Atherton class act at mike
Sport24 Chief Writer Rob Houwing (File)
For pure professionalism and crisp articulation, Mike Atherton is hard to eclipse on the English television commentary team for major cricket.
The former national captain may not be tops for charisma - and in appearance you might mistake him for a commuter-belt accountant or IT geek? - but he does have nice, understated humour and more importantly makes astute cricketing observations.
He is a good foil, in many ways, for the truer “personalities” amidst the Sky crew, whose ranks have been bolstered by our own Shaun Pollock - increasingly more assured at the role these days - for the long-awaited England v SA Test series currently on the go.
There’s no harm in having some slightly more studious types like Atherton for balance when you know that for larger-than-life factor there’s always Beefy Botham (full of yo-ho-ho-and-a-bottle-of-rum bonhomie) and the priceless David Lloyd.
Only “Bumble” can get away with saying something like “I haven’t seen a tit for years” during ball-by-ball duties, though he was digressing to ornithological matters (of course) as cameras caught plump pigeons pecking at the outfield grass during the disappointingly low-tempo day one at The Oval.
Lloyd is clearly a fan of “Big Morne” Morkel, though he couldn’t resist, while paired with the neutral Shane Warne behind the microphone, suggesting that in pre-Test soccer kick-around he felt the lanky paceman was “the worst footballer I’ve ever seen”.
Fortunately Warney spared poor Morkel’s bacon by venturing that in the Baggy Greens’ Shane Watson may lie a suitably strong global rival for, er, awkwardness with a bigger ball.
Even at dull times during play, Atherton, who is a good sport when constantly ribbed about his dead-bat reputation as an opener, is better than most of his colleagues at finding matters of technical interest to relieve the tedium.
You also sense that he is more diligent for “homework” than most commentators on the global circuit (some of whom blow glaringly unscientific hot air) as he is sharp on statistics and cricket history.
*With plenty of options for my televised weekend highlights listed below, it would be remiss of me not to also draw golf fans’ attention to The Open Championship at Lytham St Annes (daily to Sunday, various late morning starts, and coverage ranging between SS1, SS5, CSN and SHD), nor cycling enthusiasts to watch the Tour de France conclude on the Champs Elysees on Sunday (from 14:00, SS6 and SHD3).
Rob’s Awesome Foursome
1. Crusaders v Bulls, Super Rugby finals series qualifier
Christchurch, Saturday 09:35, M-Net, SS1 & SHD
Perhaps the only thing in the Bulls’ favour here is that the Crusaders, still the most successful outfit by far in Super Rugby history, have managed to lose five times in ordinary season, making them quite clearly less than invincible! But they also have an uncanny knack of saving their best for key times ... and tending not to be nearly so charitable to other teams when playing in Christchurch. Ask the very Bulls: it’s been some 16 years without reward for them in that city. Hoodoos there to be broken? Hmm, I just can’t bring myself to tip the visitors, no matter how hard I try. And if the ‘Saders strike early, it could even turn into a grim old day at the office for the jet-lagged men from Pretoria. Crusaders by at least 10 points and perhaps 20, though hope springs eternal. 2. England v South Africa, first cricket Test
London, to Monday 12:00, SS2, SH2 & some CSN
By the time you read this we’ll already be a day’s play down, provided that the not-always-obliging English weather has allowed for it. But whatever’s happened in the early salvoes, plenty of further twists and turns seem likely as the match progresses and clouds, according to reports, gradually lessen. In some respects, let’s not forget, this fixture is probing virgin territory because it has been 29 years since a Test was played this “early” in the UK season at The Oval, better known for its staging of final Tests of keynote series. Geoff Howarth’s New Zealanders were the last to have a mid-July scheduling at the ground, and were comfortably beaten in the first Test of 1983 by Bob Willis’s home outfit. Let’s hope that’s not a bad omen for the Proteas. 3. Reds v Sharks, Super Rugby finals series qualifier
Brisbane, Saturday 11:40, M-Net, SS1 & SHD
I fancy we’re in for a terrific contest here, with the Sharks – despite the long-haul factor – in with at least a 50-50 chance, by my optimistic book. I like the shape of their starting line-up on paper, with Willem Alberts wisely accommodated in the second row of a forceful tight five to keep the electric Daniel-Coetzee-Kankowski loosie alliance intact. And say what you like about the non-presence of Messrs Lambie and Steyn ... Fred Michalak at No 10 and a midfield partnership of Timmy Whitehead and young Paul Jordaan has potential by the bag-load. The key thing will be on-day delivery, and don’t be mistaken for thinking I am writing off the Reds. They are not the champions for nothing, but I’m going for Sharks by two on a gut feel ...4. Ajax Cape Town v Manchester United, DHL Tour 2012 soccer friendly
Cape Town, Saturday 15:00, SABC1
OK, there’s no great gravitas to this occasion ... but try telling that to the 50 000 souls expected to brave the (threatening, apparently) elements for the Red Devils’ encounter with locals Ajax. At the very least it will be a “spectacle” and a chance to eliminate cobwebs from the excellent but sadly still problem-plagued Cape Town Stadium. Certainly there was little wrong with the vibe – or vibrancy of football -- at Moses Mabhida when United pipped AmaZulu on Wednesday, and for all the absenteeism there are still some illustrious names in their travelling midst. I saw several tweets lamenting the less-than-sharp picture quality on SABC1’s broadcast from Durban ... here’s hoping this one might be a bit better?