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.