Test Match Special
I am writing about my favourite radio programmes from a lifetime of avid listening. One show each day of my cancer treatment.
Test Match Special, from the BBC, covers international cricket matches. Ball by ball. For up to five days, depending on the format. The programme comes live from the ground wherever the game is taking place in the test cricket playing world; that can mean any of eleven countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.
I first listened to TMS in the 1960s. In those days the game was shown free and live on (black and white) terrestrial television and, like other cricket lovers, I would listen to the TMS commentary with the TV sound muted. This is not so successful in the days of live streaming as the streams are usually slightly out of synchronisation. Sound wins over picture for me.
The games in these early days were graced with the likes of batsmen Ted Dexter, Colin Cowdrey and the young Geoff Boycott (now a grumpy, opinionated commentator himself). Bowlers included John Snow and Derek Underwood. The commentary team was headed up by the great John Arlott with his gravelly Hampshire accented voice and poetic descriptions of the game. A notable sidebar (find it on Youtube) was his description of a streaker who ran onto the pitch at Lords (HQ of the game in London) in 1975.
TMS typically has a team of rotating commentators who do a thirty minute stint in pairs. The ball by ball detail is handled by one of the core team members while a retired player usually provides some insights or banter between overs (six balls are bowled at the receiving batsmen to complete an over in typically three to five minutes). The core team is a mix of ex-professionals and sports journalists. The most important qualification is a deep knowledge of the game. The ability to entertain the audience through prolonged rain stoppages or periods of bad light is crucial. Humour and old rivalries provide an engaging backdrop to the game itself. The team is completed by a mostly silent scorer/statistician who is ever ready to answer deliberately obscure questions and announce records as they fall. Cricket was a game of statistics long before baseball.
Test Match Cricket, the best kind, is played over five days. The match situation develops slowly. There can be long spells of quiet, attritional cricket. The TMS team fill in the gaps with detailed descriptions of the pigeons, buses, trains and planes passing close by or over the ground. When commentating from oversees venues, there may be a little local colour provided, for example, by the grazing hadida ibis at the Wanderers in Johannesburg and their remarkable sangfroid when the ball is hit hard in their direction.
Another feature of the broadcasts are the luxuriant chocolate cakes sent in by listeners for the sustenance of the TMS team on languid summer afternoons when the players are beginning to tire and the action has fallen into a period of somnolence.
Recent years have seen the welcome addition of women to the TMS commentary team, reflecting the increasing importance of the women’s game. The likes of ex-players, Ebony Rainford-Brent and Alison Mitchell have eased seamlessly into the commentators seat.
Test Match cricket gets underway, without the crowds, on the 8th July when England meet the West Indies. Whatever your level of interest in cricket, give TMS a try.