Tuesday, 25 August 2009

When Aggers met Allers

TMS is always likely to throw up some unexpected events from time to time, as you'd expect if you were to pack a daily eight-hour live radio show with eccentrics, egomaniacs and oddballs.

I say this with fondness, and my enjoyment of Test Match Special is well documented, but I don't there's any getting away from the fact that it is hardly representative of the common man.

It's a strange mix between public-school chaps and working-class lads, an unlikely mix that nevertheless comes off brilliantly.

One of the former is Jonathan 'Aggers' Agnew, probably the man most heavily associated with the programme now that Johnners has gone to the big commentary box in the sky, CM-J taking a back seat and Blowers is seemingly semi-retired.

The juxtaposition of Aggers and Boycott and Aggers and Tuffnell respectively are two all-time great TMS pairings to my mind, and it's this clash of styles and characters that makes the programme so unique.

It's a commonly-held idea in TV land that opposites attract, a mantra that is patently untrue as often as it works, hence bizarre pairings such as Tess Daly and Bruce Forsyth, Des O'Connor and Melanie Sykes and Vic'n'Bob with Alice Beer.

But it works on TMS because of the mutual love of cricket. That theory was rather tested to its limit during the last test when the View From the Boundary interview segment featured urchin-like coquette Lily Allen.

Allen, a recent convert to cricket, had been entranced by the hairy delights of Graham Onions and had formed an unlikely friendship with Aggers via Twitter.

Naturally an interview was arranged and, to be fair, Aggers did seem rather more excited than he would if he were interviewing, for example, Chris Tavare.

The interview passed off in much the same way as most Agnew interviews do. I'm a great admirer of his technique, which consists of being so nice to the interviewee that they inevitably drop their guard, at which point Aggers starts firing off some rather more tricky posers - albeit in the nicest possible way.

The TMS commentator certainly did his best with Allen, but seemed occasionally flustered as Lily giggled, teased and flirted outright. It was like listening to Harry Potter interview Lolita.

Somehow, in an article in The Grauniad, this has been recounted as a leering, panting Agnew slavering all over a repulsed Allen.

I'm baffled at this piece of writing by Will Buckley (though The Grauniad has form with deliberately provocative articles), even accounting for the mischievous 'I'm joking, of course' tone.

Agnew has not seen the funny side, and has publicly called for an apology from Buckley on Twitter.

I can see why. While there exists a definite schoolboy level of Carry On-style smuttiness in the TMS box - I recall two distinct occasions recently when Agnew had to scold Tuffers for his innuendo, and another where Boycott teased Agnew that he fancied another guest - the accusation that Aggers was 'perving' over Allen rather crosses an imaginary line beyond which TMS does not venture.

The programme exists, rather uniquely, in a slightly rose-tinted vaccuum, sealed off from the real world and its sex, politics and beastliness. Therein lies its appeal – the crackly 198 LW Radio 4 broadcast, the cakes, gentlemen in whites, claret and TMS ties.

Even the likes of Matty Hayden and Russell Crowe seemed a little altered, a little more pleasant, by its effect, and the complicated Tuffnell and Boycott are lent an air of the scampish and avuncular respectively in the TMS surroundings.

Buckley's assertion that Agnew spent the Allen interview lusting over a young girl does not sit comfortably in this world, and the notion is grossly unfair.

It's not simply Not Cricket, it's simply Not Test Match Special.

• UPDATE: Lily Allen has defended Aggers, The Torygraph has waded in, and Buckley has apologised.

He admits to a joke not really finding its mark, which is fair enough, though someone probably should have seen this coming.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

My secret leaked dossier on the Australian squad

Reading Justin Langer's secret dossier on the England team, I'm struck by a few things. Firstly is that Langer – certainly one of the 'decent' Aussies – is spot on about a few England players, and some of the supposed aura around the team. Secondly is that it's equally as revealing about the Australian psyche as England's.

I think the current England team is one of the least likeable in recent years. The problematic Pietersen and Flintoff are very much their own men in that team; Broad is a mouthy git for a guy with a test bowling average of 40; and there's still a powerful lingering impression that there's something of a clique surrounding the team and management.

I don't believe in the impression that Team England is supposedly a solid unit – I think it's riven with factions and people intent on furthering their own interests.

Having said that I believe England, with Flintoff and Pietersen, is a superior team to Australia at the moment. And this is where Langer is wrong.

Langer lets his personal pride and hubris get in the way of his analysis so instead of being a sober, objective analysis, his dossier veers into the personal and biased. Many of his judgements on certain players amount to attempts to psychoanalyse the players, to what end I'm uncertain.

Among the pearls of wisdom are the observations that Anderson can be 'bit of a pussy if he is worn down'; Swann and Prior have 'massive' egos (and?); and Bopara is a 'strutter'.

It smacks of the mental disintegration Australia are so fond of, and is reminiscent of Warne's commentary, where the former leggie is unable to hide his personal feelings about certain England players.

Langer's folly is revealed in the phrase about the supposed psyche of England players, suggesting that they're psychologically fragile because they're built that way.

“English players rarely believe in themselves. Many of them stare a lot and chat a lot but this is very shallow. They will retreat very quickly.

"Aggressive batting, running and body language will soon have them staring at their bootlaces rather (than) in the eyes of their opponent - it is just how they are built.

"They [English cricketers] like being friendly and 'matey’ because it makes them feel comfortable.”

“In essence this is maybe the key to the whole English psyche — they love being comfortable. Take them out of their comfort zone and they don’t like it for one second.”

This is all about the Aussie fantasy that they're inherently more manly, resolute and tough than any other team – a kind of smug cultural superiority complex of the kind that Aussies like to level at the English.

Michael Vaughan has suggested that Langer's dossier should come as something of a wake-up call – and it should. To ignore England's obvious problems and not learn from the valuable information would be a mistake.

But I'd suggest that it should also come as a it of a lesson to Australia – their belief in a form of natural superiority in attitude and resolve has been exposed as a nonsense in this series, when Punter and his men have seemed as clueless and bereft of ideas and guts as England often have in the past.

To this end I've compiled my own dossier on the Australian Ashes team, in the same skewed and rather far-fetched manner as Langer.

My secret leaked dossier on the Australian squad:

Ricky Ponting - Stripped of the best team for a generation, his captaincy is exposed as flat and unimaginative. Proves unable to rouse his team when under pressure, and prone to hypocritical outbursts about playing in the spirit of the game. Recent hair transplant operation indicates deep lack of self-confidence.

Michael Clarke - Nickname is 'Pup'. Therefore a pussy.

Peter Siddle - An ugly cricketer in more ways than one. Head goes when put under pressure.

Simon Katich - An able batsman with no guts for a scrap.

Michael Hussey - Deeply lacking in confidence for a man named Mr Cricket

Shane Watson - A decent one-day slogger one tour away from being a forgotten man.

Ben Hilfenhaus - Tim Munton in a baggy green

Mitchell Johnson - A fast erratic bowler who has been afforded far too much respect with bat and ball. Get after him and he falls apart.

Nathan Hauritz - Simply not a test bowler. Probably a nice guy.

Brad Haddin - Chip away at him for his poor keeping.

Michael Hughes - Doesn't like the short stuff, and no guts for a scrap.

Marcus North - Probably a decent grade cricket player one tour away from being an Australian Mark Lathwell.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

In praise of....Andrew Caddick

In all the hype surrounding the Ashes, a piece of cricket news slipped out last week that seemed to go rather undetected. The retirement of Andrew Caddick at the age of 40 was barely mentioned by commentators too busy bemoaning England's one dimensional attack (an attack currently being picked on the sole premis that it'll be cloudy outside).

In a way this lack of interest seems to sum up Caddick's career - but consider the facts - Caddick is one of England's ten leading Test wicket takers of all time. It's sobering to realise that Caddick played 62 Tests taking 234 wickets at an average of under 30 while also claiming 69 victims in 54 one-day internationals. Eighth in the list of all-time England Test wicket-takers, he made his Somerset debut 18 years ago and in 2005 he became one of only six current players to take 1,000 first-class wickets. Stats in this case clearly make the case for Caddick to be an England legend but he's barely mentioned these days. Why?

The main reason seems to be that Caddick never seemed to fit in. Perhaps it was his massive ears, or the fact that he was born in New Zealand but whatever the reason a succession of England management teams never seemed to know quite what to do with him. It wasn't until Hussain and Fletcher instigated their revolutionary idea of actually backing players that Caddick, who like so many bowlers clearly fed on confidence, actually felt at home. The fact that he made his debut in the same series as Graham Thorpe who went on to play 100 Tests to Caddick's 62, is a perfect example of how he was messed around.

Another reason seems to be his apparent spikiness and trawling through the usual suspects' autobiographies only Caddick's Somerset team mate Marcus Trsecothick repeatedly sings his praises. Darren Gough, Caddick's opening bowling partner, shows downright hostility describing how the New Zealander constantly took the piss out of him for not taking 5 wickets as many times as he did. At one point they came to blows after Gough called him a 'twat' in front of the England dressing room.

When not playing for his country, Caddick did another rare thing. He rolled up his sleeves and got on with the business of taking wickets for his county. He never made himself unavailable for England and in 2007 was the country's leading wicket taker prompting many including Andy himself to wonder why he'd never had a sniff of a recall since his last match in 2003. Team mate Justin Langer even compared him to Glenn McGrath saying "I cannot believe he hasn’t played every Test for England over the past ten years.”

Unlike contemporaries such as the aforementioned Gough, Phil Tufnell or Dominic Cork it seems unlikely that Caddick will move into a media career. Instead he'll have to content himself on that top ten place and a twenty year career as an excellent fast bowler. Sometimes that's enough.

Caddick's greatest England moment:


Monday, 3 August 2009

Shane Warne is starting to annoy me

As I've detailed before, I'm far from impressed with the quality of Sky's commentary, despite the odd chink of light.

I'd expected the introduction of Shane Warne to liven things up a bit, and take the focus off whining about cricket and cricketers all the time. After all, Warne has been fulsome in his praise of England players since 2005, especially those he's played with and he can be quite amusing.

I couldn't have been more wrong. Warned is like a parody of himself, all "Aw look"s as he prepares to offer more excuses or criticism. It's as if he's sledging from the commentary box.

Warne spends a lot of his time saying that England's players aren't good enough to be Test cricketers, but only offers vague criticism of Aussie players, presumably because most of them are his mates.

England's Ravi Bopara, batting at number three, has borne the brunt of Warnie's ire. Bopara certainly doesn't look like a number three in Tests, but Warne has written off his entire career.

The reintroduction of Ian Bell to the team has given Warne an excuse to trot out his tiresome 'Sherminator' gag ad infinitum, a joke than was quite funny four year ago.

Elsewhere Paul Collingwood and Matt Prior, both of whom comfortably average over 40 with the bat at the highest level, are found wanting by Warne.

Meanwhile, you'd think everything is rosy on the Aussie side, despite the fact that the Aussies have spent pretty much all of the last two Tests on the rack.

Any questions on the abilities or form of the Australian XI meets only with an "Aw, look. Phil Hughes/Mitchell Johnson/Nathan Hauritz/Marcus North is a great player..." followed by an explanation that the under-pressure player is ever-so-slightly out-of-form, though Warne is backing the player in question to hit back.

The most instructive moments have come from Nasser Hussain and Mike Atherton, easily the best commentators on Sky, ribbing Warne over his fall-out with Ricky Ponting or his whingeing about England's sledging or luck with umpiring decisions.

Warne's ire was as obvious as his wig-like hair, porky belly or whitened teeth as Atherton probed him about his well-known bust-up with Punter in 2005, when Australia slipped to defeat.

Back on TMS Matthew Hayden and Jason Gillespie are proving to be able and amusing summarisers, who fit in very well with the Test Match Special ethos.

It's another example of Sky going for the big name and the Beeb exercising more consideration.

TMS 1 - Sky 0