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Thursday, July 09, 2009

It's the Ashes. Look away now.

Everyone above a certain age remembers "No Hiding Place", the episode of "Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads" where they sought to avoid learning the score of an England international until the evening's highlights. It seemed a bit of a stretch even then. Nowadays if you want to avoid knowing what happened in the last minute of a major sporting occasion you have to remove yourself from society entirely. Now that the Ashes has begun it's an all-day hazard once again. During the 2005 Ashes I was working in an office with a window into an adjoining room in the corner of which was a television. That meant I only had to glance up to get a rough idea of what was happening. I couldn't see detail but I nonetheless developed a way of reading the play just from the camera angles the director was selecting. Wide shot with lots of green meant a boundary. Close-up meant batsman was having torrid time. When the games were taking place overseas I followed the ball-by-ball coverage on the excellent Cricinfo. Sinister patterns begin to appear. A dot ball took no time to come up on the screen. If the page was taking a while to refresh that could mean a wicket. The reporter was busy filling out the details. It's like the off-screen yelp of the football-watching ex-pros on Jeff Stelling's programme or Alan Green saying "we're going to go to White Hart Lane in a moment" on Five Live; an entirely new form of the thousand natural shocks that sport is heir to. Compared to all this agonisingly mediated information actually being at a match is a breeze.

Contrast all this with Charters and Caldicott in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Lady Vanishes". This pair are trying to get back by train from some unspecified Mittel European country on the brink of war in time to catch the last day of the Test Match. The progress of the train is of course interrupted by disappearing women, the always distracting Margaret Lockwood, shoot-outs with secret agents and regular passport checks by fascist jobsworths. And yet they never lose their faith that they will be returned to Victoria in time to scoot across town to Euston and take the train to Manchester that will get them to Old Trafford in time to see the last day's play.