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Don Topley: Live radio commentary is proving good for the game of cricket

Henry Blofeld, who this week retired from radio commentary.

Henry Blofeld, who this week retired from radio commentary.

In his weekly cricket column, Don Topley discusses the enjoyment of radio commentary

Living in Norfolk and Suffolk requires a significant journey to watch a First Class cricket match.

The closest counties in East Anglia are Essex, who are about to be crowned Champions of Division 1, and Northamptonshire, who have enjoyed a better season in Division 2.

It is sadly accepted that very little live cricket can be seen on terrestrial TV, except for Channel 4’s International hour-long highlights package. That may change for 2020 when the new television deals are signed in 2019.

The emergence of live radio cricket commentary has become an excellent vehicle for keeping up-to-date with all the county cricket played in our professional arena.

For many years, I have been privileged to be part of a cricketing family that is the BBC local cricket commentary.

Each of the local BBC Radio stations within the 18 First Class counties have a person or a team responsible for providing their ‘ball by ball’ live commentary and it is extremely popular.

At BBC Essex, we share the six-month cricket season with five distinguished local broadcasters. Some have been doing it for years and even commentated during my own playing days.

Each of our five members bring their own unique character which possibly has been moulded by their own professional careers.

Paul Newton comes with many years of academic teaching behind him. He is a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic man and not only with cricket – a real academic.

Dick Davies heralds from a career in IT, understated, quiet but principled. Nick Gledhill is a professional trainer and resource planner and enjoys statistics which are systemic within the great game – never challenge Nick on a stat!

Sports-mad, David Brett, completes our group and brings down our average age with a more youthful approach, dovetailing a rewarding career in the City.

Some stations still broadcast on Medium Wave, with updates into their News programmes but all can be found online at where you scroll down to the county match you require.

One match will frequently be broadcast on BBC 5Live Sports Extra. It is an excellent service for the cricket fan.

We are all responsible for commentary, the pre-match and post-match interviews and for keeping our ears to the ground for some interesting news or thoughts from the inner sanctum of players, coaches and officials.

Having played the game professionally for some 14 years, it is natural to utilise some of the great relationships and friendships that have evolved. We all have our personal thoughts but getting an insight from the umpires, players and coaches offers me a very fortunate and privileged position.

When commentating I never think of it as a day’s work, but just a very agreeable and enjoyable day simply talking cricket – that’s not work!

Earlier this week the ebullient and charismatic Henry Blofeld enjoyed a lap of honour at Lord’s after his final commentary stint with the much loved, Test Match Special.

I don’t wear lime green jackets, yellow shirts or raspberry coloured trousers, nor describe eloquently the ‘No 13-bus going down the Wellington Road’. My credibility is simply the cricket, the technical and tactical side of the game and knowing the emotions of the Dressing Room, that’s all been gained by playing and coaching all over the world.

Radio is so different to television where the great and late, Richie Benaud, suggested ‘silence can be golden’. Radio has to paint a picture first, adding in the cricket.

T20 cricket remains action-packed with very little time to go off on a tangent but championship cricket can be turgid. Six hours of commentary a day for four full days can be challenging but hopefully a dull day’s play may come across as enjoyable.

We can bolster the commentary with anecdotes, and include a variety of other topics away from cricket and interact with listeners via social media whether they are at home, in the work place or mobile.

In this era when cricket is under distinct pressure it needs everyone to help make the game attractive and fun - we are hugely responsible to sell the game and be informative, accurate and entertaining.

Independent Radio also offers some domestic and international cricket with Royal London One Day Cup, NatWest t20 Blast and even the Indian Premier League live on Talksport2

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