Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The rise of online cricket info...

Guest blogger and good friend of the Middle Stump, James Castle has a look at how cricket coverage used to be in the old days of when the internet first started and the rise of online media covering the game. I would say things have taken a turn for the better, but here James looks through retro rose tinted specs at what it was like trying to find out how quickly Glenn McGrath would go through the English batting order.

No need for the radio Glenn, get on the World Wide Web!

To a man of my somewhat advanced age a computer was something that you wired up to a TV and a cassette recorder in order to wait ten minutes to play a game involving pressing a few keys on a keyboard to enable a small pixelated figure evade some monsters, but that all changed when I got a job in a university library in late 1995 and I was introduced to a white plastic behemoth known as a personal computer (which I had to share with four other people) and something referred to as electronic mail.  I was most excited to find out that not only did I have my own e-mail address, it wasn’t just an internal one but one that would allow me to communicate with anyone in the world who had one.  My excitement was deflated mere seconds later when I realized that I didn’t have any friends or acquaintances in the world that had an email address, so I had no-one I could contact anyway.
About a month into my employment I was also introduced to something else that in those days was referred to as the World Wide Web, the internet then referring to every other form of electronic information sharing done outside of Internet Explorer and Netscape.  

This was a bit like being given the keys to a new house and then discovering that your garden is the same size as Siberia, and just as bloody difficult to find things in.  In those halcyon days there was probably only, ooh, tens of millions of websites up and running but even then there were fan sites for obscure football clubs, sites where you could find people who really did think that Shakespeare was Norman Collier and sites that promised to show you things that could potentially get you sacked from your job, and which we were told politely not to try and gain access to, although, one of our jobs was to patrol the library computers for students using the web for immoral purposes. I can tell you we certainly saw a few things that were previously believed to be anatomically impossible!

Now with their multi screen app Cricinfo has certainly moved forward

One of the downsides of the job was that we had to work evenings and weekends in order to man the help desks.  This was particularly irksome whenever there was a big sporting event on that we wanted to watch.  There was almost nothing in the way of live streaming in those days so I still had to program our video to record crucial Euro 96 football games (although, pre-smart phones, it was a lot fucking easier to avoid finding out the results) but when it came to the Ashes in 1997 this posed a real problem as my video did not have long play and I had not enough free time to watch an entire day of cricket when I got home anyway.

It was then that I found, courtesy of our ancient help desk PC that was so battered and care-worn that it presumably was custom-built for the Soviet space race, that I discovered a gem of a site called Cricinfo which I found by using a wonderfully named (now sadly closed) search engine called Hotbot.  Now this was a real find. 

I don’t personally know the history of the site but it was then in its pre-ESPN days and looked as chunkily home-made as a grandmother’s tomato chutney but what it did provide you with was (almost) live ball-by-ball commentary that we had failed to get via TMS, our basement location meaning that a long wave signal was only possible if you hung a radio out of the window.  You had to remember to manually load the page though and some of the ball by ball descriptions were, well, pretty non descript but this, in my opinion, was what the internet was bloody built for.  That, and pictures of Anna Kournikova.

What the net was made for!

I was surprised to find that England only lost the series 3-2 as in my memory it was by a wider margin but that could have been tainted by me being given a verbal dressing-down by my boss for swearing at the PC monitor in front of the students during our shambolic first innings of 77 at Lord’s, McGrath ripping through the innings like a Phal through a digestive tract, after ten pints of scrumpy.  

I also remember spending a quiet Saturday afternoon trying to explain the LBW rule to a bunch of foreign students and failing – akin to the sketch on ‘The Fast Show’ where the guy at the dinner party tries to explain the offside rule.

The Cricinfo site was a bloody revelation to say the least.  It brought to mind an eager work placement student cradling an enormous laptop on his knees as he tapped away from an obscure vantage point tucked away at the top of a stand.  As well as the ability to get a visual version of the kind of audio description normally found on TMS (though without the Battenberg) it also incorporated a pure gem which was audio files of each player saying his own name.

Meeearrrk Wooouagh....baaaaad heeeeaairrrcut!

For the 1997 Ashes squad this included Ian Healy sounding like he was Woody Woodpecker speaking through a mouthful of helium after chugging down half a pound of speed, and Steve Waugh talking so quietly that even with the sound up full blast it sounded like a muffled orgasm heard three hotel rooms away.  

His brother Mark, though, proved a firm favourite with his elongated “Meeearrrkk Woooooouauuuuuugh!” not only being a purely wonderful example of the Aussie accent in full rip but also, if you managed to pause the file just before he finished saying his first name, sounded exactly like the kind of throaty groan made by Kenneth Connor whenever he got an eyeful of Barbra Windsor’s front googlies.  It also had possibly one of the finest misspellings I have ever come across when, describing a boundary hit by Graham Thorpe, I was informed that it had raced away to the boundary, “fielders chasing in van”.

Today Cricinfo, like most other specialist sports sites, is a superb resource with more statistics stuffed in than grandchildren in an Austrian cellar and one where you would be happy to spend a good few hours rooting around (not the cellar, obviously) but sometimes I still harken back to those older times where it really did provide cricket fans with a really unique way to be engaged with the action.


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