Well, what a fairytale ending it proved to be. Alastair Cook, England’s most prolific run scorer in Test cricket, scored a thunderously acclaimed century in his 161st and final Test match, against India, at The Oval on Monday. And I should know, because I was one of the fortunate people who was there to thunderously acclaim it.
Having scored 71 in the first innings, it was entirely fitting that Cook should start and finish his Test career, which began as an emergency replacement at Nagpur in 2006, with a fifty and a hundred against India. What a way to book-end an international career of outstanding performance and durability. What’s more, he always acquitted himself, whether on or off the field, with the utmost respect towards all and sundry, whether it be team-mates, the opposition, umpires, the press and supporters at large. Cook is an absolute credit to his sport.
And so the spirits sank when, later that day, the BBC News at Ten saw fit to broadcast a piece on the grubby row involving Serena Williams at the US Open (a news item concerning an incident that had taken place two days previously) before only then turning to Cook’s historic achievement – one that had happened that day.
“Serena Williams’s protest in the US Open final has been defended by the Women’s Tennis Association,” said newscaster Huw Edwards at the top of the tennis piece. “She’d been docked a game for calling the umpire a ‘thief’ and a ‘liar’. She claims she’s been the victim of sexism and that male players would have been shown more tolerance.”
Now, it’s axiomatic that issues like sexism and women’s rights are increasingly to the fore in a rapidly changing world. And it’s no secret that sexism and misogyny exist on the tennis circuit, just as they exist in many other areas. But couldn’t the BBC, just for once, have momentarily put their own liberal agenda aside and promoted a joyful, feel-good story such as Cook’s above Williams being defended by the WTA?
A once-in-a-lifetime achievement by the most self-effacing of male cricketers who has set records galore for his country and single-handedly persuaded thousands of extra spectators to make their way to The Oval in the hope of seeing a slice of history made? Or a female tennis player snarling and finger-pointing at a male umpire: “You will never, ever, ever be on a court of mine as long as you live. You are a liar. You stole a point from me. You’re a thief, too” and later claiming that she is the victim of sexism when he had correctly awarded three code violations against her? With the BBC, there was only one choice.
Of course, I realise that I’m quite probably in a minority on this one and that the modern world dictates that, at the BBC, a two-day old story involving issues like sexism and women’s rights takes precedence over a quite superlative achievement by a modest cricketer. I’m obviously the naïve one.