Cricket: When prattle is better than play

Henry Blofeld on the rainy-day appeal of radio's Test Match Special

For years, it has been the habit of Test Match Special to go on talking about anything and everything when rain or bad light prevents any cricket, so much so that it has become one of the traditions of the programme.

For new and nervous commentators, the prospect of trying to fill in can prove daunting, especially when sitting behind you in the back of the box was that champion of all filler- inners, Brian Johnston.

He did it so easily, it was impossible not to feel that one was laboured and contrived in comparison.

Having said that, the programme's considerable post-bag contains a fair number of letters saying how much listeners love the idle chatter and some go so far as to say how much better it is than when the cricket is being played. Which may mean the cricket isn't done very well!

Like most things in the programme, the chatter during rainbreaks, far from being part of a grand design, was something which just happened. The commentary box then acquired a taste for it, which mercifully was picked up by many of the listeners.

For many years when rain stopped play, the commentators used to go through the details of the day so far before handing listeners back to the studio. They would not then be returned to the ground until play was just about to restart.

This sequence ended during the Lord's Test against the West Indies in 1976. Very light rain was falling which looked as if it would stop at any moment and there did not seem any point in going back to the studio for they were bound to hand listeners back again to Lord's in a matter of moments.

As it happened, the light rain obstinately refused to stop and those around the microphones kept prattling on to general enjoyment. This led, the next morning, to one of the great pieces of name-dropping in the history of even TMS. Johnston came into the box and cheerfully announced: "My friends at the Palace told me that the Duke of Edinburgh rather enjoyed himself listening to us during the rain." So one could almost say that the prattling continued by royal command.

One commentator who took a little bit of convincing of the virtue of carrying on during breaks for rain was John Arlott. When it rained, he was always quick to hand over the microphone to a colleague and go and sit in the back of the box.

Then, as the chatter progressed, a subject would come up which would interest him and it would not be long before he was itching to get back to the mike.

A great many of the things talked about were, to say the least, curious, but in general they have fitted in with the central idea that TMS is a group of friends who go to the cricket to enjoy themselves and the audience are simply eavesdropping.

There was one splendid occasion during rain when Johnston and Trevor Bailey were talking about mothers who had helped teach their sons to play cricket. They spoke about Penny Cowdrey, who had bowled to Chris and Graham. Johnners then wondered if Mrs Chappell had ever bowled to Ian Greg and said: "Alan McGilvray will know the answer to that."

He turned round and McGilvray was fast asleep in the back of the box. Brian covered this up by saying: "Oh, Alan has just slipped out of the box."

But McGilvray had heard his name mentioned and suddenly sat bolt upright and said in a very loud voice: "What, what? Did someone call me?" Which was followed by gales of general laughter.

Looking around Lord's over the last two days, I'm sure that the conversations different groups of spectators were having while there was no play will have been no more curious, mad, improbable or unlikely than many of the things which have been said on air when rain has stopped play.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before