Sunday, 2 November 2008

Shire horses for courses

For most of us most of the time, professional cricket is a mediated experience, ie, we're not playing or watching it live, but getting it via the radio or the box (and these days via subscription to the box, another level of mediation - if you can't afford it, sod orf...). 

While the Batsman idled away his idyllic childhood, the experience was mediated by men like John Arlott, Richie Benaud, Don Mosey, Fred Trueman, Brian Johnson, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Jim Laker and so on. Some were former cricketers and some were not. In general, the non-cricketers described and the cricketers added expert comment. That was the point of their partnership. 

The great Arlott, a man with a poet's soul who learned his cricket at the Batsman's beloved May's Bounty, offered not just description, but a way of living. When he went to South Africa, back in the mad, bad old days, he was required to enter his race on a customs form. He wrote 'human'. He befriended everyone from Dylan Thomas to Ian Botham. He took a leather satchel to the commentary box with him and inside it were two bottles of good claret and a glass. He pressed his face into the microphone until you could hear every plosive and sibilant of a genuine Hampshire accent and said things like, 'here comes Botham, running in like a shire horse cresting the breeze'. Perfect and beautiful visions of resonance and truth.

Sky Sports would not have employed John Arlott (and Arlott, let's be honest, wouldn't have worked for them). They wouldn't have employed him because he hasn't recently captained England, and thus, apparently, can't offer the level of insight provided by, say, Nasser Hussain. 

That's not to knock Nasser, or Sky, particularly. This movement towards ex-pros only is not confined to Sky or to cricket. But it's sad that no-one is growing up hearing rich and full voices like Arlott's alongside theirs, in genuine partnership. The reason we love cricket is for the way it fits into life, not stands apart from it. It has dimensions that former England captains cannot reach. 

NB: the best (English) former pro presenter/expert/analyst are quite palpably Mark Nicholas, Sir Geoffrey and Simon Hughes, none of whom are employed by Sky. Why is that, exactly?

3 comments:

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