When it comes to sport, time is on my side

Football season: shorter days, longer hair on the dog, lots of games on time-shift. For dedicated recorders of all sports, those who don’t want to miss out on anything but are too time poor to watch every second, the most exercised bodily extremity this winter will be the remote-control thumb.

For time-poor time-shifters, deep thought goes into how judiciously to apply the fast-forward mode to different sports. What speed to fast forward, so as to get the gist without wasting precious minutes? How to develop an instinct for reading the game, the X-factor, the ability to see things before they happen, to bend time, as it were, to our will?

Cricket, surprisingly for a slow game, is a hard sport to watch on time-shift. While you can easily fast forward (x30) through the ads, there is nothing in a bowler’s run-up (slip to x6) that indicates what is about to happen: wicket ball, dot ball, boundary ball all look the same before they are released. Consequently, if you watch cricket on x6, you save time but lose all suspense. On day five of the Cape Town Test, the masochistic pleasure lay in the suffering, the ball after ball of mounting anxiety, until the ultimate release in Ryan Harris’ stupendous last over. Time-shifting takes all this away. You fast forward through the significant moments, and then go back to watch them again. It’s as satisfying as speed-reading War and Peace. You get to the end and all you really know is the result. Time-shift rating: 2/10.

Surfing is a slow sport that lends itself better to time-shifting. In real time, watching the world tour events at Snapper Rocks has been as riveting as watching the tide come in. With time-shifting, you can see the waves coming (x12) and watch them in real time. The added bonus is that you skip the gibber and interviews between waves. The downside is that while watching the waves you have to endure America’s Joe “The Paranoid Adenoid” Turpel doing radio with pictures: “Off the bottom, wrap off the top, big carve, tap on the roof, finds the section, radical hack, floater, and . . . incomplete”. The slogan of this year’s event is “Make it golden”. Silence is golden, Joey, see if you can make it. Time-shift rating: 8/10.

Skiing and snowboarding, by contrast, are time-shift resistant. If you want the results, read them in the paper. Otherwise, they have to be watched in real time or not at all. The one good use of the remote in these sports is to rewind and watch again, or to watch in reverse, which is pretty funny. Ditto tennis. Time-shift rating: 1/10.

Football is less amenable to time-shifting than you’d think. Bad matches are easy enough. Teams knock it around in their own half (x6, or x12 if it’s Wellington), bang it forward (x2), then lose it so the other team knocks it about (x6) and moves into attack (x2). But in good matches, where attacking moves can come out of nowhere – pretty much the definition of a good match – the flow changes too quickly for the time-shifter. Australian rules is in the same category. You might be happily x6-ing through a defensive build or a ball-up when bang, turnover, attacking play, goal! You’ve missed the fun. Time-shift-rating: 3/10.

Golf is nicely time-shiftable. Make them walk at x12, then play their shots in real time. It’s very Nintendo. Moving that thumb keeps you busy, helps pass the time, nobody gets hurt. Time-shift rating: 9/10.

Then we come to rugby. Union has one big appeal to the time-shifter. The ball is in play for 35 to 38 of the scheduled 80 minutes. With added stoppages for injuries and drinkies, and there’s no excuse for not saving 45 to 60 minutes right there. No rugby match should take more than half an hour to watch. When there are scrums, lineouts and multi-phase rucking, the thumb is pretty much fixed to x12. Goal kicks, x30. The only thing that stops you watching entire rugby union games in fast forward is that occasionally tries are scored. Bring it to x2 and the ball movement looks like the 1980s. Pretty much the perfect time-shift sport: 9/10.

Rugby league, finally. Well, in the mid-1980s, league was crying out for x12 fast forward. Then, for a few years, it became so watchable that the only part you could fast forward was the scrums. Then they became too quick. The game became almost hypnotically fast. But in the last couple of years the predictability programmed by over coaching has made NRL too time-shiftable for comfort. Each set, you can do the first four tackles in x12. Then x6 for the fourth tackle, and watch only the fifth in real time. And then, if there’s going to be a kick, keep it in x2. The rule changes for 2014 will be like giving Ritalin to a coke addict. Too fast! This will only increase the resemblance to touch, a boring sport unless you’re playing it. Teams get end to end too fast, then stall in the red zone. There’s a lot of dummy half and one-out running and few breakouts from the attacking team’s own half. The danger with the NRL is that it may become a sport you can watch entirely on x6 or x12 until tackle five. A faster game doesn’t necessarily mean greater entertainment. Microwaved food doesn’t taste better. And fast forward can mean, paradoxically, that life passes you by. Time-shift rating? Oh, forget it, I’m taking the dog for a walk.

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