Jonathan Agnew talks cricket

Thursday 22nd May 2014

Every regular spectator of live sport knows that there is much more to the overall experience than merely the action on the field. It’s true that diehard fans want their team to win whatever the cost, but when I look down from my lofty perch in the BBC radio commentary box on a sunny afternoon, I see a Test match crowd made up of men, women and children of all ages and backgrounds creating a vividly colourful scene and a vibrant atmosphere.

‘Trent Bridge, Nottingham, is my home ground … there’s no stifling security and, being the closest ground to Melton Mowbray, commentary box cakes are replaced by delicious pork pies’

Clearly the logistics involved with effectively moving office every week as we pack up and move on from game to game can create complications for our producer and sound engineers,but one of cricket’s many attractions is that every pitch performs differently, bringing variety in the playing of every match. The diversity provides a welcome contrast for those of us for whom the summer circuit has become a way of lif e.

Lord’s is the headquarters of cricket and home to the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), formerly a gentlemen’s club that was responsible for the running of the game. I experienced its reputation for being an unfriendly and stuffy place when, arriving early one morning to report live for the Today programme in 1991, I was refused entry by the steward on the gate. It did not matter one bit that I had the correct accreditation; he simply would not let me in. So my scene-set for Radio 4 was filed from a telephone box in St John’s Wood High Street. (I remember vividly shoving in another 10p piece whenever the pips sounded.)
 

Happily, Lord’s has been transformed, coinciding with the long overdue decision to allow women to become members. Welcoming and friendly – none more so than Errol who mans the East Gate and receives our steady stream of cakes from generous listeners – Lord’s has combined its wealth of history and tradition with a first-class spectator experience.

'Word of a pork pie delivery quickly gets out, resulting in a raid by our colleagues, inevitably led by Ian Botham'

Trent Bridge, Nottingham, is my home ground and, although I’m naturally biased, it’s also the favourite for many of my colleagues. There’s no stifling security and, being the closest ground to Melton Mowbray, commentary box cakes are replaced by delicious pork pies. Word of a delivery quickly gets out, resulting in a raid by our colleagues from Sky TV, inevitably led by Ian Botham. This can be used to our advantage – towards the end of a summer during which he had been fed a non-stop diet of our pork pies, Ian reciprocated by arranging for me to interview his great friend Eric Clapton on Test Match Special.

Food is clearly a recurring theme on the cricket circuit. The Ladies Pavilion at Worcester, which overlooks the beautiful cathedral, is renowned for the splendid cakes that are served during every tea break, and if it’s a full English breakfast you need, look no further than the unprepossessing but satisfying Ugly Mugs café at Headingley. Frankly, it’s no surprise that every cricket commentator’s winter is spent on a strict diet! 

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Thursday 15th May 2014

This week would usually see us gathering at Lord’s for the first Test match of the summer. The congested international timetable is the principal reason for playing so early in the summer, but it is also a good opportunity to ambush the opposition who, invariably used to tropical conditions, spend their time in the field clutching the hand warmers that are concealed deep within their trouser pockets. 

'England lacked the dangerous approach of opposition batsmen'

Spectators arrive fully equipped for every meteorological possibility, so it is with relief all round that the switch has been made to delay the Test series against Sri Lanka until June, and kick off the international summer with the shorter, busier limited overs matches. 

In fact, this is a big year for one-day cricket with the World Cup due to be staged in Australia and New Zealand in February and March. England remain one of the few senior teams never to have won despite appearing in the final three times, and it is ironic now to consider that last winter’s disastrous Ashes campaign was brought forward by a year to improve their prospects. Previously the World Cup was played on the back of a gruelling Ashes campaign in Australia and it was argued that the players were simply too tired to recover properly.

Well, there can be no such excuse this time but the bottom line is that England have just 20 matches between now and their World Cup opener on Valentine’s Day to rebuild their team after their 4-1 defeat to Australia and the sacking of their most dangerous one-day player, Kevin Pietersen.

'There will be no more resting of the leading players that I still believe was one of the causes of England’s dramatic collapse last year'


Even with Pietersen in the team, England lacked the carefree approach of many opposition batsmen, which has seriously hampered their prospects in the past. Encouraging an attacking mindset is just one of the challenges facing the recently restored coach, Peter Moores.

One thing is certain: there will be no more resting of the leading players that I still believe was one of  the causes of England’s dramatic collapse last year. The decision to field virtually a second X1 in the one-day series after the Ashes last summer dismayed spectators who had paid up to £70 for a ticket in advance to see the best, and it gave Australia the welcome opportunity to win some matches and regain confidence. The decision also smacked of arrogance and I hope it is just one of many lessons learned as England take their first steps into a new era.

 

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