‘Each to their own’ and how ‘long is a piece of string?’ are two phrases that immediately come to mind when addressing the complex issue of which sport lends itself best to television coverage, not least because – well, apart from those who would bet on which of two flies was going to land first upon a meat casserole left in the sun if there was no other wager on offer – every sports fan I know not only has their favourite or favourites but also their preferred type of sport.
Winter sports (skiing, ice dancing or skating, ski jumping, tobogganing, snowboarding) or summer sports (track & field, swimming, equestrianism)? Physical contact (judo, boxing, karate, rugby, UFC) or artistic (gymnastics, diving, ice dancing – again)?
In mentioning the ‘length of string’ above I intended to refer not only to the infinite variety of humans, human temperaments and interests but also to the factor of Time.
How much time is the TV sports viewer prepared to allocate to his/her chosen sport of the moment?
It’s relevant because, when you’re considering the likes of cricket and/or golf, the dedicated TV sports-watcher will most likely have cleared their decks to devote a morning, an afternoon (or even a whole day) to their passion.
Others prefer what I’ll describe here at ‘high intensity’ sports, i.e. those that – disregarding for this purpose the joys of introductory build-ups & previews (which from a personal perspective, being these days someone who tends by choice to watch sport on TV rather than attend sporting events, is one of the attractions of TV sport over live attendance, even in this respect I’m clutching at straws and/or ‘making a virtue or out a necessity’!) – are over in a matter of minutes to say half an hour.
You know the sort of thing – the Olympic men’s 100 metres semi-final heats and final, indeed any track event up to and including the 10,000 metres; a heavyweight boxing title fight; the final of a speed-skating event.
Bear with me, I’m narrowing things down here (gradually).
I’ll return to cricket and golf in a few minutes but, when it comes to British staples such as football and rugby (league or union) – of which fans tend to have ‘their’ clubs as well as a love of the game in question – there’s another factor.
Whether in prospect it is a bog-standard league game or the culminating stages of a major knockout competition, the onlooker (TV or otherwise) knows and accepts that – however attractive the reputation and/or type of game the teams involved are capable of – the fact is that, on any given day upon any given occasion, the contest itself can still unexpectedly either prove to a total snore-fest … or indeed a totally stunning, end-to-end, extravaganza.
Save, perhaps, that’s it’s sport and you hope that it’s going to enrapture and delight.
When it comes to cricket, on a personal level – and here I bring radio coverage into the subject because, along with certain others, via tradition as well as its nature cricket lends itself particularly well to the spoken word accompanied by the images that the viewer/listener can conjure for themselves – over the course of my life I’ve had a ‘in and out’ relationship as far as interest is concerned. In my youth I was an obsessive but in the most recent quarter of a century I have gradually disengaged to the point now I can frankly take it or leave it.
There’s so much of it on offer these days – whether Test matches, ODIs or T20 – that for me it tends to blur into insignificance.
In my heyday international tours took place (or so it seemed) every eight or ten years and were therefore naturally epic – I’m thinking here of the West Indies and Australian tours to England in 1963 and 1964 – but now it feels to me as if Ashes series take place every three years or so, this amidst a blur of ODIs and/or one day World Cups, and to be honest every one of these varied different contests are considerably reduced by the frantic nature of the overall schedule.
Which brings me to yesterday and the third day of the Open at Carnoustie.
It’s all a matter of context.
I’d had a day centred around a series of gatherings – including a splendid summer lunch on the terrace – in blazing sunshine at my father’s home on the south coast, from which I eventually bid my farewell and set off for London shortly before 5.00pm.
No doubt partly because of the brilliance of the golf, the weather conditions on the day, the personalities of the different players involved and the volatile nature of the varying fortunes befalling them – but above all, it must be said, largely the excellent quality of the production directing and performances of the commentators out on the course – I cannot recall the last time I became so engrossed in the action.
I know that because, even though I was weary (having been awake since approximately 1.30am), the 90-minute journey felt as if it had flashed by in no more than a third of that time.
I could barely wait to park the car, gather my kit and belongings together and throw them into my front room, before jumping into my favourite armchair and picking up where I had left off by watching the Sky Sports coverage live from the course.
Hence my nomination today in the category ‘Best TV sports-watching experience it is possible to have’ – the weekend rounds of the (British) Open Golf Championship.
It’s all something to do with the fact that – with 70-odd players somewhere out there on 18 holes of a golf course – every two or three minutes there’s something occurring somewhere that is affecting the leader board, whether it be an individual’s momentum changing (launching a charge or slipping back via a series of birdies gained or missed, or random good fortune, or the disaster of a monster drive sliced to buggery and the wilderness of impenetrable rough) and/or a sudden and compellingly tense putting shoot-out between the current leaders who just happen to be paired together.
Hands up all those who from at some point from after their post-prandial nap today are going to be glued to the TV screen watching the climax of this afternoon’s doings at Carnoustie!