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The Ashes, but not as we knew it

Let me begin with a shaggy dog story.

Recently, after a two-year hiatus, my elderly father recently returned to the Sky TV fold by taking up a basic Sky Sports package.

The tale by which he ‘gave up’ said item is sufficiently bizarre and illogical that it deserves an article, if not a full novel, of its own and I shall not divert my readers by setting it out in great detail here. Suffice it to say that, presumably in its capacity as a modern commercial organisation looking to reduce its staffing and administration costs in response to the effects of the 2008 global financial crisis, Sky announced that (from whatever point in time it had chosen) in future it would only accept payment of subscriptions by direct debit.

This was an immediate problem for my father, who has had a lifelong aversion to paying anything by direct debit and has only once (for a brief period when going away on holiday about twelve years ago when he mistakenly paid some bills out of the wrong account by cheque) ever run an overdraft.

chequeA stand-off with Sky resulted. My father could not understand why they would no longer accept his cheques, particularly since his custom is to pay all his bills by post on the day the invoices arrive. (The answer from Sky, obviously, was that it was a new policy).

My father offered to pay his subscription a year in advance to no avail – Sky just repeated that it would only accept payment by monthly direct debit. Muhammad would not go to the mountain. My father announced that he would be giving up his subscription forthwith. Sky could not understand his intransigence – he could not understand theirs. But then it transpired he could not give his subscription up forthwith – he had to pay it until the date of its annual renewal, a further period of three and a half months, which he eventually agreed to do.

That, of course, led to another problem. Sky would not accept ‘paying off’ the balance of the contract by cheque! In the end, after some frustrating phone calls with Sky accounting headquarters (including by me), my father had to travel to his bank and arrange a direct transfer to be shot of Sky.

Sky, naturally, could not understand the situation or circumstances in which this particular customer had parted company with them. Throughout the two years since he gave up his subscription, my father has been bombarded with offers to ‘come back to the fold’, special new subscription offers … and so on. On at least three occasions, on my father’s behalf, I have rung Sky to ask “You keep trying to persuade my father to take on another subscription. Given the circumstances in which he gave up his previous one, I can only assume that in the meantime you have now changed your policy on only accepting payment by direct debit and that is the reason you are contacting him. Is that correct?”

When the answer came back in the negative, I concluded each of these phone calls by asking the operative at the Sky end to record on his or her database that this customer would never pay by direct debit and so would they please desist from wasting time, money and Norwegian fir trees by repeatedly sending him offers to take up a subscription?

It hasn’t worked.

Let us come forward to a month ago. My siblings and I persuaded my father that, if we could ‘negotiate’ an acceptable deal with Sky, he might take up a basic sports package – so that, if he wished, he could watch this summer’s Ashes Test series and perhaps other things. He agreed.

The responsibility of negotiating with Sky fell to me. Apparently they would be prepared to accept payment by credit card. I offered to pay a years’ subscription in advance by mine – the wheeze being that (he also having an aversion to give his card’s details over the phone) my father would reimburse me. Sky refused this, explaining that by their rules of engagement (1) payments could only be accepted monthly; and (2) the first payment had to be by the subscriber himself.

I didn’t feel it was worth the trouble to point out the illogicality of the former policy [surely it is better to have a year’s subscription money arrive upfront, rather than wait for it to dribble in via monthly installments?] but eventually we agreed that we would pay the first month over the phone with my father’s credit card and then subsequently my brothers or I would pay each month with ours.

Womens cricket(2)Since then my father has access to some – but not all – of Sky Sports channels and in the past week we have been watching a fair amount of women’s cricket, specifically the England v Australia Ashes series, which consists of a number of One Day Internationals (the first two played at Taunton and Bristol); one full Test Match; and (I think) one T20 game, the idea being that they add up the points gained from all of said contests to decide the Ashes winner.

He and I have actually found the action quite entertaining.

Naturally, both of us being ancient and Neanderthal in our political-correctness, readers must excuse my confession that initially our expectations were not high. We expected that both teams’ fielders would throw in from the deep ‘like girls’; that the fast bowling would be laughable, the athleticism stilted and that, generally, our reaction would be a la Samuel Johnson’s comment on a woman preaching [i.e. it would akin to watching a dog walking on its hind legs, i.e. the interest lay not in the dog’s ability to do it well, but in the fact it was doing it at all].

Happily I can report that we were wrong. Generally, the players were fit, lithe and technically skilled, but not to the level of the men’s game. Fielders ran, gathered the ball and threw in athletically. The pace bowlers ran in with intent. They all wore modern standard-issue cricket clothes; many wore sun-screen blocker on their faces Red Indian-style,  baseball-style caps and sunglasses (when not being used) that were kept upside down on their caps, just like the men; and there was plenty of encouraging ‘chatter’ of the “Good one, Slicker!” variety, e.g. whenever a bowler managed a dot ball.

Womens cricketThat said, the women’s version of cricket is (as you’d expect) different to the men’s. It seemed to me that in the women’s game the batter generally has the advantage over the bowler. Several of the former were excellent in their shot selection and execution, and in their timing of the ball. With the normal-set boundaries, and the anticipated lesser strength of the female gender, overall there were fewer boundaries save to the leg-side where hooks, leg glances and those classic one-dayer strokes (the reverse sweep and hoiks lifting the ball over the inner fielders) were fruitfully deployed. Having said that, there were a welcome number of pleasing off and straight drives too.

Meanwhile, for the most part, the bowlers were up against it. The pace bowlers were a bit wayward in where they put the ball, the slower ones quite easy to put away. Generally, there were far too many full tosses, easily swung away by the batters baseball – or … er … rounders-style.

Anyway. Two ODIs down, with the match-score being 1-1, in this household two male sports fans are eagerly awaiting the next contest.

Just thought you’d like to know that …


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About Guy Danaway

Guy Danaway and his family live on the outskirts of Rugby. He is chairman of a small engineering company and has been a keen club cyclist for many years. He has edited Cycling Weekly since 1984 and is a regular contributor to the media on cycling issues. More Posts