football and Formula One for sports fans’ attention last weekend, ITV4’s viewing figures were still ten times higher than Setanta’s had been at the corresponding stage last year. On Sunday morning, a peak audience of 379,000 watched Sky Sports’ coverage of England’s Test match against Bangladesh, whereas more than 400,000 tuned in to ITV4 later in the day to see the Deccan Chargers down the Chennai Super Kings.

These figures don’t make pretty reading for Sky and their pals on the ECB, who have been trying furiously to dissuade the government from legislating that home Ashes Tests must be broadcast on terrestrial TV.

Here in England, the score on the opening weekend of the IPL was Sky/ECB 0, ITV/Lalit Modi 1.

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