OPINION: MILLS ON ... CHANNEL 4 CRICKET ADS

Personally, I blame Sky. While the satellite broadcaster has unquestionably raised the bar for the way TV covers live sport, there's something about its sports trailers that is a turn-off. It's the breathless excitement with which games such as Alloa versus Forfar Athletic are dressed up as the most exciting, dramatic grudge match of all time that defies belief and, of course, devalues the anticipation due matches of genuine import.

I wouldn't mind so much if the Sky style of trailers hadn't infected every other broadcaster. Recent Radio 5 Live trailers for the one-day cricket series were a case in point, featuring members of the various teams talking about their opponents as if they were taking on the SAS in hand-to-hand combat. Much as broadcasters like to talk sport up as war by other means, it isn't - and certainly not when we're talking England versus Zimbabwe. Besides, it all becomes laughable when you hear sportspeak, a language in which the key words or phrases include "zone", "focus", "it's a big ask" and its first cousin, "a tall ask".

All this makes some new in-house ads from Channel 4 for its coverage of the England/South Africa series, starting this week, interesting. They are about as far removed from Sky syndrome as you can get, for which we should all be grateful.

Just as football benefited from the vigour and energy of Sky's coverage, so Channel 4's coverage of cricket has been a breath of fresh air after years of the BBC's jolly japes style of public school broadcasting.

For a sport whose fanbase profile was in danger of resembling that of the Tory Party's (ie. ageing, irrelevant and from the Shires), this can only be a good thing.

As in all broadcast rights deals, the relationship is symbiotic. Just as cricket needs Channel 4 to bring in new, younger audiences who don't traditionally watch cricket, so Channel 4 needs the archetypal upmarket cricket fan (20 years younger, of course) to attract the advertisers it needs if it is to recoup its investment.

As for the ads ... you know when a car manufacturer runs a car ad without a car and everybody takes a sharp intake of breath, half admiring in an "ooh er, that's a bit brave" way, half apprehensively in a "there must be a good reason - maybe it's really ugly" way.

Well, that's the starting point for these Channel 4 ads. A variety of spots show men being dutiful. In one, a man listens to his daughter murdering the oboe at a school concert; in another, dad is shocked to realise they are going to the mother-in-law's for lunch; in the third, an I'd-rather-be-somewhere-else father is attending his son's graduation. And where would they rather be? Why, watching the cricket, of course, a point made by the strapline: "It's just not cricket." As for the live action shots so beloved of sports trailers, they're confined to about two seconds at the end. Why? Don't they have faith in the product itself?

I'm a bit equivocal about these ads. I like the fact that they don't resort to military metaphor and crude hype. They're quite lateral, in a gentle sort of way.

On the other hand, they strike me as slightly apologetic. That's because they don't promote cricket as an attractive sport in its own right, merely a better alternative to fulfilling dull family obligations - and we can all think of a million things to do that would be better than those.

As a result, all these ads do is remind the dedicated fan that the cricket is on Channel 4, without doing much to sell the game to the unconverted.

If you're a cricket fan, you want broadcasters to promote the game to the widest possible audience. Channel 4 has done a wonderful job in this respect to date so this development, just like the traditional England middle-order collapse, is a disappointment.

Dead cert for a Pencil? Sorry, it won't trouble the scorers.

File under ... F for forward defensive.

What would the chairman's wife say? "I take it you won't be coming to

lunch with my mother on Saturday then."