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Aggers not out after tech breakdown, thanks to Skype

Adam Mountford

TMS producer

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This is a guest blog by Adam Mountford, producer of Test Match Special:

The Test Match Special team is not always known for its technical prowess. It is true that Christopher Martin-Jenkins once tried to make a phone call with a television remote control. But in Dubai the programme was forced onto the cutting edge of technology.

While England's batsmen were struggling against the skills of Umar Gul and Saeed Ajmal at the International Cricket Stadium, we were battling to stay on air.

In my ten years producing cricket abroad, I have had some interesting experiences trying to broadcast Test Match Special. On my first overseas match, in the jungles of Sri Lanka, we only managed to get the programme on air by my holding a satellite dish at full stretch at the back of a stand while thousands of insects bit into my legs.

The irony is that this tour had so far been technically fairly smooth.

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 perfectly on the first two days - until around 7.50am UK time when suddenly, for no apparent reason, all the radio broadcast lines in the building failed.

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

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

Fortunately, Kevin was able to host our 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.

Ten engineers worked feverishly in the bowels of the stadium while I tried to work out if there was any way of broadcasting other than the old-fashioned phone.

Normally, on an overseas tour I have some sort of back-up line in case we encounter such a problem. I sometimes take a BGAN Inmarsat or an M4 satellite dish, but Dubai does not allow these to be brought into the country. Or I have a Comrex Access which broadcasts via the internet - but this sadly did not work at the ground.

Fortunately, while CM-J may be technologically challenged, correspondent Jonathan Agnew (above) is a real gadget man. If there is something new out there he wants to try it.

We originally tried to connect via Skype and Facetime using our smartphones - but the quality of the connection wasn't good enough.

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

We occasionally do some short pieces using Skype, 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 tested the signal and said it sounded OK, so I gathered together Aggers and Michael Vaughan to usher in a new era on TMS.

So we had 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 pretty good considering we were only using the internal microphone in the machine.

After today's experience I am going to look at options to use better microphones, or see if I can even feed a Glensound mixer through the iPad somehow.

I was still working hard to get our normal broadcast lines re-established, so the tablet then got passed to our next commentators, CM-J and Geoff Boycott (above). 

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 CM-J grabbed the device while reassuring him: "Don't worry, I'll hold it as carefully as the Holy Grail." 

There were a few glitches here and there but we managed to continue this improvised broadcast until just before tea when I finally managed to get some lines working in another part of the stadium. We frantically relocated all of 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.

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?!"

Adam Mountford is the producer of the BBC's Test Match Special.

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