IT'S NOT CRICKET
On September 2nd, 2017, the I newspaper published an interview with the veteran fruity-voiced BBC Test Match Special commentator, Henry Blofeld, who had announced his retirement. In the course of the interview Blofeld revealed that, when not commentating, he did not listen to TMS. He then asked the interviewer what the score was in the Test then in progress.
(Article submitted to the I, but not yet published.)
I am not surprised that Henry Blofeld does not listen to Test Match Special or that he had to ask Rob Hastings what the score was. He clearly knows that telling listeners the score is the least of the current TMS team’s priorities, that they are much more interested in keeping us up to date on where they went to dinner and what they had for dinner last night.
Like, I presume, the majority of listeners to TMS I do not spend the entire day with ear glued to the wireless, but when time permits I tune in to hear what has happened and is happening. I want to know the score. In recent years I have taken to keeping a record of the time lapse between my switching on and anyone on TMS mentioning the score. The record stands at 26 minutes. And the time gap is regularly 15 minutes plus.
That is akin to turning on the News and having to wait for 20 minutes to hear the headline. TMS seems to have entirely forgotten that it is a news programme, and the most important news is the score, followed closely by the detailed scorecard. But TMS has gone off such stodgy fare as the reading of a full scorecard. Unless my memory plays me false it used to be, back in the more professional days of Trevor Bailey & co, standard practice to read the card at the end of almost every other over. Now you get little more than an abbreviated scorecard at the end of the day.
In truth the TMS team spend most of the day avoiding the reason for their existence which is the job of commentating, which means, in case they have forgotten, telling the listeners what is happening, ball by ball, as it happens., and for the host of listeners who may have just tuned in, telling them what has been happening.
Time was the tea break 20 minutes was used for a detailed analysis of the latest session of play, of the current state of the match, and of what we might expect after tea. Instead it and other breaks are devoted exclusively to matters other than the match. – such as an interiview with some minor celebrity with a passing interest in cricket, or with a visiting star of yesteryear who will give you more information on the 1963 tour of wherever than TMS has given you on the current match.
That is bad enough, but the felony is compounded by having the commentary interrupted by Aggers telling Tuffers - how I loathe those phoney public school sobriquets – who is going to be the interviewee and how wonderful it is all going to be. And then half an hour later the pair of them again abandon post to tell each other how wonderful it all was.
I think the height of this contempt for listeners occurred during the recent series against South Africa. An Agnew interview with, I think, a Pollock, was still going on when play resumed. To my incredulity and horror we were told that play had started but they would continue with the interview and keeps us informed of anything that happened.
Part of the problem may be that there is now little uninterrupted commentary – there are always two of them, one the commentator and the other the pundit. Instead of an interaction between broadcaster and listener, there is now a dialogue between two people watching a cricket match and forgetting the listeners.
Another part of the problem may be that TMS is regarded by the BBC as part, not of news, but of entertainment, and the assumption is that cricket is itself not entertaining enough. So we have to tart it up with silly nicknames and rambling anecdotes.. Tarting up is an apt description as all this started with Brian Johnston and the endless supply of cakes sent in to the team by listeners who clearly did not get out enough.
That was a thin joke, so Henry Blofeld – a serious commentator when he put his mind to it – was encouraged to indulge his minor obsessions with buses and pigeons. These were entertaining enough as merely corroborative detail giving artistic verisimilitude to the otherwise – in the eyes of whoever produces TMS – bald and unconvincing thing that is cricket. But when they were much trumpeted as part of the great and wonderful entertainment that TMS was supposed to be, they became simply boring, and, of course, irrelevant.
Every entertainment has to have a clown, and in TMS Geoffrey Boycott is shamelessly pushed into the role. In terms of his own ability as a cricketer and as an analyst of the game, Boycott is head and shoulders above the rest, apart possibly from Michael Vaughan. But he is now presented as a figure of fun, jeered at behind his back, belittled to his face, and sadly clearly feeling he has to play up to it.
All very distasteful, and very unprofessional, which is what TMS has become. It is just not cricket.
(One time (c1950) opening bat and leg-break bowler, Boys (under 15) Lisburn Cricket Club.)