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Test Match Special suffers along with England in Dubai

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Adam Mountford | 17:27 UK time, Thursday, 19 January 2012

Thursday 19 January will not go down as a great day for the England cricket team - and it wasn't the easiest in the Test Match Special commentary box.

While England's batsman were struggling against the skills of Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal, we were battling to stay on the air.

The TMS team are not always known for our technical prowess - it is true that Christopher Martin-Jenkins once tried to make a phone call with a television remote control - but on this day the programme was forced to be at the cutting edge of technology.

As regular readers of my blog will know, producing Test Match Special overseas can provide some very difficult technical challenges - but actually here in Dubai it had been fairly straightforward.

Test match Special

Jonathan Agnew (right) and Geoffrey Boycott commentating for Test Match Special during England's defeat in Dubai. Photo: Getty

In most countries I rarely get any of our broadcasting lines working until the day before the match.

But the team at the Dubai International Stadium had them ready for me to test a week before the game began.

All had worked smoothly on the first two days until around 0750 UK time when suddenly, for no apparent reason, all the radio broadcast lines in the building failed.

Henry Blofeld was in full flight describing England's reply when I had the phone call I dread from the TMS studio in Salford: "Adam your line has gone down, we can't hear you".

Reporters Alison Mitchell from Radio 5 live and Sukhi Hayer from the Asian Network dashed in to tell me they had also gone off air.

In Salford, Kevin Howells sprang into action commentating via a monitor before Jonathan Agnew was able to describe the last few balls of the session on the phone.

Meanwhile I was frantically trying to get the lines working. This involved a combination of rather desperate and hopeful dialling while rallying the local telephone engineers to sort the problem urgently.

Fortunately Kevin in the studio was able to host our lunch interval feature so I had 40 minutes to get us back on air.

But as the clock ticked on it became apparent that this was not going to be a short-term problem.

As 10 engineers worked feverishly in the bowels of the stadium, I was trying to work out whether there was any way of broadcasting other than the old-fashioned phone.

Fortunately while CMJ may be technologically challenged, correspondent Jonathan Agnew is a real gadget man. If there is something new out there, he wants to try it out.

In the corner of the commentary box I spotted his iPad and asked him whether he thought we could have a bash at broadcasting using it.

We occasionally do some short pieces using Skype on the internet - but we have never attempted a full TMS commentary.

But as our normal lines were still not working, we had to try something.

The studio in Salford tried out the signal and said it sounded OK - so I gathered together Aggers and Michael Vaughan to usher in a new era on TMS.

Then we witnessed the bizarre sight of the two commentators passing a small tablet computer between them while describing the action in the middle.

Unfortunately we were unable to pick up much in the way of crowd noise, but the quality of our signal was remarkably good.

I was still working hard to get our normal broadcast lines re-established - so the tablet then got passed to our next commentators CMJ and Geoff Boycott.

Boycs may know about batting technique .. but he knows nothing about technology. "What do I do with it? I have never had one of these," he said, before asking: "Just talk normally, do I?"

Then Aggers glanced nervously as the accident prone CMJ grabbed the device. "Don't worry, I'll hold it as carefully as the holy grail," promised CMJ.

There were a few glitches here and there but we managed to continue this improvised broadcast until just before tea when I finally succeeded in getting some lines working in another part of the stadium and frantically relocated all our equipment in time to resume normal service.

So we were able to describe England's disastrous denouement in perfect broadcast quality - although given the nature of England's defeat, some England fans may wonder why we bothered.

But I will leave the final word to Blowers who at the height of the technological dramas enthusiastically exclaimed: "Skype, iPad and goodness knows what. It's rather exciting isn't it?!"


  • Comment number 1.

    Brilliant. But I'm not sure the authorities over there will see it the same way as Skype is banned and blocked in the UAE.

  • Comment number 2.

    Typical jobs worth comment, that's what's wrong with people's attitude. Nothing is impossible, the impossible just takes a bit longer

  • Comment number 3.

    Excellent stuff guys! I must admit the lack of the crowd's hum threw me for a while. I wondered if the lackluster performance of the English batsmen had sent you into hiding.

    TMS is always a pleasure to listen to. The combination of banter and expert knowledge is a great combination.

  • Comment number 4.

    Well done today. As always insightful entertaining and very enjoyable

  • Comment number 5.

    Why is there no place to comment on the actual game? I'll just do it here then. Won't take long....

    "Ruthless, Consistent, Brutal"?
    Laugh, Out, Loud.

  • Comment number 6.

    Great story. Skype was the first thing that came to my mind when I heard the regular broadcasts line weren't working.

    Any pictures or video of the iPad being passed around and spoken into, by any chance?

  • Comment number 7.

    Great work, gents!

    Now, England must seek redemption from this humbling defeat!

  • Comment number 8.

    Very good job Adam. And vey nice to have a full squad TMS team here in UAE. I listened to the whole three days while at work just across the border in Abu Dhabi emirate. Is there any chance of being able to meet the commentary team and yourself somewhere? It would be an honour as I have listened to TMS for the last 25 years or so. Regards, Simon

  • Comment number 9.

    shame on b.willis for complaining about ajmals action....better served improving skill rather then blame others just like the football press...

  • Comment number 10.

    Great work as usual from the TMS team. By the way re No. 1 Skype is not banned in the UAE

  • Comment number 11.

    @5: That was a comment on England's bowling unit (who performed well), not it's batting.

    Still, let's not let the facts get in the way of a good wum eh?

  • Comment number 12.

    Wow, what a story! Such improvisation under fire-makes you proud to be British eh? If only the BBC could get TMS back to being about commentating on a game of cricket instead of tired ex-plyers chatting away about their breakfast, hotel, what they said on Twitter, etc ec etc. They seem to have forgotten that the medium they work on requires them to paint a picture for us listeners!
    Michael Vaughn is probably the worst culprit-he'll talk about anything but the current action (I am sure he is an advertising agent forTwitter and Facebook). Even Aggers has lost his way. He used to describe the on-field action quite nicely, but even he thinks we can all see what he sees!
    Come on TMS, wake up and commentate on the action.
    Johnners would be most irate!

  • Comment number 13.

    My heart bleeds for you all. Next you'll be saying you want a beer.

  • Comment number 14.

    Sorry Daniel Kyle, Skype is not banned in UAE. You cannot set up a Skype account here but if you already have one, then it works perfectly - I Skype my family back home in Ireland every evening! Well done TMS, enjoyed your new-style show!

  • Comment number 15.

    Great article. How can Skype be banned in the UAE if TMS used it?

  • Comment number 16.

    re comment 12
    TMS has always been a group of intelligent articulate cricket enthusiasts describing the play and chatting amongst themselves. I hope it always will be and won't descend to the self-glorifying mumbling poorly-spoken football pundits.

    Michael Vaughan brings not only an expert, well spoken view but a sense of great enjoyment of the game and of the environment of a Test Match. His sense of humour matches that of the great Johnners and is stopping Aggers becoming a grumpy old man.........which he was in danger of doing.

  • Comment number 17.

    Big deal out of nothing. So the team used technology that is commonly available in public domain. There are many amateur and professionals who use skype/youtube etc media to take distant classes for say classical singing or classical dancing or maths etc.
    As someone put it, TMS has gone down in quality. Comms look at themselves no less than being celebrities snatching all the limelight, forgetting what they're essentially there for. And it applies to radio as well as TV comms. Quite evident the way Aggers, Athers, MV conduct themselves. TBH, less established comms like Mark Butcher, Croft, Ramprakash sound lot better and lot more sensible than these pompous wannabies.

  • Comment number 18.

    I listened to TMS on the way in to work yesterday and they consistently mentioned Skype and iPad. Yet other BBC radio stations are always very carefully about mentioning Branded products. So what is the official BBC line on Branded products?

  • Comment number 19.

    Michael Vaughan..... Well spoken?
    Sorry, but to qualify as well spoken you should be able to pronounce all 26 letters of the alphabet. Vaughan's "now you see it, now you don't" approach to the letter "t" is unacceptable. How come he can say fifty but not forty?
    I want to hear him try to pronounce "positivity" then we'll see about "well spoken".

  • Comment number 20.

    I don't understand the head or tail of this story. Bottom line: This English team lost comprehensively. Don't try to find faults with the action of a first class bowler on the opposite side and learn to digest defeat. Still more is to come - strengthen yourself instead of considering your opponent as weak.

  • Comment number 21.

    Am I the only TMS listener who has become irritated by Sir Geoff Boycott's Podcast contributions? I respect SGB as an ex-player and, to a lesser extent as a journo, but I think he's been disrespectful to the Pakistan team (day 2 Podcast) whilst going on and on ad nauseum about the fundamentals (the basics) of the game. Later he suggested that England should have prepared in India?@? Failing that, England should drag England A around with them to provide meaningful opposition.

    Frankly I'd rather hear Aggers' thoughts combined with those of (e.g.) Michael Vaughan.

    The TMS podcast has become a comic vehicle, an object of derision. So it was with a Vaudevillian sense of inevitability that SGB was to invoke Sir Fred "We didn't have bats in my day" Trueman on the final day. Shocking stuff.

  • Comment number 22.

    Adam, judging our lads performance, it may have affected one of the TMS team, so badly, it led him to led to desperate measures. Have you investigated the possibility of sabotage?

    The beauty of the TMS commentary, absolutely nothing changes but it is like a breath of fresh air. I have been listening to the guys for over 50 years and long may it continue. To be without it, 'just wouldn't be cricket old man'

  • Comment number 23.

    Great Thinking!And to all the cynics who thought iPad is something not required here is another application of it! Great Blog always enjoy reading Aggers and your blog. Maybe someone like Michael Vaughn should also put his perspective on a blog.

  • Comment number 24.

    R Brooker

    Whilst agreeing with you, regarding Boycs, TMS has always had that affect. Jim Swanton, Trevor Bailey and Fred Trueman could certainly rattle a few cages just as easily. But it is part of the appeal of TMS.

  • Comment number 25.

    Not sure the point of this blog, would have preferred one about the performance.

    Will give me 2pence anyway. One bad performance doesn't make a bad team.

    Very impressed with the bowling unit and i'm not calling for Monty to be included unless the next pitch is as much of a road as they seem to think. Swann has been off his game for a year or 2 now and i hope to see him return to some form, similarly with Strauss.

    Batting line up shouldn;t be changed till after this series with the obvious question being Morgan's test contributions. Pieterson doesn't have time on his side but as people have pointed out i think he averaged 80odd for the lastg 8 innings before this test.

    When does the A team kick off, i think a few of them should be vying for middle order spots in the future if they can put on world class performances.

  • Comment number 26.

    Like Kuwait and most of the GCC, Skype IS banned in UAE. They want you to use their extortionate international calling services if you wish to call overseas. If you already have a skype account and skype is installed on your machine then you can use it. The ministries of Communication in these countries have found it nigh-on impossible to filter out the skype service. But they can filter all Skype web pages so that you can't view them, download skype or add funds to your account to make skypeout calls. If you're coming out to the Gulf (to commentate on cricket matches) make sure you've got all these services set up before you arrive.

  • Comment number 27.

    I loved this post, my 23 year old son is a TMS fan, a habit learned from his Cricket mad Grandmother, 80. Son 2 has struggled with me since Christmas trying to get me to a)use an iPad, b)use Skype. I think he thought this was a heaven sent opportunity to persuade me on the if they can you can basis. Well done - but the T-Shirt and jumper dress code has shattered my illusions of Commentary Box Dress Code! I'm going to retreat to 'steam radio'....

  • Comment number 28.

    An amusing story. Not the main issue of the day however. That is the utterly bereft of hope batting display in the first test. Why oh why do people keep extolling the virtues of one Kevin Pietersen. He is finished, done for, over rated and has been playing appallingly (with one exception) for 3 years now. He simply must be dropped. The ego has, is and always will get in his way. He is just nowhere near good enough at the moment and how anyone can even vaguely begin to dispute that is beyond me. He will no doubt whatsoever continue to play just as badly through the rest of this series but extraordinarily will keep his place. It defies belief. I must also take serious issue with aggers in a blog he has done elsewhere on the bbc website today. To try and defend the shambolic first test display by claiming he has sympathy with the team because they were 'undercooked' is utter rubbish. He goes on to say it's not their fault as there are simply no other teams they could have played out there in order to be 'acclimitised' to match conditions is just arrant nonsense. It begs so many questions but i'll leave it at just this - how come pakistan (minus at least 3 of their best players who are currently residing at her majesty's) were not undercooked then? Who did they manage to play in order to aclimitise? Did the apparently legendary pre-match preparation of messrs strauss/flower not realise they were not going to be match sharp and why did they not do something about it? Just delusional stuff at best from aggers there i am afraid. He should be a bit more honest - England were utterly disgraceful in the first test. Some appear to think thay have made it already whereas in fact the great teams and great players know only too well that the really hard work only begins when you are initially successful.

  • Comment number 29.


    Nice one.
    I think the days of the BBC dress code are long gone. Or maybe not, we could start a petition to ensure the guys, if ever they are seen, wearing the full dinner suit including a dickie. Now that would give Boycs something to moan about.

  • Comment number 30.

    @28 - I am curious as to whether the one exception is the 175, one of the pair of 63s or the unbeaten 202 against India, the 85 and 72 against Sri Lanka, or the 227 at Adelaide or the 51 at Melbourne (all in his last 11 tests)? But I agree, pretty appalling...

  • Comment number 31.

    @Wirral18, 25

    would you persist with Morgan? I would drop him in order to make way for Panesar in near-Asian conditions. Prior has shown time and again that he's the best keeper-batsman in Test cricket. That normally means you'd get into the side on the strength of batting alone (e.g. Gilchrist without doubt, B. MacCullum with a few, unsure of Boucher).

    I also agree that a blog about the game seems more to the point than techno-heroics.

  • Comment number 32.

    Skype and i-Pad - made for the 1st tough test right the way through to the last tough test. I should be in marketing.

  • Comment number 33.

    Re: 25, 31

    incidentally I wouldn't reinstate Morgan even if Monty P was surplus to requirements. Back to Ireland I'm afraid.

  • Comment number 34.

    Very interesting, but why can't i get TMS on my IPad when i'm overseas?

  • Comment number 35.

    @24, Londoner in exile returns

    Only Jim Swanton is before my time. I have very fond memories of 'The Boil'. Sir Fred, great in his time of course, became a veritable wireless fossil even in my time. I suppose this ties in with original blog's technological point: SGB, like SFT before him, belong to the era of TMS by semaphore.

    But perhaps you're right about the tradition of it all. Look at Sky and Bob Willis! At least there's something relatively harmless about TMS. Not sure if that's a compliment though.

  • Comment number 36.

    @ R Brooker

    Yeah interesting with the Morgan situation, definitely worthy of his one day place but certainly not made a single decent score in test cricket (as far as i can remember anyway).

    Bresnan's injury is disappointing as i wouldn't hesitate to drop Morgan then for Panesar but with a tail of Broad, Swannm, Tremlett, Anderson and Panesar isn't ideal.

    I understand the opinion that your batters bat and your bowlers bowl but time after time we have created a winning position because our tail has put on another 100-150 runs.

  • Comment number 37.


    I agree. Look at e.g. Warne and Gillespie in their pomp. A destructive tail if not always dependable. But then they rarely needed to be dependable. The question is do England plan on lower order runs? That's dangerous. Our batting line - refigured with Matty Prior at 6 - should make enough runs anywhere.

    Having watched a lot of them both, I see Broad as the better batsman than Bresnan. Not by much. I go along with Flower and Strauss. I back their decisions. They've earned that right. Nothing to do with conditions. He's not a Test batsman. And finally, to reopen a turning can of worms, whilst I'm uncomfortable having so many South African born men in the side, it's worse having a man who can swith-back to his home nation should things not work out. KP and Trott cannot do that. They made a choice which gave absolutely no guarantees. Morgan has options. But perhaps I'm now too far from this blog's purpose.

  • Comment number 38.

    @ R-Brooker

    Not too sure what the actual purpose of this blog was!!

    Yes our top 6 (in theory) should be good enough to score the runs required to win tests but in future series i would drop Morgan for another batsman. I think our bowling unit is good enough to take 20 wickets and with Finn lying in the wings we do have options in who the 4 should be. If Bresnan comes back then between him and Broad you have enough batting to possibly warrant dropping Morgan in favour of a 5th bowler. But without Bresnan then i would hestitate to swap a batsman for a bowler.

  • Comment number 39.

    Firstly, I am very, very happy for Pakistan. They have had a hard old time of it lately and this will be a great boost to a nation that is sorely in need of a boost.

    Secondly, I wouldn't chop and change things too much. It was a bad result and England have bounced back from them before ( West Indies - all out for bugger all not too long ago ). Maybe a tweak here or there is required.

    This is where the best teams are forged - tricky overseas conditions.

    Thirdly, kudos on the techno fix. I usually chuck gizmos that aren't working at a wall and, surprisingly, this does not appear to be as successful as you might have thought.

  • Comment number 40.

    @5 waldovski
    "Why is there no place to comment on the actual game?" - my suspicion is that it's because the bbc don't want this website to be infected by all the intellectual dead ends who plague a famous cricket website with their endless back and forth, crowing mindlessly at the end of every day's cricket, seemingly with no ability to see the bigger picture, nor rise above the basest forms of nationalism.

  • Comment number 41.

    i wonder how much the bbc get paid for there constant advertising of the apple ipad? before its always been a comment here and there , a few well placed devices in a presenters hand or on a desk but now a full blown article about one saving the day ! license fee is clearly not going as far as it used too!

  • Comment number 42.

    anntrodd *16

    I have no objection to the chat, but I do want to know what's going on during play!
    Example: Banal chat re hotel situation, brekkie, twitter, dressing room at Yorkshire 30 years ago- and that one went wide down the leg side...
    Johnners always said the cardinal sin would be to miss any delivery on TMS-this does not seem to apply anymore.
    And as for comparing the morose Vaughn with Johnners......well!

  • Comment number 43.

    @41 no1much:
    "i wonder how much the bbc get paid for there constant advertising of the apple ipad?"

    Thinking the same: if the they'd had a bog-standard Lenovo laptop with Skype the result would have been the same, but wouldn't be so sexy I guess.

  • Comment number 44.

    Sorry #42, but I have to take issue with your criticism as well. In many years of listening to TMS I don't think I can remember a time when commentary on the game made up the bulk of the chatter.

    TMS has always understood CLR James famous saying, "What do they know of cricket, those who only cricket know?" It understands that for many test match lovers, the actual match itself is only a part of their enjoyment and quickly becomes joyless when taken outside of its non-sporting context. Thus, for so many of us long time listeners, chatter about cakes, buses, seagulls and the night before is as much a part of the programme as the actual cricket.

    Oh, and the more recent additions to the TMS line-up - I'm specifically thinking Vaughan and Tuffers - have been fantastic. They have an insight to the modern game that many of the old guard, wonderful though they are, struggle to provide. Tuffer especially is a revelation. He has a tactical acumen and intelligence that came as a complete shock to me last Summer. If it wasn't for pretty much everything else about him, he'd have made a pretty good captain!

  • Comment number 45.

    Just read Michael Vaughan's piece in the broadsheet. It's on-line. Excellent assessment of the technical, tactical and mental adjustments England's bats need to make. Quality. It reinforces my earlier point about the podcast. Just saying!

  • Comment number 46.

    A good piece Adam. It would be nice to know why radio suffers more from this than tv?

  • Comment number 47.

    A very clever way to avoid talking about the humiliation at the hands of the Pakistanis.
    The no.1 world test team (in the only format that matters).
    Maybe a old proverb is apt " Even a dog is a lion at home ".

  • Comment number 48.

    More to the point why are the BBC wasting licence fee on iPads? Any tablet can use skype and the ipad is the most expensive.
    Then again as the Apple advertising agency it probably cost them nothing...

  • Comment number 49.

    What a great advert for Apple from Adam and the BBC. I hope you get the rich rewards that you are so clearly after! ;-)

  • Comment number 50.

    48 -SuperSonic4

    I had the distinct impression from Adam's piece that the iPad was Agger's personal property. What makes you think the licence fee paid for it?

  • Comment number 51.

    Here we go, a bunch of moaners on here, oh please do be quiet. TMS is a fresh breath of air that sets even Football Commentaries to shame.
    TMS with Aggers, Blowers, CMJ, Vaughan, Boycott to name but a few is very funny.
    I tuned to TMS at Edgbaston when we played India last summer and was relieved to hear the joyful tones and anarchic comments to come from the guys.
    Blowers hotel was mentioned, Boycotts boast of smashing a ball over a stand to be proved wrong in the process.
    When I heard the test match special team were going over, I had the TV on Digital Radio to listen to it and Blowers complain about the lack of buses going past but joyed when he could see cars going past.
    I didnt hear the incident in the blog but sounded like a nightmare...but I bet Aggers must be relieved his ipad survived and to heard about Boycott confused on what he needed to do made me laugh at work reading the comments and a few raised eyebrows towards me.
    Sad that Tuffers couldnt join you but hope he's back for the England Summer Commentary and I hope he and the rest of the TMS guys will keep me enterained at Trent Bridge when the Windies come to England


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