Simon Kelner: The Ashes - a much better option than counting sheep

Who cares about sleep when you can spend the wee small hours being soothed by the gentle wit and expert reportage of Aggers et al at the Test match

Only the very blessed will not be familiar with the unforgiving hours in the middle of the night when, for a variety of reasons – physical or emotional – we find ourselves awake. These are times of self-doubt, paranoia and anxiety, when the demons arrive and it’s possible to feel friendless and alone.

For the next few months, however, there’s a very quick remedy. Instead of lying awake, restless, trying to repel the dark thoughts, I’d suggest turning on a radio, TV or iPad in order to be soothed by familiar voices earnestly discussing a mixture of the trivial, the banal and the arcane. Don’t even think about counting sheep: the sounds and the rhythms of Test match cricket are much more  effectively soporific.

I’m not being entirely serious, but on the first day (or, for us, night) of the Ashes series between Australia and England in Brisbane, I did find myself tuning in to the live coverage in the dog hours of the night, and very comforting it was, too. Even (or possibly especially) if you don’t really care about Test cricket, it can be a delight to watch or listen to, and the fact that it unfolds over many, many hours – like Wagner’s Ring Cycle with helmets and pads – means that there is more than the occasional longeur, a time to be filled with flights of fancy and discussions about anything from the cloud formation in the Queensland sky to  refreshment options.

 

Notwithstanding the illicit thrill of watching live sport in the middle of the night, there is a tranquillity that comes from surrendering oneself to action taking place on the other side of the world in the company of people who, representing a range of regional accents, really know what they’re talking about. I am  particularly partial to the fruity mid-Lancashire burr (as in Black-burrn or Burr-nley) of David Lloyd (or “Bumble” as he is always called: yes, all the commentators have got a playground nickname). When Lloyd is at the microphone, I close my eyes and think of England, or at  least Lancashire.

Virtually no one who commentates on or analyses cricket, either on radio or television, is what you might term a professional, in the sense that they are all ex-players rather than career journalists. This is a gathering trend in all sports coverage, and extends also to newspapers. A friend of mine, who worked for a rival quality paper, told me the story of a lunch held at his office for everyone who was covering a recent cricket World Cup. He looked around the room at a distinguished cast of former internationals, including some legends of the game. “Blimey,” he said, “I thought we were trying to cover the World Cup, not win it!”

What this means is that we are granted a remarkable level of expert reportage and insight from the likes of Aggers and Athers and Bothers (I know Botham’s real nickname is “Beefy”, by the way). This level and range of expertise is unique to cricket coverage, and it’s a shame it doesn’t extend to other disciplines. Actors who become film critics, chefs who review restaurants. And maybe even politicians who have real, first-hand experience in their particular field. Now there’s something to keep you awake.

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