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TalkSPORT’s Winter Tour Coverage – 5 Things We’ve Learned

Here’s Adam Kiddie with his thoughts on TalkSPORTS’ plans for the winter. Will it be “smashing baby” (as their host might say)? 

For the first time since 2005, England’s upcoming away tour will be broadcast on commercial radio, as Talksport takes the reins from the BBC’s Test Match Special. Following yesterday’s announcement of the team and setup, here are five things we learned about the forthcoming coverage—

  • There’s no room on the plane for any women

For a broadcaster that has played a pivotal role in bringing female pundits and presenters to the forefront of sports broadcasting, the news of their all-male line-up is, quite frankly, astonishing.

Not only do they have fine broadcasters such as Georgie Bingham, Lynsey Hipgrave, and Natalie Sawyer already on the payroll—all of whom would have made better choices to front the coverage than the safe, if uninspiring, choice of Mark Nicholas—but it’s simply a fact that some of the best broadcasters in English cricket are women. Isa Guha, Alison Mitchell and Ebony Rainford-Brent all possess more charisma and insight in their little finger than Matt Prior, but it would appear, unfortunately, that being a man is still at the top of the job description.

Cricket commentary is at its finest when there are a range of voices who represent the entire cricket-loving public, and here, it seems, by reverting to the boys’ club formula, Talksport have dropped the ball.

  • The Barmy Army are onboard

Talksport are positioning themselves as the fan-centric experience. According to controller Liam Fisher, a partnership struck with the Barmy Army will see the commentary team “be with fans for every ball of the day”. And while it might not be on-brand for the BBC to send Aggers in amongst the beer-snakes and beachballs to see what the Barmy Army are making of the action, sending Goughie or Bumble in will make for great radio, and will probably appeal more to the man-in-a-van audience they’re aiming at than a pleasant, heart-warming, yet slightly forgettable, lunchtime interview with a Radio 4 personality.

Talksport did something very similar at Euro 2016 in France, sending Colin Murray and Keith Gillespie in to broadcast from the heart of the Northern Ireland fans. You could barely hear Murray for the relentless chorus of “Will Grigg’s on fire”, and the atmosphere jumped out of the radio. It will be interesting to see how well it transfers to cricket, but it could be a masterstroke.

  • It’s basically going to be Sky Sports on the radio

Both part of the Murdoch empire, Sky and Talksport have come to a very cosy arrangement to pundit-share, with Mike Atherton, David Lloyd, Nasser Hussain, Ian Ward and Rob Key all contributing to the radio coverage.

This is a great move. Although they divide opinion, for me, Athers and Nasser especially are some of the best in the game. They’re the type of broadcaster—like Neville on the football, or Butch Harmon on the golf—who provide insight that only top-level experience gives, and they make you understand the inner workings of the game better.

And the good news is, with all the money saved from the shift-sharing, we’ll undoubtedly see a fall in the cost of our Sky Sports Cricket subscriptions. Ahem.

  • It’s going to be ad-free… sort of

Talksport are pushing hard on the narrative that the action won’t involve adverts. The Twitter announcement stated that there will be “no adverts during play”, and an on-air trailer yesterday claimed that we’ll hear “ball-by-ball coverage, ad-free”.

They’re being very cute about the semantics here. Because there will be adverts. And your own definition of “during play” will determine if they are or not. Is a bowling change during play? Is drinks? It just won’t be during any of the “action”, and the ads will come “only during natural breaks in play”. Now, anyone who’s ever watched cricket in their life knows that a natural break in play occurs basically every 15 seconds. So, who knows how many cringe-worthy Trade Point jingles we’ll have to endure. Better than listening to Michael Vaughan reiterate a point he’s already made 14 times? Possibly.

It’s commercial radio, not a charity. They’re not just there for the good of their health. And we get that. We expect ads. They’re clearly concerned about lifelong TMS listeners refusing to make the switch purely on the basis of ads. But I don’t understand the desire to needlessly try to pull the wool over people’s eyes.

  • The BBC aren’t taking it lying down

Test Match Special is a much-loved national institution that has been a big part of people’s lives over the years. You only have to listen to Aggers’ reading of a letter from the relative of a late listener earlier this summer to realise what it means to people. He even took to Twitter to apologise to listeners when news of the switch to Talksport broke.

So, they’re launching The Cricket Social, an online feature—starring TMS regulars—that they describe as “a new, interactive cricket show” that will “complement the popular live text service”. So, in a big two fingers up to their commercial rivals, it sounds like they’re just going to do TMS anyway, albeit not in its full-length form.

Will this tempt fans to just stick with what they know best? Or will Talksport establish itself as a credible long-term alternative that might just get the accountants at the ECB thinking about future home series? Only time will tell. Have your say.

Adam Kiddie

2018-10-03T13:34:26+00:00October 3rd, 2018|Talking Points|38 Comments

38 Comments

  1. Giles Falconer October 3, 2018 at 1:51 pm - Reply

    I don’t know how to access TalkSport, and I won’t be bothering to find out. I expect I’ll listen, at least a bit, the TMS coverage. Why not try TalkSport – ads, Murdoch and the thought of interviews with the Barmy Army… I’d rather cut my ears off.

  2. AndyinBrum October 3, 2018 at 2:03 pm - Reply

    So tms are going to be Guerilla Cricket and Test Match Sofa, by doing exactly what they claimed GC & The Sofa were destroying Cricket

  3. Doug M October 3, 2018 at 2:25 pm - Reply

    I never listen to it, but it’s known as Talk Shite in many sporting circles. I have no problem with the ladies doing commentary providing it’s not Ebony Rainsford Brent or Allison Mitchell who are awful, sorry Adam, but it’s part of the reason I rarely listen to TMS these days. Most of the great cricket commentators are long gone unfortunately. But anyway I’ll keep a watch on the score and how Burns does, but otherwise not too much interest in the Sri Lanka series or England’s team of all rounders.

  4. Moulderingham October 3, 2018 at 2:38 pm - Reply

    It’s palpably not a fact that female commentators are better than the men.

    Personally, I’m looking for insight from people who have been there and have experience of such high quality cricket. Not that all ex-cricketers are articulate enough to do this of course – hence Prior – but women can’t because they don’t have any more experience at this level than I do.

    I dislike tokenism at the best of times and, sadly, that’s what’s been going on.

    I noted that the last test match or two or Sky had no female commentators and, frankly, I preferred it that way.

    • James Morgan October 3, 2018 at 3:10 pm - Reply

      There’s a difference between tokenism and genuinely trying to wider the game’s appeal though. I like some of the women commentators and I dislike others. However, I do think (or assume) that having female commentators makes the game seem more accessible to a significant proportion of women. And that’s got to be a good thing!

      Personally it doesn’t matter to me whether a commentator is male or female. The most important thing is whether I like them, and whether I think they add to my enjoyment by making interesting observations and / or adding to the overall entertainment.

      I happen to really like Isa Guha, and I think she speaks intelligently about the game irrespective of whether she’s played for the men’s test team. On the other hand, I think some male commentators are poor. I’ve never heard Angus Fraser or Ashley Giles say or write anything that’s made me think ‘good point!’ in all my years of watching following cricket, and they’ve been England coaches and selectors, as well as playing a shed load of tests. I’d take Isa over them any day.

      I completely understand that you do get extra insight having played in front of a packed house at Lord’s etc. It does help if you’ve been there and done that. But commentary isn’t just about these insights. Andrew Strauss, for example, is highly intelligent and experienced but was an awfully boring commentator. I’d rather listen to Guerilla Cricket than him. And I’d rather read BOC than Mike Selvey. And these guys are just like us. Fans.

    • Richard Clark October 3, 2018 at 6:32 pm - Reply

      “Personally, I’m looking for insight from people who have been there and have experience of such high quality cricket.”

      Someone like John Arlott, perhaps? Or Don Mosey? Simon Mann?

      If you’re going to make this about whether a commentator needs to have played the game or not, then the commentator’s gender has nowt to do with it.

      • Moulderingham October 4, 2018 at 6:57 am - Reply

        Well, it does in this case because women haven’t played at this level. When any get to that standard, by all means. Until then…

        • Richard Clark October 4, 2018 at 10:25 am - Reply

          And Simon Mann has played at this level?

  5. Doug M October 3, 2018 at 3:18 pm - Reply

    Just in, Strauss is stepping down from the ECB for family reasons. I wish his wife well. Perhaps the rest will follow after the disastrous meeting with the counties last week and the spiralling 100 budget.

  6. JC October 3, 2018 at 3:20 pm - Reply

    I’m not a fan of female commentators on men’s sports and just because TS have chosen poorly in their choices for their male pundits doesn’t make me yearn to hear from their female counterparts. Its not sexism – I want to hear from pundits who have experienced batting in a test series in Sri Lanka or bowled in an Ashes series in front of 90000 fans. And just like Women’s cricket, which was forced on us last season when Sky could have been showing T20 blast games, I’m not sure why female commentators are suddenly all the rage other than for PC going completely over the top. And whilst we are on the subject of women’s cricket – centrally contracted women cricketers – what the hell is that all about ? When an Women’s Ashes test can bring in gate receipts of over £5m a year before the game even takes place, then we can start giving equal billing

    • Pete Cresswell October 3, 2018 at 3:59 pm - Reply

      I take it you didn’t don’t like male commentators without test experience either. Brian Johnson, John Arlott, …

      Ian Smith is a pretty good rugby commentator. Something all those years as a test wicket keeper prepared him for … 😉

  7. Adam Kiddie October 3, 2018 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    I don’t think it’s a requirement for a commentator to have top-level experience – but I think you need a mix, especially in a sport that needs to grow its audience. You need good broadcasters AND people with experience as players. Very seldom does one fit both bills naturally. Generally, if a woman actually makes it through on to coverage, they belong there, because they have to be that much better than any of the blokes to be given the opportunity in the first place. The reason I like Alison Mitchell – and the reason she is popular among listeners – is because she talks like a fan, with passion, and you need that as part of the experience. When it’s just hacks and ex-players, it all becomes very cynical and “back in my day” sort of stuff.

    • Simon H October 4, 2018 at 8:41 am - Reply

      “the reason she is popular among listeners”.

      Would you care to prove that statement? I happen to find Mitchell extremely mediocre but I wouldn’t try to pass that off as anything more than my opinion.

  8. Giles Falconer October 3, 2018 at 4:49 pm - Reply

    There’s a difference between being a commentator (Agnew, CMJ, Brian Johnson, John Arlott, Ed Smith until this year) and being an expert (Trueman, Bailey, Laker, Boycott, Vaughan, Tufmell etc). I don’t like them all equally but the idea of having a woman as an expert seems wrong, though no reason why they can’t be a good commentator. And some are.

    • Adam Kiddie October 3, 2018 at 5:08 pm - Reply

      So even if a woman has played Ashes cricket or a World Cup, that would be wrong just because it’s the men’s game? Would it be wrong for Nasser to give expert analysis on women’s cricket just because he’s only played the male format of the game? I don’t think so. If you know the sport, you know it and can provide insight. To say that having a woman expert seems wrong is a bit shortsighted.

      • Giles Falconer October 3, 2018 at 6:07 pm - Reply

        FWIW I watch some women’s cricket live, and enjoy it…but to think the standard is (at present or in the near future) the same is, I think, mistaken.

    • Simon H October 4, 2018 at 8:44 am - Reply

      The abandonment of the model of a journalist as commentator and an ex-player as summariser is where cricket commentary became unlistenable. I watch it with the sound turned down these days and have done for the last three years (except occasionally when I know Atherton’s on)..

      • Richard Clark October 4, 2018 at 12:54 pm - Reply

        I wouldn’t go so far as to say it makes it unlistenable, but I do broadly agree with your point. There’s too much emphasis on ex-players, and it has helped to spread this myth that only ex-players who have played at the highest level (however you may define that) “know the game”.

  9. jennyah46 October 3, 2018 at 4:56 pm - Reply

    I have never needed a female cricket commentator to broaden the appeal of the game of the game to me.

    The commentators I want to hear are the most insightful and the best. I have no problem with male voices commentating on men’s sports,

    Some I value and some I could do without, but I do not need a woman commentator simply to make me feel more involved in the game of cricket.

  10. Tom Bleacher October 3, 2018 at 6:26 pm - Reply

    You forget that all the women you mention are TMS commentators so will not be able to commentate for talkSPORT. It’s a good line up regardless and might make a refreshing change. Give it a chance…

    • Adam Kiddie October 3, 2018 at 6:32 pm - Reply

      Rainford-Brent and Guha have both been on TMS and Sky Sports. So I don’t think the Murdochs would have a problem with them being on Talksport. Nick Compton regularly does analysis on both Talksport and 5live. Most are freelance anyway. Not really a big issue.

  11. Roy Moores October 3, 2018 at 6:28 pm - Reply

    I’m not sure how much insight the Sky commentators provide. They all talk far more than is necessary constantly telling us the score, reading out statistics from the screen, telling us a wide ball is a wide, say “that WILL be four” when we can all see the ball has already crossed the rope and when the batsman hits an aerial shot shout “Up in the air – man in the deep could be out should be out and IS out” What bunkum – why can’t they just tell us who is underneath it? The “Third Man” is supposed to provide the insight but doesn’t this come from the technicians is the van as Simon Hughes use to do? Having said that Michael Atherton is the nearest to the Richie Benaud mantra “put your brain into gear and if you can add to what’s on the screen then do it. Otherwise , shut up. At least they won’t need to adapt much to radio as they already tell us what we see.

  12. TheBogfather October 3, 2018 at 6:32 pm - Reply

    Poor analysis, lacking knowledge of talksport’s previous forays into covering Cricket – not just England tours, but ODI’s, World T20 and IPL. Anyone who says that Empty Brain-For Rent has charisma and insight (Hurgh, hurgh, hurgh, hurgh, hurgh) has fell at the first hurdle. There are some very good female commentators out there – Lizzy Ammon, Izzy Westbury, Isa Guha and Mel Jones, but definitely not EJRB, and yes any of them would probably be better than TheBigCheese and certain Sky Drones.

  13. Richard Clark October 3, 2018 at 7:24 pm - Reply

    Am I alone in not giving a rat’s fig about the gender of my commentators? My basic requirements would be…

    Someone whose experience of the game is broader than mine, and I can’t think of any commentator on radio or telly to whom that doesn’t apply, either by virtue of playing the game to a significant level, watching a significant number of matches over a long period of time, playing/watching in several different countries and climates, or all of the above.

    The ability, particularly on radio – since that’s what we’re talking about in this case – to describe accurately and coherently what is happening, using words and phrases most cricket followers would understand (ie. no ‘in’ jargon).

    In an analytical role, the ability to tell me how and why something has happened, what could or should be happening, how the game might develop from here, what the players on both teams might do to change things and so on.

    An eye for ‘other stuff’. The cricket takes 6-plus hours each day, so I don’t mind the odd bus coming down the Harleyford Road, or tourists in stripey t-shirts on the fort at Galle, as long as they don’t take over completely. The game has plenty of natural breaks, even between one ball and the next, and they don’t ALL need to be filled with cricket-talk.

    The ability not to irritate me. This is entirely personal, so what irritates me will delight others. And it won’t always be as expected – I didn’t expect to like Tufnell as an analyst, but I’ve found him to be very good. Charlotte Edwards’ experience ticks a lot of boxes yet I can’t take to her commentary. Dagnall and ERB make me chuckle but probably have others tearing their hair out.

    None of these have anything to do with gender.

    I’ll listen to TalkSport because it’s the only place I will be able to get ball-by-ball in the car, which is where I do most of my listening. I bloody well won’t be lending my custom to any of their advertisers though – that’s my token method of protest!

  14. Cricketcricketcricket October 3, 2018 at 7:26 pm - Reply

    Insight
    Willingness to call it how it is
    Knowledge of the game

    These above all are vital

    Then they need to not be annoying etc etc

    Sadly, there are very few good commentators now. Most just tow the ECB party line and kept calling average players brilliant

  15. Alex Haddon October 3, 2018 at 8:25 pm - Reply

    A) I hate this chat about a woman being a commentator. Charlotte Edwards had an incredible career for England, and while she’s not the most interesting of commentators, she’s definitely got the CV. And she’s more interesting than Nasser.
    2) I’m unsure about the ‘commentator in the Barmy Army’. OK, let’s forget that the Barmy Army AREN’T the ‘everything’ about English criket. Plenty of people go out to support their country without them, simply because the ‘Army’ are seen as being elitist nob-ends. But it’ll be nice to have people’s perspective on the beer and how we’re playing.
    3) I will miss TMS, because on Sky I’ve never heard someone slag off the England players. They just use the word ‘struggled’ rather than ‘crap’.
    4) The Sky Sports guys on radio are going to be tough listening. There should have been two crews not Murdoch-sharing.

  16. Glenn October 3, 2018 at 9:32 pm - Reply

    Talksport2 is more obscure not being on Freeview or old analogue radio. So I presume less people will be listening.

    It looks like their core team of presenters is Mark Nicholas, Darren Gough, Matt Prior, Mark Butcher, Gareth Batty which sounds rather dull.

  17. Marc Evans October 3, 2018 at 11:34 pm - Reply

    If you’re going to have ex players commentating on any sport ideally I think they need to be the gender of the competitors. International sport is different for men and women. Like it or not, in most sports the competition amongst the men is of a higher standard and the public pressure to succeed greater. It’s fine to have women commentating on sports like show jumping, where both sexes compete as equals, but women’s cricket, women’s football and women’s rugby are not at remotely the same standard, so it jars to have women ex players commentating over the men. They cannot have the same insight into what they are watching.
    I’m not against women commentators per se. In tennis and golf for example I prefer to have women commentators for the women’s game and men for the men’s. In athletics I prefer women to commentate on women’s events and men on the men’s. To me it makes more sense. I don’t want some PC broadcasting policy for the sake of gender equality. Looks what’s happened in politics where we now have a bunch of totally unremarkable women making exactly the same pigs ear of things as the men before them.
    As far as TMS goes, although it has a loyal if dwindling fan base, it’s no longer the institution it was when the likes of Arlott, Mosey, Johnson and Blofeld painted pictures with words, completely untarnished by stats or the technicalities of the game. They were consummate radio broadcasters, which none of the present crew are.
    I must confess I find Talk Sport entertaining in that it’s a minefield of self opinionated controversy, which is fine with a couple of hours of footie or rugby, where constant action intervenes. Whether you could listen to that for the hours on end that is a days cricket is another story. Goughie is fine in small doses, but he becomes irritating given his head. If you’re aiming at the Barmy Army then he’s clearly your man.

    • Doug M October 4, 2018 at 6:17 am - Reply

      Some years ago when I listen to Talk Shite, sorry Sport, I decided it was a Radio Bloke station, which is ok if you won’t that sort of thing. As Marc says above I am concerned that at least some of the reason for having more women commentators these days is of a PC gender box ticking exercise than anything else. Unfortunately if that’s true in sport it probably mirrors much of the nonsense in society today. Last year for example 3 out of 5 Cricketers of the Year were women, whereas the likes of Porter and Harmer (70 wickets each) for instance were ignored. Speaks for itself I think.

      • Richard Clark October 4, 2018 at 1:02 pm - Reply

        You’re talking about Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year, I assume?

        The indignation about this annoys me a bit. Wisden (much though I love perusing it every year) is not the definitive authority on things. The five CoYs are a personal choice by the Editor – they are, as I believe Wisden itself states, “in the gift of” the Editor. They aren’t chosen by committee or a public vote, nor are they chosen by any statistical or definable criteria. They’re just his personal selections, based on… well, whatever he decides, I guess. That being the case, they don’t have to be explained or defended, and they cannot possibly be “nonsense”, let alone “wrong” (or “right” for that matter).

        Lawrence Booth explained his rationale quite well at the time, I thought. Similar to the choice of Anya Shrubsole for the cover, it was a question of “If not now, when?” Yes, Porter might consider himself unlucky that he performed so well in the year that co-incided with England’s World Cup win. But he is young and has every chance of being selected at some stage in the future – he can only be named once, remember. Harmer too may be unfortunate, but so might Daryl Mitchell, who would definitely have been one of the five had I been editor of Wisden! 😉

        • Richard Clark October 4, 2018 at 1:07 pm - Reply

          EDIT to above…

          From your post, Doug M, I just assumed Porter wasn’t one of the five, but guess what – HE WAS! If you’re going to spout off about political correctness going made, at least get your facts right!

          Here’s Lawrence Booth’s piece (from the Daily Mail, sorry!) on his reasoning…

          https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/cricket/article-5602013/Latest-edition-Wisden-shows-women-cricketers-making-impact.html

          • Doug M October 4, 2018 at 3:25 pm - Reply

            Ok sorry about the Porter mistake, but I probably switched off after seeing 3 women out of 5 getting it. Hardly fair to put in mildly. Editor’s choice or not many people read Wisden and I’m afraid whatever the editor says this is a box ticking exercise at the very least. I’m hardly spouting off as you put it but saying what I see. Plenty of other hard working county cricketers should have been nearer the front of the queue here. Sorry if you don’t like my view, but some people are very quick to jump down your throat when certain subjects are raised.

            • Richard Clark October 4, 2018 at 3:31 pm - Reply

              One might counter that it’s “hardly fair” that only two women had received the accolade prior to this occasion, not even after World Cup wins in 1973, 1993 and 2009 (a double, no less). No Rachael Heyhoe-Flint, no Enid Bakewell, no Jan Brittin…

              If it was “box-ticking” then I suspect Booth would have selected a woman every year since taking the role (and probably made it a stated policy). And probably would have picked just one this time too, which was what I expected if I’m honest.

              If he was ‘spoiling for a fight’ in his choices, then I guess he succeeded. It’s great that these debates are being had.

              It is, as you say, a matter of opinion.

  18. Simon H October 4, 2018 at 8:48 am - Reply

    Who in this batch are going to call out the boards when there’s a serious issue of mal-governance (like inadequate warm-ups or pitch doctoring)? Nobody. Plus sa change.

    • Marc Evans October 4, 2018 at 12:35 pm - Reply

      There’s precious little chance these days for players to get practice on tours anywhere, as the money games are the internationals. In Asian countries conditions are so different that there’s no need to doctor pitches, the home players being so used their own conditions that this is enough of an advantage in Itself. Also, it’s more difficult to doctor pitches these days as there are officials there to monitor this.
      The worst offenders were the Windies in the 70’s and 80’s, where underprepared pitches made their fast bowlers literally lethal.

    • James Morgan October 4, 2018 at 5:58 pm - Reply

      Darren Gough is part of the team and he’s certainly not afraid to rock the boat. He was on KP’s side during the Downton sacking fiasco, and he greeting the announcement of Ed Smith as national selectors as “jobs for the boys”.

  19. Simon H October 4, 2018 at 9:16 am - Reply

    Which commentator is going to point out SL have won 10 of the last 14 tosses at home? Who will calculate the chances of that being mere random chance? Who will point out that of the four they lost, 3 were against India and 1 against Zimbabwe (SL’s paymasters and everyone’s whipping boys respectively)?

    Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

  20. Sean October 4, 2018 at 9:30 pm - Reply

    Frankly don’t think I’ll bother with this series (I’ll read up on it of course). The series is not very interesting in itself irrespective of the broadcaster but that commentary team is awful and Talksport are awful – that Barmy Army segment sounds just their type of thing!

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