How to flannel your way in cricket

Today, the Battle for the Ashes recommences with the series on a knife-edge and the nation engrossed. For those new fans of the game, Miles Kington presents the ultimate bluffer's guide to TV and radio commentary - so now you need be baffled no longer
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They will quite happily admit that even when watching on TV you often have no idea what has happened till you are told. That is why it is vitally necessary to understand what the commentators are saying.

And that means learning the language.

So here is a crash language course in Cricket Commentary.

It brings you the commonest phrases you will hear on Channel 4 in the coming five days of Test cricket, followed by what each really means in plain English.

Good luck!

Before play starts

"Good morning, everybody, from all of us here."

Even from Geoffrey Boycott, who hasn't arrived yet.

"It looks as if it is going to be a full house."

The fact of the matter is that none of us in the commentary box has actually paid entry to a cricket ground for 25 years or more, and I haven't even the faintest idea how much it costs these days.

"It's a lovely day."

I can see blue sky on the TV monitor.

"The wicket looks in good shape."

I can see a grey rectangle on the TV monitor.

"Mark is out there on the pitch, having a look at the wicket."

I can see a distant dark form on the TV monitor, bending over.

"What does it look like, Mark?"

If I press this knob here, will Mark be able to hear me?

The pitch inspection

"Yes, it's Mark here, and at the moment the wicket's looking nice and green."

Close to, it looks brown and grey, more like concrete than grass.

"It's a plumb wicket."

None of the players has had a chance to kick holes in it yet.

"It should play well for the first few days."

It will be fine until the players start kicking holes in it.

"It will be an important toss to win."

Not many people realise that most games of cricket depend on a huge stroke of luck: winning the toss. It is very important in five-day cricket to bat first, so that your players can start kicking holes in the wicket early on. (At club and village level, with one-day matches, this doesn't matter so much; the important thing there is to bat first while your players are still sober.)

"Thank you, Mark."

I think Mark could hear me.

A note of tension

"Even before the start, there's a feeling of apprehension."

I hear Geoffrey Boycott is nearly here.

Setting the scene for the day

"The air is still damp, so the fast bowlers will be able to move the ball in the air quite appreciably to begin with, but if the opening batsmen can weather the initial storm and play themselves in, then as the day warms up, the ball gets worn and things become easier, we could see the runs begin to flow."

I say that at the start of every Test match and nobody seems to object, or indeed even understand, so I am saying it again, and I might say it a few more times yet if Geoffrey doesn't appear soon.

"England are fielding an attacking XI."

England have too many batsmen.

"England are fielding a defensive side."

England have too many bowlers.

"Australia are fielding an unchanged XI."

Australia have only got 11 uninjured players.

"Shane Warne is their danger man."

At least I can always recognise Shane Warne when I am commentating.

"Though any of them can be a star on the day."

And I have got pictures of all the others in front of me here for recognition purposes.

"They'll be hoping for an early breakthrough."

And so will we, because until someone gets out, we'll have nothing much to show you in the way of endless slow-motion replays.

"Let's see the batting line-up."

Nobody has scored a run yet, and we're showing you the score card already! That's how desperate we are.

More tension

"So, let battle commence!"

With Geoffrey Boycott, who has just arrived.

"I was saying, Geoffrey, just before you came in, that the air is still damp, so the fast bowlers will be able to move the ball in the air quite appreciably to begin with, but if the opening batsmen can weather the initial storm and play themselves in, then as the day warms up, the ball gets worn and things become easier, we could see the runs begin to flow. What do you think?"

I thought I'd bowl Geoffrey a fast in-swinger before he got his eye in.

"Aye, well, we'll see."

A dour defensive stroke from Geoffrey Boycott there.

The start of play

"Well, play begins and here comes the opening ball of the day and ... Well, that was a bit of a loose one."

The batsman didn't even attempt to play that.

The second ball

"He's not found his length yet."

The batsman didn't play at the second either.

The third ball

"Ah, that one forced him to make a stroke!"

It was a straight long hop.

"What do you think, Geoffrey?"

I'm damned if I'm going to do all the talking.

"What do I think? I think in my day you played the good balls respectfully and you waited for the bad balls to hammer them, and if he's not even going to punish the bad balls, as he isn't at the moment, then what on earth have we turned up for?"

Who's this stupid bugger I'm doing the commentary with?

"Good point, Geoffrey."

Perhaps I had better keep Geoffrey away from the mike.

Phrases used to describe the batting

"He's seeing the ball well."

He hasn't missed one this over.

"He hasn't got his eye in yet."

He hasn't hit one this over.

"He's playing well within himself."

He hasn't attempted a scoring stroke for hours.

"Oh, good shot!"

Lucky shot.

"He's playing himself in."

He's being incredibly boring.

"He's playing sensibly."

He's boring the pants off everyone.

"He's going for his strokes now."

He's even boring himself, so he's decided to hit out, to keep himself awake.

"He's gone for his favourite pull."

He's feeling a bit chilly now, so he's put his jersey back on.

Phrases used to describe the bowling

"He's really banging them in."

He's bowling fast.

"He's flighting them well."

He's bowling slowly.

"He's plugging away."

He's bowling medium pace.

"He's going round the wicket."

He's having so little effect on the batsmen that he's going to try to creep up on them unawares from behind the umpire's back and frighten them.

"He's getting some help from the pitch."

He's bouncing the ball where they've made some holes in the ground.

"He's getting some movement in the air."

When you have one shiny side to the ball, and one rough, the air will have a different aerodynamic effect on each side, thus causing the trajectory to alter flight ... oh sod it, I'm not going to explain all this again.

Phrase used by Geoffrey Boycott to describe the bowling

"What he's got to realise is that if he doesn't make the batsman play a shot, he's not going to get him out, and if he persists in bowling short/bowling wide/ bowling bouncers/bowling down the leg side, he's never going to make him play a shot and he's never going to get a chance, that's what I say."

And what I've always said, and what I'm always going to say.

Getting out

"Did he get an edge?"

Did he hit it?

"Was that a chance?"

If he did hit it, did the fielder catch it?

"Was that worth a shout?"

If the fielders shout loud enough, will the umpire be brainwashed into giving him out?

"I'd like to see that again."

I wasn't watching. Can we have the slow-motion replay?

"It looks very adjacent."

I have no idea if it was out or not.

"The umpire is not interested."

It's not out.

"His finger goes up."

It's out.

"Let's see what Hawkeye thinks."

Let us bring in a computerised simulation of the ball and prove humiliatingly that the umpire got it wrong either way.

The great god Hawkeye

As Vishnu to the Hindus and Allah to the Muslims, so is Hawkeye to the commentators. Hawkeye can do no wrong. Hawkeye sees everything. Hawkeye is above good and evil. Hawkeye is all-powerful. Hawkeye will look after the weak and succour the oppressed. Bow down to Hawkeye, for he is the greatest. That was a commercial for Hawkeye. Thank you. Now back to the game.

The crowd

"The crowd have been very good-humoured for the most part."

Most people have got a drink to hand.

"The crowd seem very knowledgeable for the most part."

Most people are tuned in to Test Match Special on their radio.

"The crowd is more colourful than in former years."

We never used to see cricket fans dressed up as nuns, Superman, policemen, Bedouins or French chambermaids.

"Parts of the crowd are quite spirited."

Those spectators over there have just caught sight of themselves on the big monitor and gone bonkers.

"Someone has just come on the field."

But we're not going to let you see them, in case they take their clothes off.

"Oh, there was no need for that!"

They have taken their clothes off.

"I think play can resume soon."

And now the streaker is being wrapped in a big rug and manhandled off the field of play, prior to being beaten up behind the pavilion.


"There are some very black clouds over there."

Ah ha! It might be raining soon, and then we can all go and have a drink!

"I don't like the look of those clouds."

I like the look of those clouds.

"It's really coming down now."

Steady on the tonic, please, old boy.

"We have been promised another inspection at three."

Time for another, I think.

"Meanwhile ..."

Meanwhile we are going to show you black and white film of the highlights of some forgotten draw between New Zealand and the West Indies, some time, some place.

Resumption of play

"It's always very difficult to regain the momentum after a long weather delay in a Test match ."

I think I'll have a strong black coffee.

Close of play


"Well, that was a fascinating day's play, so let's get some personal reactions from ..."

That's enough talking from me. I'm off to the bar. See you again tomorrow.

Ten meaningless phrases used by commentators at any time to fill a long silence

"He's finding that cricket at Test level is a very different proposition from anything he's encountered before."

"The new ball will be due soon."

"The running between the wickets has been very good."

"I have just been told that only three partnerships in an Ashes Test have ever put on more runs for the sixth wicket at Trent Bridge."

"He's still not happy about the way he's running on to the pitch after he's bowled."

"Many of you have e-mailed to ask what exactly 'reverse swing' is, and we'll be dealing with that at lunchtime."

"I don't care where he was born. He played for Yorkshire, so he was a Yorkshireman."

"I'm slightly surprised by his field settings."

"I wonder what the batsmen are saying to each other."

"I have just been passed a note from the producer saying that if I can't think of anything interesting to say, I shouldn't say anything at all ... Perhaps I shouldn't have read that out."