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Keeping up with the headlines

Adam Mountford | 14:53 UK time, Thursday, 26 June 2008

When the NatWest Series got under way 10 days ago, all the talk was about the potential death of the 50-over game because of the seemingly unstoppable growth of Twenty20 cricket.

And with Euro 2008 and Wimbledon going on at the same time, there were fears that the series may fail to grab the headlines - but how wrong we were!

There has been so much to keep the BBC cricket team busy over the past few days, we have hardly had time to pause for breath.

It all started at Durham when the pre-match build-up focused on the announcement of the Stanford Twenty20 match and the possible riches available to England players.

There were a few sceptical giggles in the commentary box when England fast bowler Chris Tremlett told Arlo White that the players had not been talking at all about the lucrative date in Antigua later this year.

But it was the amazing batting of Kevin Pietersen which set the agenda during that first ODI - suddenly the term "switch hitting" was being discussed by everyone following those incredible left-handed sixes.

Kevin Pietersen

By the time we got to Edgbaston for the second game, the MCC had already ruled that Pietersen's ambidexterity was not against the laws of the game, but as the rain fell in Birmingham it led to a great debate about the ramifications of the ruling.

It was overshadowed later on, however, by the farcical ending to the match, with the umpires deciding conditions were too poor to keep playing, even though only six more balls had to be bowled to constitute a game.

By the time we got to Bristol for the third match, the Twenty20 debate had moved onto whether the potentially lucrative Champions League would go ahead without English teams because county sides who fielded players who had taken part in the so-called rebel Indian Cricket League might be banned from taking part.

During the interval at Bristol we spoke to Lalit Modi, the chairman of the rival - and officially endorsed - Indian Premier League, who had previously advised a hard line against the ICL to try and clarify the situation.

At that stage, the third ODI had yet to catch light, but it ended up being an exciting match with New Zealand fighting back magnificently to level the series.

And so to The Oval where the issue of Zimbabwe cricket was the day's hot topic. During the morning it was confirmed that the British government had written to the ECB and that next summer's tour by Zimbabwe had been cancelled.

During the interval we spoke to Andy Burnham, the secretary of state for Culture, Media and Sport, ECB chief executive David Collier and ICC president-elect David Morgan. But just when it looked like Zimbabwe was going to dominate the cricket agenda for weeks to come - another major talking point grabbed the headlines.

The highly controversial run out of Grant Elliot led to some extraordinary scenes at the Oval with real anger being displayed on the New Zealand balcony and lots of discussion about what is happening to the spirit of the game.

Grant Elliott and Ryan Sidebottom

I know the breakfast show on Radio New Zealand the following morning were comparing the incident to the infamous under-arm delivery bowled by Australia's Trevor Chappell at the end of an ODI against the Kiwis in 1981.

Both England captain Paul Collingwood and New Zealand skipper Daniel Vettori apologised after the match and it was probably the right result in the circumstances that New Zealand went on to win the game.

The match itself was an absolute classic and it was a joy to be in the commentary box as Jonathan Agnew described the drama alongside former England player Phil Tufnell and former New Zealand batsman Craig McMillan.

As the last ball was bowled, Tuffers rose from his seat in triumph before slumping in his chair as he realised overthrows had been conceded and England had lost the game. As Phil sat down, Craig McMillan stood up and punched the air.

TMS as always remains neutral - but it was certainly a match which stirred the emotions.

One of the big debating points that followed the game was how Graeme Swann would have coped with his mistake in the field had it have occurred in the Stanford match later in the year with half a million pounds at stake for each of his team mates.

Also, if a similar incident to the Grant Elliott run out occurs in Antigua - would Paul Collingwood call the batsman back?

This morning we got another major development as it became clear that Collingwood faced a ban because of England's slow over-rate.

By the time we get to the final NatWest game at Lord's on Saturday, no doubt another major cricket story will have broken to change the agenda once more.

It really has been an extraordinary few days to be the BBC's Cricket Producer. Often I am battling to get coverage of cricket on the air - but not this week!

Before the game on Saturday, don't miss our commentary on the final group matches in the Twenty20 Cup (from 5.15pm on Friday evening on Five Live Sports Extra).

We will have commentary teams at Chelmsford where Essex and Hampshire are basically playing off for a quarter-final place, and at Trent Bridge for the deciding clash between Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire.

We will, of course, keep you up to date on all the evening's other matches as teams battle it out to go a step closer to that pot of gold which could be available if they go on to qualify for the Champions League.

There's plenty more cricket coming up from us next month. Don't miss Darren Gough's Cricket Show on Five Live on Thursday 3rd July from 8.00pm, or our live commentaries on the semi-finals of Friends Provident Trophy, Durham against Kent and then Essex v Yorkshire, on the following two days.

England spinners Graeme Swann and Gareth Batty will be part of our team for those games and then, over the evenings of Monday 7th July, Tuesday 8th July and Wednesday 9th July, we will have commentary on the Twenty20 Cup quarter-finals.

Who knows what we will be talking about by then!


  • Comment number 1.

    That was indeed a great final over, and great commentary and you guys should be congratulated on that. I always have a chuckle when Tuffers is on the mic.

  • Comment number 2.

    An excellent summary of the week. But one issue not mentioned is the ECB's proposed changes in the domestic calendar. One of these proposals is to remove the two divisional structure of the County Championship in favour of three geographical, or even randomly selected, conferences. The two division structure hasn't only made the LVCC more compelling for fans, it has helped to produce higher calibre Test players.

    Many cricket fans believe the changes are a bad idea and a petition has been started for those who want to make their voice heard. It can be found at

  • Comment number 3.

    To be honest i can't muster any enthusiasm for the short forms of the game, so the past week or so has completely past me by, and not, may i add, because of other sports. Just not enough substance to it for me, i'm afraid. I don't get sucked into following the herd. I'm more interested in how the players outside of the test side get on in these matches - the results are actually meaningless to me.
    Roll on the the test series against South Africa.

  • Comment number 4.

    Whilst Wednesdays match was extremely exciting, I listened intently at the end, before that and today at Lords, I am just thinking I can't wait for the test matches to begin. In 20-20 and to certain extent in one day matches, there isn't the time for a team to recover their position should it go wrong.

    Today's match is boring. Test matches can be boring but there's the chance to come back and enliven it tomorrow. Of course the commentators are not helping today. If Blowers was there, the match would be more exciting because he knows how to make a boring match exciting, unlike it seems all the general BBC 5 Live sports anchors know seem to be taking over TMS and its commentaries. Whilst someone can learn all the field positions and commentate that to the listener, they cannot learn the history of cricket so easily, especially when the previous days they have been at Wimbledon anchoring tennis coverage. I didn't release Graham Thorpe was on air the other day until afterwards. His voice wasn't striking enough to make me think whose that summarising and he was a cricketer, not a sports anchor. The only exception is Tuffers, who has a huge character and it shows in his commentaries. I want to listen to him and always enjoy finding out he's on air, but he seems to be the exception these days, apart from the older guys who seem to be on air less and less.

    I am 30 years old and I feel that if the specialist cricket commentators with their huge amount of historical knowledge are still around why not make use of them. All my family agree with me. My mum only listens to the radio when Blowers is on and she is not a cricket fan. CMJ, Blowers, Geoff Boycott and even Vic Marks to some extent are all available to commentate as far as I am aware and certainly the first two, may be three, have a huge amount of historical knowledge to bring to the commentary. Yes they were young once but when they were younger they were given less commentaries to start with so the older guys were not ignored as a result. As Blowers said to Vic recently, paraphrasing: 'Good to see you again Vic but it's so late in the season that we are meeting.'

    Whilst I get the impression the BBC prefer younger people to work for them, surely their is still space for the older guys and their knowledge. I know that Henry and others will be back later in the season but not often enough if you ask me. I remember when I first started listening to TMS back in 1998/99. Shortly after that Fred Truman left and I was really disappointed. I was only 22 when he left and I regretted not having heard more of him. I didn't feel that he was past it when he left. In fact Tuffers has just made a comment about chocolate cake which made me smile, I doubt the other younger commentators would bring that to my face. TMS is about commentating on the cricket and then anything else they care to mention in-between. Just commentating on the sport itself, makes for boring listening. TMS is different but it need characters to be different.

    On a brighter note I have enjoyed hearing the local commentators for the one day matches. It reminds me of the period when all the regional producers use to meet once a year and have influence on who was commentating at the local matches. All before my time of course but I read the account in Ball by Ball, the history of cricket commentating, a book written by CMJ in 1990. I also love the photo stream, including photos of engineers and so on and reading blogs such as this one. I also enjoyed the entertaining discussions and interviews during the intervals. Sometimes these have been more interesting than the commentaries themselves.

  • Comment number 5.

    Seems like you have fallen into the same trap as the rest of the press.

    Just because a series has been controvertial, does not mean that it has been either good or interesting.

    For much of the series the play has been mundane and of poor quality. KP's switch apart neither team has shown much in the way of imagination and neither have been able to turn a game.

    England's run chases especially have been drab and uneventful, often painful to watch as they fail to chase down modest totals. NZ's batting has not been much better but at least they can point to a much lower level of expectation.

    At least in terms of the bowling there has been some invention and quality in between the bad balls. Not aided often by uninspiring fields and very poor throwing from the outfielders.

    Frankly neither team looks capable of evening threatening the Aussies, Indians and South Africans in the ODI arena at the moment.

  • Comment number 6.

    The two division structure hasn't only made the LVCC more compelling for fans, it has helped to produce higher calibre Test players.


    The first point about excitement I agree with, the second is pure wishful thinking.

    The structure will never produce better players until one fundamental thing is changed, promotion and relegation.

    At present it doesnt really matter if a team gets relegated, because of the three up three down system a massive 33% of teams are recycled into different divisions every year. Why sweat over relegation when there is a 1 in 3 chance of promotion back again the next year.

    This badly needs changing so that relegation and promotion actually matters. I would suggest one up one down with a second spot up for grabs in a three match playoff series (one home match, one away, one neutral).

    This will make it harder for the bottom 6 counties to get promoted, which will in turn either encourage the teams to get better ot the good players in their ranks to seek moves to better counties.

    The downside of this is that several counties could become perrenial strugglers, with their best players consistently leaving for others. The upside is that there will be a much higher density of top players in the top division. Not only will good English talent congregate there but the top overseas players would also.

    Of course this could lead to a real two-tier system where teams coming up would struggle, for that I would say give them a one or two season bonus. Perhaps the ability to draft in an additional overseas player to give them a better chance of survival.

    Old-fashioned cricket supporters will complain of course, that this makes the game more like football. To them I would say yes that's the point, in a structure like this the top teams get stronger at the expense of the bottom teams, but it's so obvious that we need the best players up against each other week in week out to improve them. If that means sacrificing some of the 'good old county pros' then that's a price that I would be willing and happy to pay.

    (I say this as a fan of Glamorgan, who if this would be introduced would likely become one of the strugglers, so it's not like I'm suggesting it for personal gain)


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