28 April 2018

CIDERABAD

‘It’s disgraceful what they did. I’ve never seen such a doctored pitch. The intent was there, so the combination of a below average pitch and intent, that changes things. There are guidelines for counties to produce the best possible pitch for matches. It was a dreadful pitch. In 35 years of cricket I haven’t seen many things like that.’

These were the words of Middlesex’s Director of Cricket (and England selector) Angus Fraser after his team lost at Taunton last season, a result which condemned them to relegation. The preparation of spinning pitches at the County Ground has proven highly controversial on the English county scene, so there was much interest in January when the former Somerset Chief Executive, Lee Cooper, announced that Somerset would be discontinuing the practice.

For many Somerset fans, this seemed like madness; the turning tracks had, they argued, offered the best chances of home victories over several seasons. No doubt visiting teams breathed a sigh of relief. Even neutrals took a view, arguing that the England cricket team needs at least one county ground to step up and act as a ‘spin clinic’.


A brief history of spin in the south west


The whole saga began at the end of the 2015 season when Somerset won a remarkable victory against Warwickshire on a pitch which was drier than intended. Jack Leach had taken two wickets for 217 at Taunton that season; now he took 11 for 180 as 24 wickets fell to spin. Jeetan Patel took a career-best seven for 38 and batsman Tom Cooper – who had previously taken fewer than ten first class wickets – claimed five for 76. At the last gasp, Somerset had survived a relegation battle. ‘Ciderabad’ was born.




How wickets have fallen at Taunton (2015—2017)
Wickets
To spin
% to spin
2015
239
73
31
2016
258
121
47
2017
225
126
56


Over the next couple of years, it seemed that Somerset could do no wrong as long as the pitch was dusty, so dustier and dustier it became. Spin repeatedly overwhelmed entire batting orders: in 2016 SurreyDurhamWarwickshire and Nottinghamshire were all beaten by Leach, whose spin wizardry cast spells in league with either or both of Dom Bess and Roelof van der Merwe. Somerset came within a cat’s whisker of winning their first ever Championship title. The autumn wicket harvest was plentiful and life was good.


Somerset’s spin attack at Taunton (2015—2017)

Matches
Wickets
Best
Average
Leach
18
94
7–106
21.28
Bess
8
41
7–117
18.02
van der Merwe
8
30
4–22
21.30


Naturally, they took the same approach the following season, but the plot took a twist. When Somerset travelled, they were confronted with green-tops. Opponents came to Taunton better prepared and took wickets. The Somerset batsmen were struggling to score runs, at home and away. Somerset’s average first innings total fell from 412 in 2015 to 266 in 2017. Now they were being beaten at home. Dawson and Crane came to Taunton with the Hampshire team and beat Somerset at their own game. Simon Lee was instructed to prepare the biggest Bunsens of his life for the final two home games against Lancashire (against whom Somerset fielded only one seam bowler) and Middlesex and only then – and to the fury of Angus Fraser – did Somerset manage to survive relegation.


Average totals at Taunton (2015—2017)

1st innings
2nd innings
Somerset
Visitors
Somerset
Visitors
2015
412
331
263
353
2016
305
279
290
188
2017
266
224
201
243

Average innings totals (2015—2017)
1st
2nd
3rd
4th
2017
336
295
278
175

Towards a greener future


Memory is selective. In reality, ‘Ciderabad’ didn’t serve Somerset so well as people imagine. In 2016 and 2017, it earned them the six victories mentioned above, but they also lost four home games, three of which were last year. Their batsmen were so short of time in the middle – and faced so much spin at home – that they risked faltering against seam attacks when travelling, which is exactly what happened at the Oval and Old Trafford.


Mindful of Lee Cooper’s words spelling the end of ‘Ciderabad’, while commentating on Somerset’s opening match against Worcestershire last week, I spoke to their management about the policy of preparing spinning pitches. 
‘In the past, it was a way for us to give ourselves the best possible chance of winning,’ said Andy Hurry, the newly-installed Director of Cricket. ‘And yes, for the players, it was an opportunity for them to test themselves against spin. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But if we’re going to win the Championship, we need a strategy that gives us the best possible chance of winning any game, at home or away. Our skill levels have to be better than the opposition in all areas, whether that’s batting against spin or batting against pace.’

Jason Kerr, the Head Coach, agrees. ‘In the Worcestershire game, we produced a seaming pitch on which Renshaw and Hildreth found opportunities to score that Worcestershire couldn’t find. We outskilled Worcestershire on a seaming pitch. We only bowled two overs of spin in the whole match.’ Hurry and Kerr believe that the ‘Ciderabad’ approach cannot bring home the elusive first class trophy because it focuses on two skills – bowling and facing spin on helpful pitches – to the near-exclusion of all other skills. A Somerset team thus drilled should be easily beaten on a seaming track or a flat deck. Moreover, it risks limiting players’ development.


‘We have a number of excellent seam bowlers,’ Hurry explains. ‘We’ve seen Craig Overton make the test team and we have others who will push for Lions and senior honours this year. Lewis Gregory would be at the forefront of that. Spinning pitches marginalise their role in the game, and they also alienate the batsmen who have strong techniques against the seamers. Our strategy is to make sure we’re developing all our players.’ In other words, the batsmen struggle against spin at home and against seam away, the seam bowlers don’t bowl as much and the spinners find things too easy.


The Somerset Chairman, Charles Clark, has a pithy way of putting it: ‘What’s the point in paying money to employ very good seamers just to have them bowl three overs to take the shine off the ball, and then loiter at short fine leg for the rest of the day?’ This is an observation no doubt familiar to Lewis Gregory, whose contract expires this year, and who is currently considering his future – another county has made him an offer, and his departure would be a major disappointment for Somerset, who grew him from a cricketing seed.


Hurry wastes no time in describing his ideal Taunton pitch. ‘I want a pitch that has pace and bounce and carry, that will bring the seamers into the game. The batters enjoy the ball coming onto the bat too. And I want that pitch to deteriorate over four days, that brings in the other elements and skills that are essential to winning the game.’


Somerset have a superbly balanced bowling attack. They have four fit fast bowlers – Gregory, Craig Overton, Tim Groenewald and Josh Davey – and contrasting spinners in Bess and Leach. All of them have career averages under 30. Hurry and his team want the seamers to do the damage in the first innings, and the spinners to wrap the game up in the second. They have asked their managers to support them in this aim, and they have received wholehearted support.


It is arguably Lee’s team of groundstaff who face the stiffest challenge. The County Ground is naturally a benign, flat pitch with a long term reputation as a bowler’s graveyard. It can be left grassy to create a seamer’s paradise and – as everybody now knows – it can be dried out until it turns square. It will take some persuading to become the sort of pitch that Hurry, Kerr and Clark desire. ‘It’s not as simple as just telling a groundsman to prepare a certain type of pitches. It’s an art. And sometimes the weather acts against you,’ admits Clark. Kerr acknowledges such difficulties: ‘I hoped that the pitch for the Worcestershire game would bring spin into the game later on, but the weather leading up to the game meant the pitch was too damp, too soft for us to get out of it what we wanted.’


But what of the wider point? English cricket needs a centre of excellence for bowling and facing spin. It is abundantly clear that ‘Ciderabad’ helped Somerset to develop the two best England-qualified finger-spinners in the domestic game (no opposing rival has outbowled either of them, at Taunton or anywhere else). To abandon the policy is surely a backward step as far as the test team is concerned.



Wickets taken by spinners at Taunton (2015—2017)

by Som
Avge
by Opp
Avge
2015
32
36.88
41
32.37
2016
78
19.24
43
35.49
2017
74
21.22
52
25.10

Clark clearly sees the greater good, and he thinks the ECB management does too. ‘I think Andrew Strauss would like to see spinning pitches here. It’s good for the England team to have spinning pitches to develop their skills on. But they never came.’ Why fill the trough if the horse never comes to drink?


In any case, Hurry believes that his new approach – ‘upskilling in all areas’ is an expression he and Kerr use repeatedly – will ultimately prove more beneficial to England. ‘If we become a successful team, that means our players will have been successful, and I expect to lose successful players to the international squad. I’m comfortable that we have the players who can fill the breach.’


If Leach does play for England this summer, Somerset have not only Bess but also van der Merwe – like Leach, a left-arm finger-spinner – to take care of the slow bowling. Kerr identifies Paul van Meekeren and Ollie Sale alongside Jamie Overton – now sidelined with a side strain – as the next cabs off the rank in the seam bowling department. Certainly he has the bowling quality and depth to win the Championship. If it is to prove even remotely possible, it seems that the batsmen will need to be freed of the torture of trying to get in and stay in on a raging turner. If Somerset are to keep their title hopes alive, then it is perhaps for the best that Ciderabad is dead.

21 April 2018

THINKING INSIDE THE BOX: PART 2 

It’s not just the national and county selectors who scratch their heads and chew their pencils when faced with the challenge of assembling the ‘ideal team’. The radio and television broadcasters are posed with just as many dilemmas, and face just as much public criticism if the armchair viewer or listener feels they’ve got it wrong. Who are the essential members of your perfect commentary team? To help you decide, here is part two of an A to Z of the different breeds of cricket commentator on show at your local ground this summer (part one may be found here).

N is for Newbie
We come from one of four stables: the blog and vlog media (Vithushan Ehantharajah and Peter Miller), the field of play (Fabian Cowdrey and Paul Johnson), the BBC Sport staff (Charlie Taylor and Michael Perkins) or the under-the-radar commentary services such as Test Match Sofa and Guerilla Cricket (Dan Norcross and me). We don our pristine ‘pitch access’ lanyards and our ‘We are England Cricket’ photographic passes and we tiptoe – nervously, self-consciously – past the advertising hoardings, over the boundary rope and onto the field of play. There is no objection from the groundstaff, no funny look from the players as they warm up, no full-length rugby tackle from a man with a headset and high-viz jacket. Can it be real?

O is for Overseas
The BBC has an uncanny knack of talent spotting ex-pros to act as visiting summarisers to match the nationality of England’s opponents. Who else could have guessed that Matthew Hayden or Glenn McGrath could have been so engaging and insightful behind the microphone? Test Match Special’s particular specialism, though, is the foreign ball-by-baller: the visiting voices such as Tony Cozier, Jim Maxwell, Bryan Waddle and Harsha Bhogle which appear every four years to add colour and variety to the tones of the box. Without them, the English summer might just be too English.

P is for Polymaths
Adam Collins and Geoff Lemon have 27 hours in a day. They must have. That’s the only explanation for the prodigious volume of their output, the variety of their roles and the speed with which they disappear in one country only to reappear in another. In the last twelve months, Collins has written for The Guardian almost daily, commentated for the ABC and the BBC, penned countless articles for ESPN Cricinfo, worked for The Nightwatchman, The Cricketer, the annual and monthly Wisden, and put together (with Lemon) the Final Word podcast in audio and video formats. How on earth does he do it? It’s as if he has a button that enables him to pause time. For heaven’s sake, how else does he have time to travel, or edit, or eat, or even sleep?

Q is for Quiet Ones
You may not hear them, but everything you see and hear is theirs. The senior producers – Adam Mountford at the BBC and Bryan Henderson at Sky – are two of the most powerful players in the cricket media. Until 2024, Test Match Special has the ECB’s radio rights and Sky Sports Cricket the television rights, but that hasn’t stopped other broadcasters from occasionally bidding for – and winning – overseas coverage. Talksport has just acquired the radio rights for England’s next international winter, something they haven’t managed since 2005, meaning that they will have to build a live cricket commentary team more or less from scratch. Hopefully they will be studying this article carefully.

R is for Right
‘I were a proper cricketer. These lot are roobish.’ Fred Trueman started it. Moan and moan, and when you’ve finished moaning, moan some more. Nothing ever seems to please this particular brand of ex-pros. Their joy at cricket’s great moments appears fleeting at best, their frustrations are obvious and their criticisms are legion. The thing is, they’re nearly always right. There’s something deeply satisfying about listening to Geoffrey Boycott on the radio and Bob Willis on the television – we pretend to find them massively annoying, but privately we know they’re right and secretly we agree with them. Willis was disdainful of the media as a player, but now his role is reversed, so too has his point of view. If Boycott and Willis were often wrong – or even occasionally wrong – they would have been out of a job years ago, but these cheerful harbingers of doom are consistently prescient. Boycott’s finest mal mot was during the Mumbai test of 1993: asked what England might achieve on the final day of the match, he happily responded: ‘I think we’ll lose. It’s just a question of when.’

S is for Summariser
It was the BBC that created the template for radio commentary. Test Match Special has had the same formula for decades: a ball-by-ball ‘caller’ describing the action alongside a former international cricketer ‘summarising’ – that is, chipping in between balls and overs to interpret and explain the action. The regent of all summarisers is Vic Marks, whose warm tones and kindly demeanour give an amiable air to his intelligent, insightful and sharp analysis. His love of the game never falters, but push him just so far and he lets fly with a volley of excoriating ammunition, as in his recent blistering attack on the ECB’s new 100-ball competition. No less perceptive and knowledgeable, Isa Guha is rapidly establishing herself in the vanguard of the BBC’s next generation of summarisers – her cool, ‘sporty older sister’ character neatly contrasting with Marks’s role as the grandfather of cricketing wisdom. 

T is for Twitterati
The quickest way to garner a huge Twitter following is to be internationally acclaimed and hugely famous. Some summarisers, having played the highest level of for a television audience of millions, have become genuine celebrities – Michael Vaughan and Graeme Swann both have close to a million followers – but the very best professional callers (those verging on national treasure status) are at least equally popular. Harsha Bhogle has nearly eight million acolytes, with Jonathan Agnew and David Lloyd both able to outnumber the entire population of Iceland with their fans. The other way to achieve Twitter prominence is to earn your followers tweet by tweet. The historian and cricketer Tom Holland occasionally speaks mischievously about a ‘tweet-to-followers’ ratio – a statistic which, when computed, reveals who works hardest for their fame. Adam Collins – but of course – puts in an average of 3.5 tweets for each ‘follow’ he gets, but the leader by far is the Elizabeth Ammon, who clocks up double this rate with astonishing 6.9 tweets per follower earned. She has pressed the ‘tweet’ button an astonishing 256,400 times – twice the number of the second most prolific tweeter, Peter Miller – and recruited 37,500 followers (and no doubt she could increase this number substantially were she to reactivate her ‘blocked’ list). She must have bionic fingers, or a bluetooth keyboard in her forearm.

U is for Up-and-coming
This is the stage after Newbie, and with enough ‘promise and potential’ – the BBC under Adam Mountford being particularly meritocratic – a select few find themselves promoted from the county game to the internationals. The passing of Christopher Martin-Jenkins led to the elevation of Charles Dagnall, Henry Blofeld’s retirement meant there was more of Dan Norcross, and Ed Smith’s new job will mean further opportunities for Scott Read, who has earned his spurs on the local circuit. James Anderson proved a popular addition to the team of summarisers, and Sky have found a wonderful anchor for the Blast in Rob Key, who embodies the ebullience and joviality of the domestic white ball game.

V is for Visitors
Providing their ‘view from the boundary’ are the many hundreds of guests called up by Test Match Special: not just ex-pros but musicians, artists, philanthropists and politicians of every type and stripe. Who can forget the discovery of Lily Allen as a high-profile cricket fan in 2009? Certainly not Jonathan Agnew, faced with the opportunity to interview such a charismatic and attractive personality, could barely conceal his boyish excitement.

W is for Writers
So many of cricket’s ‘media names’ have been published. You are hardly a cricketer worth remembering if you haven’t written an autobiography about your playing days, and they come in a variety of flavours: the no-holds-barred (Botham, Boycott and Kevin Pietersen), the challenging (Marcus Trescothick’s Coming Back to Me) and the mind-numbingly boring (Alec Stewart’s Playing for Keeps). Numerous commentators rack up one ISBN after another, but very few have started with writing and then taken to commentary; those who have tend to be the most philosophical and reflective of all. In a healthy mind, this deep analysis can promote thinkers like Ed Smith to positions of great influence; at other times, such as with Peter Roebuck, the intellectualism can mask a psyche that is damaging, even abusive, to the author as well as to others.

X is for X Men
Smith’s commentating days are over for the foreseeable future, but for the best of reasons: he has reached a summit, transposing a career of sporting influence to a role of national importance. Paul Allott has hung up his headphones at Sky in order to take charge of cricket at Lancashire. Others have fallen from grace in less happy circumstances: Dermot Reeve was obliged to leave Channel 4 having admitted to drug taking; Mike Selvey was dropped from the BBC so bitterly that the producer found himself having to make a public defence of his selectorial decision.

Y is for Youth
‘Appeal to the next generation of cricket fans’ is the mantra of all cricket broadcasters. It’s easier for Sky, who can rely on a degree of inherited audience from their innumerable football addicts: ‘just change the channel and watch this.’ It’s less easy for the BBC, and in the last couple of years they have found a gifted communicator in Henry Moeran, who has proven highly adept at assembling vibrant, edgy and entertaining commentary teams for white ball cricket, built around Charles Dagnall, Ebony Rainford-Brent and James Taylor. Test Match Special has taken the conscious decision to separate its test and white ball squads and the ‘horses for courses’ selection has undeniably worked.

Z is for Zaltzman
It should be ‘scorers’, of course, but on account of his surname, Andy Zaltzman will represent them all at this stage in the alphabet. He scores for Test Match Special, sharing the role with Andrew Samson (who tends to take on the tests). Benedict Bermange at Sky has even found himself in front of the camera at times, a role it’s hard to imagine the scoring forefather, the irascible and surly Bill Frindall, being allowed to do. Together, computer aided but still with a healthy library in tow, these dyed-in-the-wool cricket ‘nuffies’ are expected to have every imaginable statistic at their fingertips – and if they haven’t got it, they’re given about thirty seconds to find it. Given that this may be the only time they are heard on air during an entire session, could it be that the scorer’s job is harder than anyone’s? In a world of unsung heroes, that might be a fitting conclusion.

14 April 2018

THINKING INSIDE THE BOX: PART 1

Cricket commentators spend a vast amount of time discussing the composition of the ideal team’. Players fall into types: you’ll want two specialist openers, a versatile and resilient number three, your best batsman at four, the newcomer at five, a seam bowling all-rounder at six, a wicketkeeper who can bat, then ideally two spinners turning the ball in different directions, a paceman and a swing bowler. Permutation upon permutation is painstakingly discussed. 

But what of the commentators themselves? Someone, presumably, has to give a good deal of thought to the personnel of the television or radio box, with an eye to assembling the ideal team’. Whom would you pick? To help you decide, here is part one of an A to Z of the different breeds of cricket commentator on show at your local ground this summer.

A is for Analyst
When free-to-air cricket switched from the BBC to Channel 4, Simon Hughes sat in the outside broadcast truck all day and reinvented the summariser’s role with four revolutionary gadgets: ball tracking, super slow motion, heat cameras for edges and the snickometer. Michael Holding adopted a similar role for Sky, who more recently found another way to innovate and add value simply by having Nasser Hussain bring the viewer into the nets for their superb ‘Zone’ masterclasses (such as this astonishing feature with Shane Warne).

B is for Benaud
The undisputed master of the moving picture, whose famous mantra was ‘never insult the viewer by telling them what they can already see’. Today’s television commentators pay homage to him, and frequently quote his maxim, before cheerfully informing listeners that the ball has been hit for six, or the umpire has raised his finger, or a catch has gone down. His finest moment was the way he signed off at the end of Channel 9’s coverage of the 1981 ‘underarm incident’.

C is for Captains
It’s quite fashionable to berate those broadcasters who fill the pundits’ chairs with anyone who’s ever skippered England, but some of the chosen ones have found ways to embellish the match-play with great insight. Just listen to Mike Atherton describe what players go through, Michael Vaughan talk about man management, or Charlotte Edwards share her expertise on just about every trait of the women’s game.

D is for Deskspert
There is an unwritten rule of televised sport that during breaks in play, a panel of experts must sit behind a desk – outside if it’s Wimbledon, without a desk if it’s athletics, standing up if it’s T20 cricket – and be led in discussion by someone such as Charles Colvile, who has been fulfilling this job at Sky for three decades, during which his lower half has never been seen.

E is for Establishment
The squareness of their jaw. The exactness of their tie. The safeness of their pair of hands. Sky stands them up straight, puts them in a collared shirt and cues them in. Nick Knight – who showed us how to substitute the word ‘special’ for any positive adjective – is the archetype. And these days, the anti-establishment, mould-breaking, spliff-smoking, three-Shredded-Wheat-eating ‘Guy the Gorilla’ has evolved into Sir Ian Botham, England’s only living cricketing knight, a man of tradition and national pride, a standard-bearer for Brexit Britain and the proper way of doing things.

F is for Front of House
The top of the programme. The first face you see, the first voice you hear. They’re the presenters: people so smooth that you could chuck them into a threshing machine and they’d come out laminated. Tony Lewis was the BBC’s resident smoothie, but Channel 4 chose to make an overnight star of Mark Nicholas – a wonderful writer, but the commentator to blame for giving the world such banalities as ‘a wonderful cricket shot’, ‘truly mesmeric stuff’ and ‘yyyup, that is so good, that is so, so good.’ A man who, while so gifted with the written word, persistently describes a boundary or wicket by simply exclaiming ‘Ohhhhhh, [insert player name here]!’ He is lost to Australian television, where such careless platitudes matter less, but the English broadcasters still boast three consummate professionals in the form of David Gower on Sky, Alison Mitchell on the BBC and the winter’s surprise package, Matt Smith on BT Sport.

G is for Gigglers
The quickest way to become a national treasure in England is to be a ‘character’. To be funny when you want to be funny. Of course, Sky’s David Lloyd is the godfather of the giggle, a genuine eccentric who keeps people laughing with him but never at him. In recent years, the BBC has signed up two broadcasters of immense charisma: the utterly engaging and charming Phil Tufnell and the superb mimic and mischief-maker Graeme Swann.

H is for Howells
Even for the casual observer of cricket, it is relatively easy to imagine what a commentator’s role entails. The one exception has got to be Kevin Howells. It’s quite hard to convey just how demanding his unique job is. He anchors the BBC’s Radio 5 Live Sports Extra during the domestic season: this involves opening and closing the coverage, moving the listener seamlessly from one county commentary to another, and providing a brief round-the-counties update whenever Radio 5 Live drops in (which is often). What’s more, he does all this from whichever county press box he’s been sent to at short notice that week.

I is for Interviewers
All cricket broadcasters have to do it from time to time, and it’s not easy – county players and staff tend to dislike being interviewed, and when they do find themselves thrust in front of the microphone they roll out the usual clich├ęs about ‘sticking to the basics’, ‘executing our plans’, ‘picking ourselves up again’, ‘there’s a lot of time left in this game’ and so forth. The one person who is universally admired by other journalists for his interviews is Sky’s Ian Ward, whose interview with Jonathan Trott went somewhere that others rarely did: it brought out self-doubt, vulnerability and pathos.

J is for Joyful
BBC’s Test Match Special has a tradition of having someone on the team who can convey the sheer, unbridled joy and excitement of cricket. They don’t sound like they’re at work, they sound like they’re at the game. It’s an important distinction: all journalists take cricket seriously, but only a few take it joyously. Brian Johnston filled this role for very nearly fifty years, Henry Blofeld only recently vacated it, and the discovery of Dan Norcross will ensure that this crucial element of radio commentary will be present for years to come.

K is for Keyboard Warriors
For years there was only page 340 of Ceefax, but along came the world wide web and suddenly text commentary was a thing. It started with over-by-over summaries from the Guardian and Telegraph, before ESPN Cricinfo’s team of top-tempo typists brought us ball-by-ball. They may not talk, but they’re still commentators, and for millions of people who are surreptitiously trying to follow the cricket at work, the rapid keystrokes of Andrew Miller and Andy McGlashan for ESPN Cricinfo and the multimedia updates of Kal Sajad and Stephan Shemilt at BBC Sport are the only way of learning what’s actually going on out there.

L is for Locals
BBC Radio has live commentary of every county match thanks to the imagination and dedication of its local stations, which provide each county with a commentator for the season. The pioneers here were BBC Radio London, who sent Mark Church to Surrey and Kevin Hand to Middlesex. Others followed their lead, and the county circuit began to hear regularly from a varied cast of locals, including the late and much lamented Dave Callaghan, the amiable gruff ‘Mr Badger’ figure Anthony Gibson, the undeniably not neutral Martin Emmerson and the heroic Welshman Eddie Bevan, whose panic as Peter Trego hit a six through the commentary box window (listen here) must surely be the all-time highlight of local cricket radio. For matches in County Championship Division One, the pairs of local voices are augmented by the ‘third voices’, a small platoon of non-partisan commentators deployed and managed by BBC Test Match Special. The most frequently heard of these voices are Isabelle Duncan and ECB Broadcaster of the Year Izzy Westbury.

M is for Mainstays
Some commentators defy all attempts at categorisation; they are simply too prominent and important to be pigeonholed. They don’t play character parts, they’re the leads. John Arlott was the mainstay of BBC Test Match Special for 23 years from 1957 to 1980; Christopher Martin-Jenkins surpassed this longevity record and extended it to 40 years; it is unthinkable that Jonathan Agnew should not extend it yet further. Cricket commentators seem to exist outside of time – it feels like Agnew’s deputy Simon Mann only came on the scene a few years ago, and yet he’s been around for as long as Arlott was. The boyish Mark Nicholas is 60; the eternally youthful Charles Colvile is 63 – and Agnew is a mere stripling of 58 – but he has already made as indelible a mark as any of his predecessors and today he is, for millions of followers, the ‘voice of cricket’.

Part 2 of this article may be found here.