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
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss