Tuesday, December 7, 2021

It's just not cricket!


Why I will always miss the great John Arlott

OK. I give up. I know I am an old man and no longer a with+it+whipper+snapper. Mind you I will always be a promoter of change, good change. However, somethings leave me feeling like a crotchety old bugger who maybe should not be let out of his pillowed armchair. And as change goes, I have been able to handle most innovations, although the changes that are happening today, especially the electronic stuff, leaves me scratching my head or even taking a large detour to avoid at all costs. But there is one change that I will never come to terms with: the modern style of comic opera cricket commentary.

I remember going to a Q&A session with the great English editor of the London Daily Mail, David English. When we were discussing cricket commentary, he said it was incumbent upon the commentators to tell their audience what they themselves may not be able to see (on radio and much later on TV). That is perhaps the key element that is often missing in modern cricket commentary. It is an unwritten law that commentary should make for the greatest quip, words that will last a thousand years or more, or bring to life a miniscule comic relief that will be remembered forever.

I have loved women’s cricket, at least the playing of it. Women's cricket has had a big season. Great cricket. India gave the Aussies a couple of scares and looked good for a long while. The T20 bash was enhanced with Indian spice (the players I mean) as well as players from the UK, South Africa etc. The cricket was just great. I am more likely to hit the mute button the moment the giggling starts. There has been plenty of it in the recent WBBL. Sad, from my point of view. I would venture that taking the piss was never good cricket really. All that DJ drumming up the crowd, ridiculous music ... all awful. I don't mind the live bands in South Africa, the steel drummers of the West Indies and even the Indian and Sri Lankan drummers and musicians ... all part of the tradition but it is not an ear deafening racket.

As a child I grew up listening to British and Australian commentators, what little I could get to listen on a world war one crystal set. During the little time I spent in England, I was in 7th Heaven, listening regularly to the great John Arlott and the English spinner Jim Laker. My Sunday’s watching a black-and-white TV were a few hours of heaven. I was always mesmerised by the brilliance of the commentary, the poetry, the economy of words that soared like a roar of trumpets.

The great commentator  Neville Cardus’ quoted reaction (to Arlott succeeding hime at the Guardian) was I have always admired Arlott’s economy of words, his ability to depict a scene or character as though by flashlight …….. he is one of our most civilised writers. That economy of words is well illustrated by, for example, Arlott’s verdict on the great Barry Richards; He butchers bowling, hitting with a savage power the more impressive for being veiled by the certainty of his timing. (Martin Chandler)

There were no huge roars of giddying laughter, or voices raised and mixed with hoots of laughter. Laughter did come from a hilarious line or two delivered, sometimes, with the tongue firmly in the cheek. The laughter roared from the watching or listening public. But from the broadcasting duo, there was always grace, good grace and elegant delivery in reporting the great drama of an English cricket match with all its drama, brilliance, and sometimes a little silliness released with any amount of regret or shame moments later.

I am reasonably confident that the BBL commentary will continue its merry way. There are enough pros to keep the traditions of commentary excellence alive and well. Really happy with the BBL commentary team!

In Australia, we will never forget the abundance of greatness we have savoured in the commentary box. I only heard a few commentaries by the venerable Alan McGilvray, brilliantly succeed by the enigmatic Jim Maxwell. Up there with the best will always Richie Benaud. There are others from the West Indies, the UK, South Africa and Australia who have shone on the cricket mike. Among current crop, the great Indian batsmen and commentator Sunil Gavaskar ranks very highly. His knowledge of the game and the intricacies of the playing habits on display are quiet splendid. He also has a keen eye for a happy chirp and he is quick to tell his viewers of the momentary comic opera on display. Above all, he is always the grandeur of the game and he lives as he played it … with a lot of formidable skill, grace, aplomb and panache.  There are also a few women broadcasters who are their own individual niches in the commentary box. I would like to think the commentary in the men’s Test arena is still in very good hands. May not be in the class of the greats of the past, but still enriching the game.





Arlott was born in 1914 in Basingstoke and was therefore a quarter of a century younger than Cardus. The two men did not therefore have a great deal in common outside cricket, albeit for neither was cricket the be all and end all, something which doubtless contributed to the quality of their writing. In addition, neither went straight into the press box, and neither was a good cricketer. Cardus was a noted music critic in addition to his cricketing duties. Arnott was a poet, wine expert and, of course, an accomplished broadcaster.


After leaving school Arlott worked in his local town hall briefly before spending four years as a records clerk in a mental hospital. He then joined the Southampton Borough Police, a job he stayed in for a dozen years, rising to the rank of Sergeant. He spent much of his free time in the summer watching Hampshire play cricket, and another abiding passion was writing poetry.


Eventually Arlott’s poems brought him to the attention of future Poet Laureate John Betjeman and, through him, to the BBC and in 1946, after spending some time combining his police duties with BBC work Arlott joined the corporation as an Overseas Literary Producer. When, that summer, the management were looking for someone to broadcast to India on the 1946 tour Arlott was given the task. The rest, as they say, is history. (Martin Chandler)


"Australianism' means single-minded determination to win - to win within the laws but, if necessary, to the last limit within them. It means where the 'impossible' is within the realm of what the human body can do, there are Australians who believe that they can do it - and who have succeeded often enough to make us wonder if anything is impossible to them. It means they have never lost a match - particularly a Test match - until the last run is scored or their last wicket down." ~ John Arlott


"The batsman's technique was like an old lady poking her umbrella at a wasp's nest." ~ John Arlott


"Cricket is a most precarious profession; it is called a team game but, in fact, no one is so lonely as a batsman facing a bowler supported by ten fieldsmen and observed by two umpires to ensure that his error does not go unpunished." ~ John Arlott


"It is rather suitable for umpires to dress like dentists, since one of their tasks is to draw stumps." ~ John Arlott


"The umpire signals a bye with the air of a weary stalk" ~ John Arlott


"Ray Illingworth is relieving himself in front of the pavilion." ~ John Arlott


"Bill Frindall has done a bit of mental arithmetic with a calculator" ~ John Arlott


"Umpire Harold Bird, having a wonderful time, signalling everything in the world, including stopping traffic coming on from behind." ~ John Arlott



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