TWC commentator’s poll

The latest issue of the Wisden Cricketer features the now regular poll on readers’ favourite commentators. Geoff Boycott takes top spot, followed by Jonathan Agnew, David Lloyd, Michael Atherton and Michael Holding.

What does everyone think about that?

And why was Mark Nicholas only eighth? Am I the only person around of the opinion that Nicholas is an unheralded broadcasting genius and at least the equal of Richie Benaud? Or do I go too far?

Nicholas goes into bat for Strauss

Mark Nicholas has come out in favour of giving the English captaincy to Andrew Strauss. Before the Ashes series, and how long ago did that seem, there was a clear choice to make for the English selectors- Strauss or Flintoff. They chose the latter and everything went downhill for England from there. This didn’t entirely surprise me- my spies in England had already told me that Flintoff was no great shakes as a leader. But for Strauss, leading this newly minnowed side is going to be a different proposition then the England of late 2006.

If there is to be a change of captain, Strauss does seem the logical candidate. But without a change of coach, it is a job half done.

England welcome strength in youth

About a month ago, I wrote a piece on the Ashes 2006-07. April 18 marked the halfway point.

After losing the second, England’s young team prospered emphatically in the third Test at Mumbai to square the series. The victory lacked the glitz and historical significance of the Ashes, but it was no less important. Even Duncan Fletcher was moved to label the win as ‘a huge achievement…[it's] close to the Ashes’. It demonstrated England’s strength in depth; young cricketers with bottle, nerve and immense talent were performing immediately. It takes some courage, not to mention cockiness, to dance down the pitch to your fourth ball in Test cricket as Owais Shah did.

I tried to make the piece as balanced as possible, as it wasn’t the place for my own personal views on who I felt had their noses in front. And, besides, I wasn’t sure. One the one hand, Australia are back to winning-ways. On the other, England have bred youngsters who performed with ease, maturity and immense bottle on the subcontinent.

So I was fascinated to read Mark Nicholas’ “halfway piece” in today’s Telegraph in which, quite categorically, he says England are all the better for their disasterous injury list which caused them to introduce so many debutants.

Had the team who returned the Ashes continued together in Pakistan and India we would be none the wiser as to the quality of the resources in reserve. By promoting mainly young, and when not then untried, new players, the selectors can now choose from depth. The stunning victory by England A over Sri Lanka last week helps to confirm this. The positioning of Alastair Cook at first-wicket down today is its very best illustration. Ideally, England should turn up in Brisbane come November with Cook as Andrew Strauss’ opening partner and Marcus Trescothick at No 4, making the best use of his skill against spin. Assuming Vaughan’s fitness and the presence of Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen, this makes for a front six who can handle the extra bounce in the pitches that is still the greatest challenge for all who travel Down Under.

Read the full story here.

Most inappropriate celebrity cricket commentators

Disclaimer: I have flu. I’m not thinking very straight. I don’t swear too much on this blog, so you’ll forgive the humourous outburst in this post as I amuse myself with a little story.

This is an old pub favourite of mine, usually only attempted after at least five or six pints, or at least when inhibitions don’t prevent you from acting out (as loud as possible) your best Samuel L Jackson impersonation. So. Who would be the most inappropriate celebrities to commentate on a cricket match and why?

Samuel L Jackson has to be one of my best, purely for that magically eloquent phrase, “You Motherfucker.” Picture the scene: Henry Blofeld is waffling uncontrollably at the mic, like the ageing cravate-wearing god of waffle he is; his producer, Peter Baxter, is tearing out what little hair he has left after a lifetime listening to Blowers’ fascination about red buses and curiously brown pigeons. And many other things. On comes Samuel, and the change immediately brings a a wicket:

“Yo, here comes Harmison and FUCK if aint got himself a wicket. That mother******’s bowled Afridi all over the mother******* shop. Yo bitch, you outta there!”

Baffled, Blofeld returns with a surprising and contrasting grace and ease of word. Jackson is sacked.

For entirely different reasons, The Rt. Hon. Tony Blair would also be utterly inappropriate as a cricket commentator. Even wedged between the uber-smooth Benaud / Nicholas combination, he’d out-shmooze Shiny Mark with such ease that Nicho would be reduced to his party-piece: taking off his wig and waving it around like a bafoon. Worse, though, would be our Tony’s handling of arguments that would arise in the comm box.

“Ambrosia. I think you meant Ambrose, there, Chony,” quips Benaud with unruffled glee. Nicho’s professional, but even he can’t hide a chuckle. Atherton’s on the floor, crying with laughter. Greig and Botham not sure what’s so funny; Botham assumes everyone’s laughing at him and smacks them with bats.

“Huh. Right, yeah – ok, hang on guys,” says Tony. “Look, I mean, you know, Gordon and I have been…oh no, wrong situation. [hands closed, palms facing inward in priest-like display of honesty to the thousands of listeners who can't see him.] Cherie and I are committed to…oh that’s not it either is it. Er, right, Euan apologies profusely to McEwans, he won’t do it again.”

Blair is sacked.

You see, we take our commentators for granted. They’re not a bad bunch, though; Nicho, as much as I’ve cringed and squirmed, is peerless these days as a presenter. He’s bloody brilliant, and his shiny shmoozing adds to the overal Nicho package. Celebrity commentators? Who’d have em?

Who would be your most inappropriate celebrities to commentate on a cricket match and why?

Shiny Mark is back

Post 1001, and it’s back to business as it appears that Mark “Shiny” Nicholas is back on Channel 9. His contract wasn’t renewed a month ago – but Dave mentioned it yesterday, and the plucky people at ABC are gratuitously back-patting themselves. And why not!? Is Mark gaining a cult following I wonder…?

Flintoff: a player with ‘a great sense of fun’

Watching the highlights of The Oval in The Ashes DVD set, Mark Nicholas said of Andrew Flintoff “…huge personality, a great sense of fun, with an ability that almost defies belief.” The bit about his ability is slightly over the top, but his remark about Flintoff’s obvious sense of fun is interesting (and correct). It is perhaps this, more than simply his skill, which endears him to the public: he loves what he does. Fielding, catching, bowling and batting – he loves it, and does it with a big, broad, Lancastrian smile. He’s a bloody legend. You can tell I’ve loved watching the highlights all over again. Aussies: be warned, they’ll make you weep.

Nicho nicks off Nine

The news that Mark Nicholas’ contract with Channel Nine hasn’t been renewed struck me as more than a little bizarre. I can’t believe there isn’t something more to this, and the always-insightful chaps at ABC have been mulling it over. Seems, on the whole, the Aussies are fans of the smooth-talking Nicho (“Wowza!” “Helllooooooooooo!” “GOODness ME” were some of his catchphrases this summer, usually when Pietersen was at the crease.). More at ABC’s sportsdesk.

Tony Greig joins Channel 4 team

Tony Greig joins the Channel 4 team for this summer’s Ashes. Here are the following voices you’ll be listening to in a few weeks time:

Mark Nicholas, Richie Benaud, Mike Atherton, Geoff Boycott, Michael Slater and Simon Hughes

The Great Divide

Mark Nicholas makes some interesting and aggressive points on the
“great divide” that presents itself in cricket these days. I’ve
pasted it in full below as you need a user/pass to access The
Telegraph’s site.

Cricket’s great divide
By Mark Nicholas
(Filed: 23/12/2004)

Cricket is a game fighting for its credibility. Amid the euphoria of
England’s memorable, record-breaking year and of Australia’s continued
brilliance, there are major causes for concern. Players lurch around
the world fulfilling fixtures that frequently mean nothing against
countries who are no good. Neither Zimbabwe nor Bangladesh would cut
it against an average state or county team.

It is unarguably awful for the credibility of the game worldwide that
Australia are winning Test matches so easily. It is worse still that
John Buchanan, the Australian coach, felt obliged to come out in
defence of his players the day before yesterday. “Our job is not to
mark time and wait for other teams to catch up. Our job is to keep
improving, individually and collectively. It is upon the other teams
and the ICC to work out ways to accelerate their progress.” That he
had to say as much, reflects the frustration in Australia. Australians
love a contest and they are not getting one.

Pakistan were a disgrace in the Perth Test. They expected to lose and
duly did so with embarrassing ease. Their captain, Inzamam-ul-Haq,
moped around, batted feebly and spent much of the third day off the
field with a stomach bug. And to think, his job is to inspire. Bob
Woolmer, the coach, said he would seek psychological help for the
players. What he needs is a miracle.

All this is part of a malaise that began infecting international
cricket about a decade ago. Its effect has been a worry, now it is
becoming extreme.

West Indies thought they had the formula bottled until lazy, overpaid
cricketers replaced the marvellous ones who had set a standard that
was taken for granted. There was no provision for the future and Brian
Lara has carried the can. South Africa deserve sympathy because their
future was always uncertain but claims that reverse racism is killing
the game have nothing on the racism that preceded it and excluded the
majority of the country from playing the game meaningfully.

England have had no excuse. Administration of the game has been
painfully weak, shrouded in-house, short-sighted and selfish. To a
degree, it still is. For a while the brilliance of Ian Botham and
David Gower papered over the cracks but the English game had been an
anachronism long before their tenure.

Of the major nations, only in India does cricket continue to convince,
and even there the crowds for Test matches are shrinking and the
power-brokers invest more in themselves than in the game for which
they stand. Sri Lankans are in love with cricket but everyone wants a
piece of everything, so the key figures play musical chairs and no one
is left alone to embrace the wider picture and lead the advance to the
next stage of development and quality.

The International Cricket Council have done untold damage by allowing
Zimbabwe and Bangladesh Test-match status. Their presence lowers
standards and diminishes an already fragile product. Test-match
performances have been cheapened and do a disservice to those who have
gone before. True, there have been other eras when series have been
uneven but never to this extent.

Sachin Tendulkar made his highest score against Bangladesh the other
day. Stephen Fleming did so a couple of months back but, be assured,
both these fine cricketers would rather have their marker elsewhere.
Lesser players than Tendulkar and Fleming can hide behind performances
against these poor teams and begin to believe in them. Their records
stand up even when they fail against Australia, so they are not
motivated to take on the world champions and instead collapse, waiting
for the horror of it to go away until the next easy ride when they
fill their boots again. This is cheating the game they play, never
mind the rich history they are inheriting.

Why can cricket’s administrators not see this? Why is the greatest and
most noble game being allowed to free-fall into mediocrity? Why on
earth does this Australian team have to answer to their own country
for being so damn good? It is a joke, and a very dangerous one.

Cricket is available on television just about everywhere and just
about all the time. The less-is-more principle has long gone. Many
matches are without frisson but still the producers and networks treat
this old-fashioned sport with deference and care, striving to improve
their product while the game fritters it away. Soon, they will wonder
why they bother.

For the moment, thank heaven for the sheer bravery and optimism of
Graeme Smith, who at least challenged England with a weakened but
politically correct team. Thank heaven for Lara, who, four years ago,
made a double hundred in Jamaica and a near unbelievable 153 not out
in Barbados to single-handedly draw a series with the Australians.

These were his greatest hours and yet, admirably, he has stuck with it
since, hoping, perhaps even believing, that West Indies cricket will
come again. Thank heaven for the way in which India have resisted
Australia with their mix of flair and confrontation.

Thank heaven, most of all, for Michael Vaughan’s England who have
transcended their masters and shown the necessary desire to improve.
The thought and commitment which has gone into their play, the smile
that comes with it, and their formidable results this year, mean that
English cricket has its brightest face since that golden era of Botham
and friends. Indeed, as Adam Gilchrist said yesterday: “England are
shaping up to be formidable opponents.” There can be no greater
compliment from an Australian.

Of course, the global development of cricket is crucial and yes, real
opportunities must be given to the emerging nations who require
enormous help, financially and practically, if their potential is to
be reached. But by compromising standards and devaluing performances,
the future of the game is further threatened at a time when it is
hardly on the lips of the world’s sporting community. The ICC must
understand this and act upon it – however cleverly England and
Australia are pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes – otherwise they
are not fulfilling their responsibility.