• Tailenders make cricket great

    (Photo by Alessandro Bogliari)

    What other sport can you see played – at the most elite levels – by people who are basically not very good at it (puns aside)? This is the beauty of cricket.

    A lot of people claim to not understand cricket. The statement above will perhaps convince them it’s not worth trying to. After all, isn’t all elite sport these days about professionals excelling at the outer boundaries of human ability? 

    The beauty of bowlers

    In cricket you have tailenders. They are bowlers who are picked because they are great at bowling. But the beauty of cricket is that everyone on the team must have a bat as well. Not just the batsmen. Everyone. That is cricket’s brilliance.

    In watching the tailenders bat, it brings even a national Test Match side – the pinnacle of the game – in touch with the ordinary spectator. When we see Jimmy Anderson, the greatest England bowler, cowering before the Indian pace attack, we feel his pain. 

    This is sport as empathy. Where the precision brilliance of Centre Court at Wimbledon, or Twickenham, or the Crucible, or Wembley, leaves us as mere spectators beyond the glass ceiling of sporting excellence, a tailender at Lord’s brings the village game to the greatest stage. 

    The great leveller

    Cricket is unique in preserving some of the magic of amateurism, so lost in other sports. Due to the quirk of a rule that allows for amateur abilities to be put to the test in the biggest matches, the spirit of simply playing a game is rekindled. 

    Why, one might ask, don’t they just tweak the rules so that each team can field 11 batsmen, and simply have larger teams with a bigger subs bench for the fielding side? Yes, it would result in a more elite batting display, with more excellence on show etc etc. 

    But the other major complaint about cricket is that it takes too long. Test Matches with 11 out-and-out batsmen in each side wouldn’t last five days, they’d last ten! Unless, of course, England are batting (minus Joe Root). 

    While we’re on the subject of cricket, let’s hear it for The Amateur Sportsman

  • The amateur sportsman

    Microphone on a stand with headphones in a recording studio
    (Photo by Jonathan Farber)

    Des Lynam, John Motson, Brian ‘Johnners’ Johnston, Henry Blofeld… Illustrious names of football and cricket, the two great English sports, and yet they all have a singular thing in common – they were broadcasters first and foremost, and essentially amateur enthusiasts of the game. 

    So what?

    I’ve always wondered why I love these personalities so much. They guided me through the games of their era with wit and excitement, doing what we wanted them to do, yet they have gradually been crowded out by a new breed of broadcaster – the professional sportsperson. 

    Obviously, the line is occasionally a bit blurred. Jonathan ‘Aggers’ Agnew played for Leicestershire and won three Test caps for England, but he has been far more successful as the voice of Test Match Special.

    And many pros have proved to be wonderful personalities of radio and screen, from the acerbic (Geoffrey Boycott, Alan Hansen) to the agreeable (Gary Lineker, Phil Tufnell).

    But the vast majority of pros-turned-broadcasters remain sportspeople who happen to have a microphone or a camera pointed at them. Anyone who has been forced to listen to interviews with players knows how excruciating that can be.

    Let’s hear from the man himself…

    I always fast forward player interviews. Why? They’re just not interesting. They say what you expect them to say, laden with cliches, and most of those who graduate to telly or radio by dint of their sporting prowess continue in the same vein.

    Which brings me to my theory. I suspect why I like the amateur enthusiast broadcaster so much is that I relate to them. When Lynam or Johnners talked of the game, I related to their perspective. 

    When a superstar pro talks about the game, they will always see it from a vantage I cannot really imagine, that of the insider. They may be engaging, if I’m lucky, but only really as a pundit.

    As my presenter and guide to the day’s play, I would always choose a person who simply loves the game, and also happens to be an exceptionally talented broadcaster.

    It might not be sport to most people, but in Finland fun is all about jumping through holes in the ice (brrrr!)