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Cricket gets creative

Ben Gallop Ben Gallop | 08:45 UK time, Thursday, 22 March 2007

I'll come clean - I wish I was in the Caribbean. Sadly I'm stuck in wintry west London right now, but I'm not letting that minor geographical drawback get in the way of my enjoyment of the Cricket World Cup.

On a professional level, there is something about a World Cup that never fails to get the creative juices flowing - events like this tend to have a catalytic affect on the media industry. They have long been the driver for innovation, pushing the boundaries of what is possible and setting new standards of audience expectation. Colour TV, HD TV, broadband video streaming - all have been driven forward by their association with World Cups.

When it comes to the internet specifically, I'm a great believer that major sporting events have a key role to play in long-term new media development. Any self-respecting sports website wants the bums on seats that a big event brings in for a few weeks every four years - but the canny ones will also recognise that World Cups can help create an editorial and technological legacy that lives beyond the sport itself.

And while it may not have the awesome cross-over power of its bigger footballing sibling, the 2007 Cricket World Cup is already proving a fertile breeding ground for internet innovation.

When you look back at our own coverage of the last Cricket World Cup, in South Africa in 2003, it's clear how much this medium has moved on. The big advances we've made on the BBC Sport website have mainly been around our live coverage and in our interactivity.

Live is obviously where it matters for cricket fans and our text commentaries in 2007 are a big step on from 2003, as we've given a couple of our best writers, Ben Dirs and Tom Fordyce, license to be creative and at the same time make the most of the BBC's radio coverage by incorporating choice bon mots from Test Match Special. I would accept that the irreverent tone of these pieces may not be to everyone's taste - but we've had a great deal of feedback and it's fair to say the positive reaction has far outweighed the negative. In fact judging by the steady flow of email praise, Messrs Dirs and Fordyce appear to be generating something of a cult following.

The second area of real advance has been around interactivity and I've been hugely encouraged by the reaction to our Test Match Special Blog, which showcases some of the BBC's best cricketing journalism, from the TMS on-air team to web writers like Martin Gough and Paresh Soni. Clearly there has been no shortage of talking points for them in their first week or so of the tournament, but I'm convinced the blog has given us new scope to cover stories like Ireland's upset of Pakistan, Flintoff's "pedalo-gate" and, of course, the tragedy of Bob Woolmer's death. Alison Mitchell's personal tribute to the great coach certainly seemed to touch a nerve with you and it's been gratifying to see so many comments and mini-debates generated off the back of our blog entries.

But enough BBC navel-gazing. As both a keen cricket fan and a student of online sport, I'm just as interested in seeing what other sites are up to for the World Cup.

All over the web there are signs of creativity in full flow. Cricinfo, the specialist cricket site, are offering their usual comprehensive service - with some added extras like their new 3D Cricket, which is produced by the same company that provide our own football Virtual Replays. This is an ambitious attempt to provide ball-by-ball graphical representations of the action. From a purist's perspective it might not be perfect and there are times when the Shockwave images aren't necessarily consistent with the text description. But there are far worse ways to follow a cricket match than this and they deserve credit for trying something new.

Guardian Unlimited know a thing or two about live coverage and while their highly-regarded over-by-over reports may not exactly be pushing the technological boundaries, they have a freshness and vibrancy which belies their Web 1.0 look and feel.

If you're a fan of video over broadband, then Sky Sports are providing highlights - as long as you're a subscriber to their Sky Anytime package. Their site also has a 'CWC Blog', but to be honest I've yet to see much evidence of genuine blogging on there. Give it time, I suppose...

There's more blogging to be had over at The Telegraph, on their Bay 13 blog - which is named after the "notorious section of the MCG where the rowdiest fans congregate". There weren't too many rowdy fans congregating on the site when I looked - but the most impressive step forward The Telegraph has taken is probably around its multimedia provision, with audio analysis from the likes of Simon Hughes and video coverage of events like Flintoff's mea culpa news conference.

Indeed, The Telegraph is not the only newspaper that has ramped up its web presence for the World Cup. Everywhere you look there are signs of old media operations making the mad dash to the new frontier of the internet. With print circulation falling, the papers are starting to act as 24/7 media providers and - at least in theory - are placing the web at the heart of their cricket services. The lines are increasingly becoming blurred as traditional broadcasters like ourselves and Sky provide more and more written journalism, at exactly the time that newspapers like The Times and The Sun are beginning to market themselves as expert purveyors of audio-video content.

All this convergence on the web is fascinating for the media anorak, as the old certainties and traditions are rapidly destroyed by new technology and changing audience behaviour.

But it's also great news for the cricket fan. The days of having to sit in front of page 341 of Ceefax watching the scores tick over are gone - there are just so many different ways to follow the action now.

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