'Richie II' doesn't cut it
Rob Houwing’s ‘Tops on the Telly’ column
There’s truly only one Richie Benaud, so whoever was going to become the anchorman of Australia’s Nine Network television coverage of cricket faced a herculean challenge.
Mark Nicholas seems more and more likely to assume the mantle on a long-term basis, considering that he’s again generally fronted the presentation (picked up by SuperSport for SA transmission purposes) of the four-Test series between the Baggy Greens and India thus far.
The 54-year-old is unusual, of course, in that he is an Englishman - some Aussies might automatically brand that a crime of a massively heinous nature - and a glaring exception to the glittering “Nine” panel in that he never played at the highest level of the game.
At least the staple Tony Greig, South African-born but a former England skipper, did ... and has lived in Oz for many years.
But Nicholas did captain Hampshire to several trophies and also briefly be in charge of the England ‘A’ team, so that is no special impediment to his right to call Test cricket – nor should it be, though it seems to help massively these days.
And I suppose you have to admire him, to a good degree, for determinedly forcing his way up the ladder to the top of the pecking order in the land of the old Ashes enemy.
Nicholas is just not my cup of tea, though. He does his level best to come across as urbane as the incomparable Benaud, and can hardly be accused of being inarticulate or lacking in gusto.
But I also find him just too suave and impeccably-groomed for his own good, and perhaps also a little too quick to trumpet all things Australian in a cricketing context - a case of not wanting to bite the hand that feeds you?
No wonder, in profiling him once, The Wisden Cricketer magazine in the UK wittily headlined the article “The Hair Apparent” ...
Rob’s Awesome Threesome:
1. South Africa v Sri Lanka, third cricket Test
Cape Town, to Saturday 10:30, SABC3, SS2 & SH2
This column was written as the Sri Lankans embarked on their follow-on innings, so whether the Test and series goes all the way to a suspenseful finish on Saturday very much remained to be seen. So maybe this is actually a good opportunity to remind you that the ODI series kicks in from Wednesday at the unusual venue for the Proteas of Boland Park (14:30, SuperSport2 and SABC3). The Paarl ground hasn’t seen service at international level since it staged Netherlands v Pakistan at the 2003 World Cup, so there’s a bit of a novelty value in the occasion – the DuToitskloof Mountains setting is as idyllic as ever even if the pitch can be a bit of a test of patience.
2. Equatorial Guinea v South Africa, friendly soccer international
Bata, Friday 18:00, SABC1
Some of the SABC1 programme schedules I’ve visited still stubbornly say “Intersexions” in the 20:30 slot, although newspaper reports suggest that there will, indeed, be live coverage of Bafana’s friendly against the Afcon co-hosts at the Estadio de Bata. (Never believe it until you actually see it, say I cynically.) There are also rumours of an altered 18:00 kick-off. The South African squad has an incredibly experimental look to it, albeit that a few stalwarts will also turn out, so it’s hard to know what to expect. Please Bafana, just offer us a bit more bottle than you showed in that depressing 2-1 reverse in Zimbabwe in mid-November!
3. Manchester City v Manchester United, FA Cup third round soccer
Manchester, Sunday 15:00, SS3, SH2 & Maximo
This was the amazing match-up announced as the Premiership teams finally and traditionally came out of the FA Cup hat for round three. It’s one against two in the league, and a clash of bitter derby rivals with both experiencing certain forms of “difficulty” recently. Although City have since bounced back with a 3-0 tonic against Liverpool, each of the protagonists has returned from New Year trips to the north-east with tails between legs, courtesy of Sunderland and Newcastle respectively, and United are reeling from back-to-back Premiership defeats. With so much football played of late, squad depth could be a factor in this tie, with City obviously better stocked right now ...