Test Match Summer

The TMS team would do well we listen to the cricket not them

Today marks the start of the test summer in England. Probably the latest it has ever started in the modern era, certainly the latest it has started since we last hosted a cricket world cup in 1999.

With cricket in such a state of flux in England now would be a really good time for the oldest, longest and best form of the game to put on a show and enable the sport we love to capitalise on the momentum of England’s world cup win.

Most people will know that I am a Somerset fan first and foremost and that I have little time for the majority of the voices now on my once beloved Test Match Special. So why am I writing about looking forward to the tests against Ireland and Australia?

First and foremost there is the novelty value of a test against Ireland, even if it is going to be a one-sided affair. The opportunity this offers to a number of fringe test players is intriguing although it is a huge disappointment that Somerset’s Lewis Gregory, called into the squad as cover for James Anderson will now not play even though Anderson has failed a fitness test! 

All Somerset fans will be gutted for Lewis but secretly relieved that it appears he will be back with the county soon. Gregory will know that a strong finish to the season in county cricket will do his chances of a spot on the winter tours no harm at all. An added incentive (if one was needed) for Gregory to propel Somerset to their destiny.

But, away from domestic duties, Somerset have a representative today in England colours.  Jack Leach will be making his home debut after performing very well in Sri Lanka before Christmas. Leach is one on the most unassuming of sportsmen. I was worried that he would struggle away from the comfort and familiarity of the Somerset dressing room feeling himself (wrongly) as not being worthy of playing in such company.

The role of Jos Buttler in this shouldn’t be under stated. The pair grew up in Somerset age group cricket together and while Buttler is at present not a Somerset player the two have remained close. Jos is a very intelligent cricketer and will I am sure have been ensuring that Leach was made to feel at home on tour last winter. An investment of time that is now bearing dividends. 

Leach appears to be growing into international cricket as his performance for the England Lions last week demonstrated. Leach was the pick of the bowlers in Australia’s second innings at Canterbury and has earned his place today of right. If he can ally confidence to his undoubted ability he will become a potent force at international level.

Whether the selectors will consider Leach worthy of an Ashes place remains to be seen but, although his England selection would not help Somerset’s championship aspirations, everyone in the West Country wants Leach to succeed at the highest level. And as Leach hails from my old club, Taunton Deane I’ve got an added interest in that regard!

While the Test against Ireland offers an opportunity for several players to stake a claim for an Ashes place unfortunately the same isn’t true in the Test Match Special commentary box. One of the joys of my cricketing life has been listening to the commentary of legends including Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Brian Johnson and John Arlott, men who put the love of the game at the forefront of what they did at the microphone. 

Regrettably that has changed. The era of Vaughan and Swann and the morphing of the BBC’s cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew see the media profile of the commentator / summariser becoming paramount. While there remain notable exceptions, Vic Marks, Simon Mann, Dan Norcross, the majority behind the microphone make the mistake of thinking we are listening to them rather than realising we are listening to the cricket.

The responsibility of the broadcaster is to communicate what is happening to those of us who aren’t there in person or who don’t have access to the TV coverage. That responsibility has increased still further since the world cup final with potentially a whole new audience wanting to access coverage in the next few weeks.

Brian Johnson used to say that, done right, the TMS broadcast should make the listener feel he was sitting watching the game with a few friends, mixing description with conversation. I can honestly say that apart from the aforementioned three the thought of sitting with this bunch is one that makes me recoil.

Wouldn’t it have been a good idea to give the regulars a break and in their place let the BBC local radio guys have a go. The coverage the BBC provides of county cricket is exceptional mainly because it is provided by individuals who have a love of the game of cricket and of their county. A lack of impartiality is more than compensated for by the way they bring the game and its participants to life.

Now if TMS tomorrow was Bracegirdle, Church, Doidge, Emerson, Gibson and Hand on the microphone wouldn’t that be something!