Test Match Special is really rather special

“The bowler’s Holding, the batsman’s Willey”
Brian Johnston

I am a freak, a bloody cricket loving freak. As you can imagine England’s resurgent victory against India filled me with satisfaction.

Yet with joy comes sorrow – the ending of the test season.

Summers of my childhood were ubiquitously punctuated by the summer game – either watching my father play social cricket or the marvellous professionals of England and Hampshire.

Lazy and happy sunny days were fuelled by the constant murmur of Test Match Special and cloudy lemonade. Sadly, life dictates that we can’t be present at each day of English test cricket. Gleefully TMS’s delightful team delivers this treat vicariously.

I joined the mass brigade of readied ears at the end of Brian ‘johnners’ Johnston’s career. I remember as a child weeping in disbelief upon the news of the great man’s passing. Perhaps it was my nascent understanding of death, or was it that it truly felt like a member of the family had died? His splendid old Etonian virtues are the benchmarks that each new commentator must rise to.

The commentary box has a wonderful tea-stained and cake-scented flavour. The light air is supported by a great sense of history and lineage, which exudes from each deliberate intonation; a naughty phrase from Tuffers has indirectly been fed to him through the posthumous thoughts of the mellifluous John Arlott.

Summering regularly in deepest Dordogne I discovered Radio 4 long wave was the only English station one could find. Through crackles I was kept abreast with the important scores by the dotty CMJ, the Wodehousian Blowers, the amiably professional Aggers, and the iconic Sir Geoffery.

Like a pot of tea TMS is splendiferously English – in fact a swallow doesn’t begin our summer, the whimsical voice of Aggers does. The sun is not truly out until Mr.H.Bloefeld delivers his first “My dear old things” or unwraps his first ode to the trundling buses or sensual Pidgeons. Equally my tan cannot begin unless Geoffrey Boycott has soliloquised on the state of modern batting or obsessed about uncovered pitches and sticks of rhubarb.

The brilliant Sky television service has a populist, at times aggressively negative, feel. TMS, even when Alistair Cook was in the nadir of captaincy, remained in its patriotic but unpartisan position. Unnervingly pro the skipper but offering strong objective critiques.

The key is having professional and knowledgeable journalists twinned with highly respected ex-professionals – all with an utmost love for the game, an appreciation for spectacles of the past and a glut of respect for the ‘spirit of cricket’.

However, what marks TMS out from other sports broadcasts is the personalities. I will often draw a bath in the knowledge that Blowers and Tuffers will be on air – snorting with laughter whilst cricket’s Morecambe and Wise effortlessly prattle away, pigeons and trousers usually high on the agenda.

A cricket fan really gets to know this eccentric assemblage on overseas England tours – I will have the radio on all night with the hope of hearing another Bell century. Drifting in and out of sleep with the commentary box nattering all the while does muddle ones psyche – dreams will often descend into a sordid Peter Tinniswood novel.

My written admiration will never do justice to the unparalleled skill these men deploy. They feel like old friends with paintbrushes in their hands. Even in the darkest times these chaps will bring a smile to this old fellow’s face.

I am still yet to find a more agreeable afternoon than sitting in a sun stained lawn with Gambon (my dog not the actor) and TMS’s lyrics floating through the air like an eloquent butterfly.


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