Matt Butler: Who needs Sky gimmicks when Blofeld’s on the bus?
View From The Sofa: Test Match Special BBC 5 Live Sports Extra
It was clear by lunchtime on the first day of the opening Test that there was no need for Sky to introduce a motorised TV buggy to sex up the Ashes. So it is reassuring that Test Match Special on the BBC has stuck to what it knows. There is still Henry Blofeld’s lackadaisical reeling off of fielding positions, like a Monty Python shipping forecast (“mid-off, silly to sillyish mid-off, cover, extra cover, deep – is that deep? – extra cover”), and there is still the mild-mannered bickering of the odd-couple pairing of Jonathan Agnew and Geoffrey Boycott.
They may have brought in a few Aussie interlopers – Glenn McGrath (right) is a worthy addition – but it is still as comfortable as a pair of thongs, as those from Down Under would say.
While Sky has its electronic gizmos, flashy graphics and Ian Ward’s aforementioned superfluous TV trolley, all Test Match Special has is its voices. Not that they were strained to keep people riveted over the first three days; an intern could have made the action interesting.
But it was early in the final session of the fourth day, before the late flurry of wickets livened things up, that the commentary team earned their corn, making sure a languid passage of play was still worth listening to.
Straight after tea Blofeld, the old stager, was joined by McGrath, who was admirably objective, as well as extremely patient with his colleague’s meanderings. Blowers has, of course, been calling cricket matches since before McGrath was knee-high to a goanna, but there was no deference or stage fright from the former Australia pace bowler. When Blofeld mentioned buses there was an audible sigh from McGrath. “I have heard about your love of buses,” he said wearily. Blofeld carried on, regaling listeners with his joy of watching buses go past at Lord’s. It had nothing to do with the action at Trent Bridge, but it was still amusing. Plus, Blofeld interrupted himself on regular occasions to say what was going on in the middle.
That pair soon handed over to Jim Maxwell as commentator and Phil Tufnell as chirpy summariser, as is the habit of TMS coverage – nobody tends to outstay their welcome. Unlike Blofeld, the Australian Maxwell said just enough for the listener to get a grip on what was going on, without waffle or whimsy. Maxwell’s spell did not last long before he made way for Simon Mann. And it seems that idle time-filling chit-chat is not his strong point – for the better, some might say.
One attempt at painting a picture for the listener ended in a snort by Tufnell, when Mann tried to give an update on the conditions: “England looking for a breakthrough on this broiling hot day...”
Tufnell interjected: “Broiling? What’s that? Is that different from boiling?” Mann, calm as you like, replied: “Yes. It’s one degree hotter.”
Occasionally TMS can veer into chumminess and in-jokes. Get Boycott and Blofeld on at the same time, for example, and you are never too sure if they are parodying themselves. And the frequent mentions of cake may be endearing to certain sections of the population, but this is sport we have come to listen to.
But there was no reason better to tune in than to hear Tufnell speak about what might be going through Graeme Swann’s mind during his wicketless spell on Saturday afternoon: “I was always told go for the gloves. You do that, you keep plugging away... then all of a sudden, oof – you get your jaffa out.”
Thankfully, this was radio: there was no flashy graphic available – or needed – to sex up that bombshell.
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