Spring is in the airwaves

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00

Eighty-five years ago this week, the newly appointed young cricket correspondent of the Manchester Guardian, Neville Cardus, wrote an essay celebrating springtime: "the sweet o' the year," he called it.

The article was redolent of half-forgotten English April smells: linseed oil, blanco, musty pavilions locked since September (now they would probably be used all winter by the playgroup and the teenage disco), and the first cut of grass (which with global warming now more often comes in January).

But the sweet o' the year it still is. And it's not necessary to be a cricketer to enjoy it. Anyone living outside a London tower block can sniff something of the springtime. Gosh, aren't those thingummies nesting in our roof? And, ooh look, the wotsits are in bloom.

The problem now is that it is extremely hard to enjoy it. I know that if I don't get outside sharpish and intervene, the nettles and docks will be strangling the lovely wotsits. But this is also the sweet o' the year for sitting in the armchair.

Last weekend constituted TV Nirvana: the Grand National and the Masters golf, two events that pre-date sport on television but were absolutely made for it. It is impossible to follow the National with the naked eye.

But the TV experience was made doubly pleasurable by the coincidence of the royal wedding. This had the unintended but welcome side-effect of inducing the BBC to cut down on the hours of misty-eyed blather, old film clips and portentous music that its executives roll out on National day in the hope of attracting the kind of viewer who still gets excited by the Windsor family's serial marriages. Actually, it was trebly pleasurable: I backed the winner.

The Masters is another event far better seen from afar. This is true of all golf, because its courses defeat the naked eye. The sport's correspondents spend their working lives sitting in tents with screens. Of course, it's wonderful to visit the Masters at least once and, for those of either dauntless spirit or decent ability, play the course.

But Augusta is a dismal city even by the standards of backwoods US, haute cuisine being represented by the Waffle House. And, within the confines of the Augusta National club, there is always a strong possibility of doing or saying something deemed inappropriate, and being banished forever.

The list of taboos is an idiosyncratic one. Running, for instance, is forbidden. And the inappropriate remarks are not those that apply in most modern US workplaces - ethnic minorities and women don't carry much clout there. But criticising the golf course, or even making gentle fun of it, is out of the question, as more than one TV commentator has discovered. Best to stay at home and see if you can catch Peter Alliss using any of the banned words like "fans" or "rough".

The tournament as a whole this year was mostly wet and bad-tempered. But the climax was entrancing. Tiger Woods' birdie at the 16th will be replayed for ever, and it's great to have him back on form. (Let's not go too crazy though, the technical term for holing a chip like that is "fluke", which I don't think is on the Augusta banned list.) And his battle against Chris DiMarco was fantastic Sunday night television.

It was preceded by Real Madrid v Barcelona, a treat only made possible by satellite TV, and followed in midweek by Liverpool's Champions League tie at Juventus. Objectively, this might be described as a boring game, as 0-0 draws usually are. But it was boring in a thrilling way, because Liverpool knew that one solitary mistake meant they were goners. Their chunky red line of defence held unwaveringly.

Meanwhile, it is indeed the cricket season, which - more through greed than global warming - now lasts nearer six months than the four that was enough in the old days. But English cricket has never even tried to make its arrival anything more than an apologetic shuffle. Nothing televisual there.

It must be said that the feast did come between bouts of starvation. The previous weekend - when the footballing hurly-burly was suspended for England's two dreary World Cup qualifiers - was probably the most dismal Easter for sports-watching since the war.

And what do we have this weekend? Two rather unappetising FA Cup semi-finals and the London Marathon. There is only one worse sporting fate than watching a marathon, and that's being forced to compete. This must be television's way of telling us to weed the garden.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.