Diwali in Ahmedabad on England Cricket Tour (13.11.2012)

This was a broadcast I made for the BBC’s Test Match Special during England’s Test tour of India 2012, when we were lucky enough to be there during Diwali. Lots of you liked it, or missed it and wanted to hear it, so here it is:

Remembering CMJ (01.01.2013)

CMJ’s contribution to the world of cricket as the most highly respected of journalists and commentators as well as former MCC President will be well chronicled in the coming days. For me, when he was travelling with Test Match Special it was like having a family member on tour. He was a similar age to my father and there was always something comforting about having a hotel breakfast with CMJ and his wonderfully warm wife Judy when she was travelling with him too. As a broadcaster and cricket writer he was incredibly generous towards young and aspiring journalists. He was very welcoming to me when I was the roving reporter for TMS, even though he may not have been a fan of having to break away from the ebb and flow of commentary to get an update on weather conditions or a player’s injury.In recent years his feedback on a handful of articles I had written for his old paper The Times was given thoughtfully and with encouragement. A nod of approval from CMJ meant an awful lot, and it was a pleasure to sit in the commentary box one day and help him choose some of his photos for his recently published memoirs. He particularly wanted to ensure he picked the best photo of Judy.

He never swore, except at cancer. He would often be at the back of the commentary box poring over his laptop before letting rip with a sudden burst of profanities such as “fiddlesticks” or “fishcakes.” It usually meant his carefully honed close of play piece had somehow, and inexplicably, been entirely deleted. Pointing him to the undo button usually helped. Technology was one of two things CMJ never got to grips with, and it provided his colleagues with hours of mirth. He once famously attempted to punch a number into a mobile phone, before a helpful soul pointed out that he was in fact holding the remote control of his hotel room’s TV. And only CMJ could attempt to buy a computer like anyone else would buy a newspaper; declaring, as we marched through Cardiff city centre on the way to the first Ashes Test of 2009, that he would catch us up, because with two hours until the start of play, he needed to buy a new laptop. Needless to say I spent a good part of the rest of that day between radio updates attempting to advise him how to set it up.

In the commentary box and on travelling cricket tours he was a famously scatty timekeeper. If there was an 8am minibus departure from hotel to cricket ground, it would actually become quite a disappointment if CMJ wasn’t last to hop on board. On his last tour with Test Match Special in the UAE in January 2012 we took great delight in Aggers’ discovery that CMJ was writing his notes in a diary from 2001. I think CMJ delighted in it too. In the Summer of 2008 CMJ – a voice of such distinguished gravitas – had his very own TMS ‘leg over’ moment; an unexpected moment of corpsing brought about by an unintentional sexual innuendo, which the listeners absolutely loved. Describing a delivery to the then New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori, he said in those unmistakable tones: “Broad is in, he bowls, and this time Vettori lets it go by outside the off stump…good length, inviting him to fish… but Vettori stays on the bank and keeps his…… rod down. So to speak.” His timing on that occasion was impeccable, but his time with us has not been long enough.

Life on Tour with Matt Prior (01.03.12)

Before coming out to the UAE, wicket keeper Matt Prior sat down with me to discuss what it’s really like spending months on tour with the England cricket team. He gave a real insight into how players spend their time away from match days and how they deal with spending long periods away from home. This 2 part interview was first broadcast on the BBC’s Test Match Special (Feb 2012) but many of you have tweeted me to say you missed it and would like to hear it. He begins by telling me about the set up in the team hotel:

IN THE PINK – There are still many issues to be resolved as the ECB began its own trial of pink ball day/night Championship cricket in the 2nd Division match between Kent and Glamorgan (13.09.11)

On a chilly, windy September night in Canterbury, there was little evidence to suggest that pink ball day/night cricket could boost audiences for the County Championship, but perhaps another step was taken towards the first ever floodlit Test match. As far as boosting attendances, there was nothing to suggest that the 500 or so spectators huddling in a sheltered stand or sipping hot coffee from behind the comfort of a glass window in the restaurant wouldn’t have turned out to watch Kent versus Glamorgan in their end of season dead rubber anyway, but it was intriguing to gauge how the pink ball, black sightscreen, white clothing and free entry for the ‘night’ session (7-9pm) for the England and Wales Cricket Board’s pink ball trial would go down with both players and supporters.

Floodlit, long form cricket is the brainchild of John Stephenson, the MCC’s Head of Cricket, who believes day/night Test matches could be the way to boost attendances in countries around the world who have struggled to fill their grounds in recent years. It has been trialled in Abu Dhabi for the MCC v County Champions curtain raiser for the last two years, and a number of matches in the 2nd XI County Championship have also used a Kookaburra ball with a bright pink lacquer. The experiment in Canterbury is being conducted by the ECB, but Stephenson was at the St Lawrence ground yesterday and was monitoring events closely. This was the first time a pink ball had been used in a competitive First Class game in this country and there are plans for another floodlit First Class match involving the MCC in New Zealand in October, before potentially staging the first day/night Test as early as the New Year when New Zealand host Zimbabwe. There are more than a few issues to be ironed out before then though. As well as placating those who don’t wish to see the traditional timing of a Test or 4 day First Class game tampered with, the biggest stumbling block facing Stephenson remains the quality, durability and visibility of the cricket ball. At Canterbury, pink Tiflex balls are being trialled for the first time whereupon the leather has been dyed, as opposed to the Kookaburra with its pink coating. Only 12 balls have been specially manufactured for the game, which was one factor concerning Kent and former England wicket keeper Geraint Jones. He was unhappy that the match had been thrust upon the players at the last minute and that they would be playing with balls which were totally untried and untested, with umpires directed not to change balls unless absolutely necessary because there were so few replacements. It was then hastily agreed before the start that the teams would use the pink Tiflex for the 1st innings only, reverting to the Kookaburra for the 2nd. As it turned out, the stitching on the ball split early on in the match and the players just had to get on with it; far from ideal in a First Class match, albeit one which has no bearing on Division Two promotion.

The performance of the ball got mixed reactions. The days play was quite unremarkable in itself, however a new red Tiflex is renown for its swing and seam whereas the pink Tiflex offered nothing and Glamorgan, asked to bowl first, turned to spin after just 7 overs. The pitch didn’t help matters, as it was slow and tired with little carry. Spin accounted for the first 3 wickets to fall but when the 2nd new ball was taken around 8pm, after 82 overs and under lights, it did just a little bit, nothing untoward, and Glamorgan seamers John Glover and Graham Wagg quickly finished off the Kent innings; 18 year old Glover finishing with 4-49 off 18 overs as Kent lost 3-22 in 6.1 overs of the new ball and were all out for 237.

“We got the spinners on very early,” said Glamorgan’s bowling coach Steve Watkins. “But we’re not sure if the wicket had an effect or the ball itself. The feeling from the bowlers is that the ball got soft very quickly and in the twilight zone, it didn’t really do too much.

“We mopped up the tail and it just swung a little bit like you’d expect from any normal ball. You have to judge these things over two or three games though and the wicket was a bit slow. “In terms of visibility, the feedback from the dressing room was that when the lights came on it was easy to see the ball, but it came at you a little quicker than you expected.”

“It wasn’t too bad,” said Kent’s Geraint Jones who batted carefully to make 48 and then kept wicket for 5 overs as Glamorgan closed on 2/0. “Because the seam split, you didn’t get your value off the bat I felt. But also it was a very slow wicket so perhaps not an ideal way to judge the ball because of the slowness. “One suggestion would be to get the ball a bit brighter. Once it scuffed up a bit it almost went white, so that was a bit of an issue. And the ball didn’t shine like a red one. It didn’t really seam or swing so that’s maybe an area they need to look at.”

There was a mixed reaction from Kent members, some of whom were proud that their club was taking part in an historical match, which could have an impact on the future direction of the game; others could not see the need to change the timings of 4 day cricket and felt that the credibility of the Championship and the professionalism of the players was being undermined by them taking part in such an experiment. Whether the ECB press ahead with further pink ball trials in County Cricket, John Stephenson maintains that the MCC’s trials have always been with Tests in mind.

“Whether it would be good to stimulate attendances in County Cricket, I don’t know,” he said. “It might be. But I’ve always talked about Test cricket being the main beneficiary of it. It’s an experiment that is worth trying.

“From what I’ve seen, this form of the game is viable; 4 day cricket under lights, with a pink ball, white clothing. It works. You can play a game of cricket. There are different nuances of the game that you have to get used to, but it’s interesting. It’s worth trying.”

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