The Analyst

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2010 at 9:23 am

I am a fan of the BBC’s Test Match Special podcasts. These are bit sized summaries of the day’s play (12-14mins), usually hosted by TMS mainstay Jonathan Agnew, working with a guest analyst. For the South Africa series, there was some entertainment in listening to Agnew try to control the robust and opinionated Geoffrey Boycott, who could be particularly loquacious at the end of a long, hot day.

The big names took a pass on the second half of the winter tour in Bangladesh, so the podcast baton was handed to Simon Mann. A new addition to the TMS team, Mann is a likeable and  professional host with a gentle but committed style. It’s his analyst, however, who was the real star: ex-Middlesex bowler Simon Hughes. Hughes is best known as the author of A Lot Of Hard Yakka (William Hill Sports Book of The Year 1997), and as the TV analyst for C4 during the Ashes and, latterly, his C5 test round ups. I remember one cricket convert telling me, back in 2005, that Hughes’ TV summaries were the main reason for him resuming his interest in the game. There was possibly an understandable feeling that virtually anyone associated with that glorious summer of 2005 was going to come up smelling of roses, but I think Hughes’ careful but vivid explanations really did contribute significantly to the overall feast. And what happened immediately after? The ECB signed a deal with Sky, ditching C4’s BAFTA and RDS award winning production team Sunset+Vine, Hughes included.

The former Middlesex bowler has since worked as a columnist for the Daily Telegraph as well as the C5 cricket highlights and the odd spot on TMS, but he continues to lack the profile he enjoyed 5 years ago. He wrote the book ‘Morning Everyone’ a disjointed trawl through the world of cricket journalism, which failed to thrill even those of us interested in the subject. The faintly embarrassing hagiography of Richie Benaud, which give the book its title, was hero worship without adding any particular perception or insight into the great man and his methods. By far the best bits were – surprise, surprise – his analysis of the 2005 Ashes themselves and how England won them. And yet this takes up barely a quarter of the book. Maybe some publishing boffin thought the market was too crowded and suggested a broader approach? Bad decision. Hughes was the perfect person to write the definitive text on the subject – a companion piece, maybe, to Duncan Fletcher’s necessarily self centered ‘Ashes Regained: The Coach’s Story’.

Anyway, back to the podcasts. It seems as if the pithy but trenchant10 minute test match summary is Hughes’ particular forte. His broadcasting manner is crisp with a touch of acid and a clear sense of detached objectivity: these England players are not his heroes. He is forthright, even snide, without any particular axe to grind or agenda to push. He can be open-minded and generous, but does not hesitate to stick the knife in where necessary. After the first test, Hughes used the podcasts to criticise – in his forensic style – England’s team selection for the match, urging the inclusion of a fifth bowler (Tredwell) at the expense of a batsman (Carberry) – which is exactly what the England management did for the second test. Of Bangladesh, he gave praise where it was due while remaining clear eyed about their limitations. Here are a few of his podcast extracts:

On Collingwood’s surprising dismissal for a duck against Bangladesh: “[Rubel Hossain] produced the perfect ball for Paul Collingwood, who has been Mr Consistent throughout the winter. He’s allowed a failure. He just got the one ball that had a bit of ‘essence of Waqar Younis’ about it.”

On Alastair Cook’s captaincy and his failure to contain the Bangladesh tail: “Dozy…Too many runs went down to third man, and there’s a simple reason for that. Against fast bowlers, tail enders are going to be late on the ball. because they’re not very good batsmen. They just don’t see the ball as early as a good player does, so naturally a lot of balls will end up going behind the wicket. OK, two or three balls down to third man is excusable. But not nine balls. Not 45 runs.”

On the pitch in Chittagong:

“It was a totally unsuitable surface for test cricket, which just broke the bowlers heart. You always want some kind of contest between bat and ball, and there wasn’t one at all. It was totally in favour of the bat.”

Here is a particular highlight from the 2009 Ashes: Andrew Flintoff’s run out of Ricky Ponting in the final test (“the speed was stunning and the aim was precise”).

For cricket fans, it would be great to see Hughes once more given a leading role in live TV coverage in the UK. Sky do a decent enough job on test cricket, but they still lack the best match analyst in the business.

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