Media: Double Standards - 'Life without exposure to cricket is a life less rich'

Five's Mark Nicholas and Sky Sports' Mike Atherton reveal why this summer is an exciting prospect for cricket fans.

MARK NICHOLAS - presenter, Cricket on Five

- It's not an Ashes summer but which contests will most excite viewers?

Unusually, the Australians are coming for a five-match one-day series and, as ever, their appearance here will stir the soul. Australia has a unique place in our sporting conscience, a legacy of the old jibes from both sides. It may not be the Ashes this summer but no matter, every ticket will be sold at all five venues and passion will override potential indifference to the 50-over game. England beat Australia in the final of the Twenty20 World Cup in the Caribbean recently, so there's plenty to feed off - you know, revenge and all that. Actually, I believe 50-over cricket to be the best of the short forms of the game. Hopefully, the players will prove as much.

- Which players are you most looking forward to watching in action?

Easy ... Kevin Pietersen is one of my favourites of all time. I believe he has genius in him, and he's much maligned and misunderstood. I hate it when people say unkind things about him, they don't know him. He's polite, interested in other people and good company. Also, Craig Keisweter and Steve Finn of England; Michael Clarke, Mitchell Johnson and Steve Smith of Australia; and Shahid Afridi and the Akmal brothers of Pakistan. Pakistan are something else - "mercurial" hardly explains it.

- Which players are the most entertaining to interview?

Michael Vaughan was an outstanding interviewee, he always gave something. Andrew Strauss is very good, too. Pietersen is excellent. Most of them need help, though, a media course or some such thing. Too often the siege mentality kicks in. TV people try to make the players look good, to be our heroes, but they are wary. The Aussies are better overall; Clarke is excellent, as is Doug Bollinger - a great character.

- How good a substitute for playing the game is your broadcasting role?

Well, it's just different. Nothing beats playing or, at least, that's what I thought until I went through the Channel 4 years. Those seven years were the most fulfilling of my working life. In some ways, we reinvented the art of sports broadcasting and now C4 cricket is widely mirrored - the greatest form of flattery, I guess. Duncan Fletcher, the England coach at the time, said we had done more for the perception of the game and for its place in our society than anyone, even the players. As an epitaph, that'll do me.

- What makes your broadcaster's cricket coverage compelling for viewers?

Highlights are limiting by definition but you can't just glue together a series of wickets and boundaries. You have to tell a story, and we do this using superb production and editing. Our coverage is damn good. Last summer, we had a greater reach than the entire annual output of all the main Sky Sports channels. So what Five does is essential viewing for anyone who missed the action, and it's a pretty important review for those who watched it all day.

- What are the most special and unique elements of a cricket summer in England?

Cricket is still our national summer game. For all football's mass support, more people follow cricket than you may think. It is timeless and charming, yet still modern and controversial, and it tests character like no other sport. I am passionate about bringing cricket back into state schools because it is a great loss to those who never experience it. I kid you not, a life without exposure to cricket is a life less rich.

MIKE ATHERTON - presenter, Sky Sports

- It's not an Ashes summer but which contests will most excite viewers?

England against Pakistan will always hold our attention because of the uncertainties it brings and the past controversies between the two teams. Both teams have a number of very talented cricketers, and it should be a keenly fought series. Adding extra spice to this summer's contest will be the fact that the tourists will also be pitting their wits against the Australians in a two-Test mini-series here in England. And, of course, we too will be playing a handful of one-day matches against the Aussies, which will no doubt whet the appetite for the Ashes later on this year. I'm sure the Aussies will be gunning for revenge following their disappointments last summer.

- Which players are you most looking forward to watching in action?

Kevin Pietersen is always a great player to watch for his sense of style and attacking play. After a strong World Cup performance in the Caribbean, I'm sure Pietersen will be looking to take that form into the Test arena. And after the injury frustrations of last year's Ashes, he'll be looking forward to getting stuck into a long and challenging summer of Test cricket.

- Which players are the most entertaining to interview?

Not many is the honest answer, although I realise that sounds ridiculous coming from me! That said, Graeme Swann can always be relied upon to break away from the party line and give us a funny or two.

- How good a substitute for playing the game is your broadcasting role?

Well, nothing beats playing, but it's about the second best thing. Enjoyable, not too stressful and a sense of camaraderie, too. And you can never tire of travelling the world, watching cricket and meeting some very interesting people. It's not a bad life.

- What makes your broadcaster's cricket coverage compelling for viewers?

We cover every single ball of every single England match in glorious high definition. What's more, with Hotspot, Hawkeye, Snicko, Hi-Motion and umpteen cameras, the coverage is more intense and compelling than ever before. Crucially, it is also described by people who have been there and experienced the heat of Test cricket first hand, which gives viewers added insight and analysis. Sky will also soon be making history with the first live 3D TV broadcast of a cricket match in the UK, for the one-dayer between England and Bangladesh on 8 July. I'm sure cricket fans nationwide will be heading to their nearest pub to sample this.

- What are the most special and unique elements of a cricket summer in England?

Test cricket in England has always had immense appeal because of its tradition, history and the still-enthusiastic response of supporters. It is hard to beat a day's Test cricket at Lord's.

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