One institution that has consistently maintained its reputation for commentary is Test Match Special. I am old enough to remember Norman Yardley, one of th last amateurs to captain England, but grew up with John Arlott and Brian Johnston, though the two did not get on. Johnners and Aggers “losing it” on air is the funniest piece of commentary I ever heard, it still has me rolling in fits. When Johnners was in coma, they played him the clip to see if it might induce him out of it. Now Jonathan Agnew plays the anchor role and is the custodian of the tradition. A tradition that requires split-level commentary: on one level, a ball by ball analysis and, on the other, to keep some topic going that interests not only the cricket fan but also the more casual listener. To the extent there are rules to this fun-loving and giving but professional institution this observance is required. The bore that is totally cricket-minded does not get invited back. Equally the Question of Spirit panellist who thinks he is funny does not make it back either. I recall interviewing Gussie Fraser who said everyone wants to get on TMS. In Port Elizabeth I met Jonathan Agnew in the hotel bar, typically fraternising with supporters. He is a delightful fellow and a first rate broadcaster as his interview for the boundary in the intervals attest.
Of the present group in the West Indies Graeme Swann is a tad question of sport laddish for my tastes, Ed Smith too cerebral but good at another sine qua non of TMS, mobbing up Geoff Boycott. Another feature is the overseas commentator. For these current tests white Bajan Tony Cozier has been adopted to the team. He and analyst Tino Best are not only knowledgeable the latter in particular has the carefree “no problem” attitude of the Caribbean. On my first trip to Barbados in 1983 I remember watching his uncle Carlisle Best, who was on the periphery of the West Indies team. Barbados had the likes of Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall, Desmond Haynes, Gordon Greenidge; Jamaica Mikey Holding, Patrick Patterson, Geoff Dujon and Alvin Kallicharan; Antigua Viv Richards, Richie Richardson and Andy Roberts; Trinidad Logie and Gomes. You can see why with such talent West Indies went 15 years without losing a test. Sadly these halcyon days look as though they will never return. The recent tour of India ended in farce when the team returned home early. Their biggest star is Chris Gayle, playing in Somerset. His attachment is not to Jamaica nor to the West Indies but whoever will bid most for his talents. This reflects the obvious problem that the West Indies is a cricketing confederation, not a nation. Contrast here England whose barmy army has brought a large following as well as a commitment nationally to English test cricket. We may have a few bearing the flag of convenience in the side but there is unity of purpose if not a constancy of result and achievement.
I did watch the Sky televised presentation of the test. For all the advantages visually it lacked the interplay of the radio broadcasters, bringing in the local culture to our living room, the humour, the knowledge of TMS epitomised by statisticians like Bill Frindall and now Andrew Samson. Long live TMS!