They've stumped the best bloody bowler in history

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EVERYONE KNOWS that English cricket is drooping, but who would have thought it would come to this? Fred Trueman and Trevor Bailey, the joint mainstays of English cricket for so long, are to be replaced by commentators with what the BBC calls "a new perspective" (Tony Cozier and Donna Symonds).

In a summer of shocks, this is by far the heaviest and most grievous. And it comes at an especially bad time, because in recent years there has been a growing body of opinion to the effect that Trueman and Bailey were not the shrewd, witty and unfailingly generous cricket lovers we know them to be, but hidebound, grouchy and predictable old curmudgeons who should have been pensioned off years ago.

It has been said, for instance, that it is time to hand the microphone over to people who do not realise that the joy went out of international cricket on roughly the day Trueman and Bailey retired. In truth, no modern cricket-lover can comprehend the game without repeated references to the glories of yesteryear. Cricket is a hard, blood-in-the-boots slog, and only a simpleton would think it was fun. It's joyless, whingeing, surly and insular, and stands in dire need of more, not fewer, men who have seen it all before, and don't mind saying so.

I even read that Fred Trueman, one of our best-loved raconteurs and humorists, was not in fact funny at all, that his brand of wit was simply a tawdry succession of the surly put-downs which pass for comedy in county dressing rooms. What short memories these critics have! They'd hear a very different story from the chuckling Northamptonshire batsman to whom Fred once quipped: "You've got more bloody edges than a broken pisspot." Not to mention the Oxford University batsman who had the honour of being dismissed first ball by the Yorkshire star, and sent on his way with the magnanimous remark: "Bad luck, sir, you were just getting settled in."

Trueman was never too proud to pick on people when they were down. In one of Ian Botham's runs of poor form he remarked, in an inspired figure of speech, that "he couldn't bowl a hoop downhill". That the BBC feels able to dispense with such a stylish sense of humour says more about the media than it does about the man. Botham himself once had the temerity to suggest that if Trueman was playing today he might take a few wickets, but sure as hell wouldn't be called Fiery Fred. But Fred had an elegant answer: "Black and white footage always slows you up."

Besides, Trueman and Bailey were generous in their appreciation of modern talents, quick to admit that Brian Lara might have made the Yorkshire seconds in the old days, happy to agree that Shane Warne was a "very useful net bowler". Some found this faint praise, but standards are standards, and if they were slipping, it wasn't Trueman and Bailey's fault. How could Trueman, by his own admission the fastest bowler that ever bloody lived, pretend that all these modern Shoiabs, Donalds and McGraths bowled at anything above a lively medium?

So yes, it's a sad day. Never again will we hear these tireless wizards repeat the obvious in a heated way. It was marvellous the way you could hear their sage heads - Trueman and Bailey, even the name sounds like a fine old English mustard! - shaking over the air in disbelief at what was going on out there. They often swore that they were speechless, lost for words, but they never actually shut up. They were candid enough to admit that they simply did not understand what was going on, that they were dumbfounded, that in all their years they'd never seen anything like it, that to be honest they did not know what to say. What a sad sign of the times that they are going to be replaced by people who do.