‘The bowler is Holding, the batsman’s Willey’

I spent much of yesterday listening to Test Match Special (TMS) on BBC Radio 5 Live – I don’t subscribe to Sky Sports so couldn’t watch it on TV (except for the highlights in the evening).

The Ashes urn is only six inches tall.

The Ashes urn is only six inches tall.

Test Match Special? Well, for my many followers on this blog I’m referring to cricket. And yesterday, England won a remarkable victory over the Australians in the 4th Test Match (= match between international teams) of the summer 2013 Ashes Series (the rivalry between England and Australia goes back more than a century, and is fierce). I say remarkable, because midway through the afternoon session it seemed as though Australia were cruising to victory, having lost only two wickets for 168 runs. Then England fast bowler Stuart Broad found his mojo, and Australia were scuttled out 74 runs short of the required 299. So England win the five match series 3-0 so far, with one match (at Old Trafford last week) drawn, and one to play, at The Oval in London next week.

My father was a great cricket fan, often spending a Saturday summer evening watching a local match at Leek Cricket Club, or occasionally traveling to Chesterfield to watch county side Derbyshire play. When I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s, there were few overseas players in the county sides, because they had to gain their residency in English cricket before they could play in the First Class (i.e. county) game. Many did this by playing for local clubs. So in the North Staffordshire League (I think that was its name) we could watch some of the world’s greatest players, such as West Indian batsmen Sir Frank Worrell and Sir Gary Sobers, and fast bowlers Wes Hall and Charlie Griffiths. Quite a treat to watch these players before they hit the big time, and for any team to come up against these players in the opposing side.

I can’t remember anyone ever explaining the rules of cricket to me. Maybe it’s a ‘genetic’ thing – growing up with the game, I just became aware of how it was played. And at high school we did play cricket during the summer semester, although I was never good enough to play for one of the school teams. Cricket for me was much more a recreational sport. As a graduate student at Birmingham, a group of us would play a few overs (six ball deliveries) during the lunch break, and when I was based at CATIE in Turrialba, Costa Rica in the late 70s, we managed to scrape a team together, prepare a pitch, and challenge the San José Cavaliers to a limited overs match (which we easily lost). Even at IRRI in the early 90s we managed a game or two, and given the high number of staff and students from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, that’s not surprising.

Already, however, I’ve lapsed into jargon: ‘overs’, ‘sides’, ‘wickets’, etc. So for many, especially in the USA, cricket remains a ‘remote’ sport. In some ways that’s hardly surprising when you have fielding positions such as ‘silly mid on’, ‘silly mid off’, ‘slips’, gully’, and ‘deep fine leg’ to mention but a few. And the fact that Test Matches are played over five days, with lunch, drinks and tea breaks further adds to cricket’s unfathomability for some. Needless to say I have the same issues with American football and baseball.

There has been a significant change in the way that cricket is played, with the expansion of the one day, limited overs, matches, and the more recent phenomenon: T20 (20-twenty), in which both sides have just 20 overs to score as many runs as possible. It’s a big thing in India, and fortunes are spent on promotion, commercialization, and key players. Not really my cup of tea.

Yesterday’s match at the Emirates Durham in Chester-le-Street was a great exhibition of the very best of Test Match cricket. The balance of the game swung from one team to the other, until England finally made the breakthrough late on in the afternoon. Roll on The Oval!

Brian Johnston

Listening to a cricket match on the radio is also special – but you have to know something about the game, and the field placings, etc. to fully understand the commentary. I grew up listening to the likes of John Arlott and Brian Johnston and later former Australian captain Richie Benaud. Other commentators have come and gone, but the current crew are, in the main, very good (Jonathan Agnew, former England captain Michael Vaughan, former England opener Geoffrey Boycott, Henry Blofeld, and others). Then and now, you can detect the camaraderie among the commentators, and the fun they are having – as well as their love of cricket. But commentating live has its pitfalls.

The title of this blog refers to something that Brian Johnston is reported to have said during a Test Match in 1976 between England and the West Indies at The Oval Cricket Ground in south London. England were batting, and Peter Willey was facing a ball from West Indian (very) fast bowler Michael Holding. It’s up to the commentator to describe, as succinctly as possible, what’s happening on the field of play. So, for the listening audience, Jonners (as he was known) quickly described the state of play: ‘The bowler is Holding, the batsman’s Willey’. Listen  to cricket commentator Henry Blofeld talk about this. 

Well, if true, it’s a classic, as good if not better than Jonathan Agnew’s (Aggers) description of Ian Botham missing a shot and trying to get out of the way by leaping over his wicket – but failing. ‘Botham can’t get his leg over’ was the comment! On cue, commentators in the booth falling about, laughing so hard, unable to broadcast.

And this is how it was. Here’s Aggers setting up former England captain Michael Vaughan. Lots of great commentating, lots of humour – and lots of cakes sent in by listeners, which became a TMS tradition which endures to this day.

And it’s not just during cricket matches that commentators wish they could rewind the tape, so-to-speak. Out of the mouths of babes and commentators, come some of the best unintended double entendres, which I discovered earlier today on the Internet. Enjoy!

1. Ted Walsh – Horse Racing Commentator: ‘This is really a lovely horse. I once rode her mother.’

2. Pat Glenn, weightlifting commentator: ‘And this is Gregoriava from Bulgaria. I saw her snatch this morning and it was amazing!’

3. Harry Carpenter at the Oxford-Cambridge boat race 1977: ‘Ah, isn’t that nice. The wife of the Cambridge President is kissing the Cox of the Oxford crew.’

4. US PGA Commentator: ‘One of the reasons Arnie (Arnold Palmer) is playing so well is that, before each tee shot, his wife takes out his balls and kisses them …. Oh my god !! What have I just said??’

5. Carenza Lewis about finding food in the Middle Ages on ‘Time Team Live’ said: ‘You’d eat beaver if you could get it.’

6. A female news anchor who, the day after it was supposed to have snowed and didn’t, turned to the weatherman and asked: ‘So Bob, where’s that eight inches you promised me last night?’ Not only did HE have to leave the set, but half the crew did too, because they were laughing so hard!

7. Steve Ryder covering the US Masters: ‘Ballesteros felt much better today after a 69 yesterday.’

8. Clair Frisby talking about a jumbo hot dog on Look North said: ‘There’s nothing like a big hot sausage inside you on a cold night like this. ‘

9. Michael Buerk on watching Philippa Forrester cuddle up to a male astronomer for warmth during BBC1’s UK eclipse coverage remarked: ‘They seem cold out there, they’re rubbing each other and he’s only come in his shorts.’

10. Ken Brown commentating on golfer Nick Faldo and his caddie Fanny Sunneson lining-up shots at the Scottish Open: ‘Some weeks Nick likes to use Fanny, other weeks he prefers to do it by himself.’

3 thoughts on “‘The bowler is Holding, the batsman’s Willey’

  1. Geoff says:

    Great blog, enjoyed it. Have sent it on the 3 others who will also appreciate

  2. Martin jackson says:

    Hmmmm…

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