Media: A Moment with Marquis

How many times do you find yourself in agreement with Kelvin MacKenzie?

Worryingly often, in my case, because the old right-wing curmudgeon, sniffer-out of bullshit and no-nonsense free-marketeer talks the sort of old-fashioned common sense (sometimes, at any rate) that is in woefully short supply in our benighted country.

His Nibs was on the telly the other night with David Brook, the erstwhile head of strategy at Channel 4, discussing the "affront" of Test match cricket upping stumps from Channel 4 for the smooth new wicket of Sky.

No surprise, I guess, that Kelvin backed Sky while Brook defended his old employer.

There can be no question that Channel 4 has done an outstanding job with cricket. It's got the best commentators, attention-grabbing camera positions, techie wizardry that shows when the umpires cock up and any amount of facts, figures, history and general cricketing wonderment. People at BBC Sport are muttering into their Chardonnay about how irritatingly good it is.

Channel 4 has even had the good fortune for English cricket to wake up after a quarter of a century and become what even non-cricket people must admit is skilful, competitive and thoroughly watchable.

And Channel 4's reward for all this? The Spanish Archer. The Order of the Boot. The English Cricket Board's decision to defect to Sky is on a par with Churchill winning the war and being dumped by the electorate six weeks later.

This was Brook's line. The British people, he told Newsnight, had a right to watch English Test matches on free-to-air TV. Of course, it is easy to go along with such generous sentiments. But it is an increasingly indefensible position. Why should televised cricket be free? Nothing else is, even driving around London. Channel 4 operates in a market and is generally happy to do so. So does the ECB. Cricket will get more money and more exposure - it calculates - if it awards the coverage to Sky. "Rights" don't come into it. Opportunities do.

And what, in heaven's name, is wrong with that? The same market reality has improved Premiership football, golf, beach volleyball - you name it.

Intervention in TV, as in any market, is usually unhelpful and ultimately doomed. I think it was another unfashionable icon who intoned 20-odd years ago: "You can't buck the market." But then Mrs Thatcher never understood that challenging entrenched views of any sort, let alone those about cricket, is ... well ... just not cricket.


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