Two Days at the Cricket with Bracegirdle, Doidge and Howells

Brian Johnson always said that he wanted listeners to TMS to feel like they were watching the game with a group of friends, having a good time with a little bit of ribbing, and a joy of life. On Monday & Tuesday that's exactly how I felt.

A round-up of the second round of the Bob Willis Trophy and a bit of a eulogy about the BBC’s (non-TMS) cricket coverage.

Somerset did Somerset things, their batting collapsed (twice) they recovered (twice) and the bowlers were far too strong for last season’s Division Two runners-up hustling them out twice to complete a victory within two days. Craig and Jamie Overton, in the evening glow of their lifelong association with Somerset scored runs, took wickets and bristled with aggression.

So on Monday morning I had a decision to make. Which game was I going to follow for the next two days? I decided it had to be the North Group as that to me seems to be the most interesting at the moment. It couldn’t be Lancashire as I’m way too fond of Martin Emerson to bear listening to him as his beloved county got pounded by Essex. Derbyshire were in control of their game with Leicester on their way to becoming one of only four teams to have a 100% record at the end of the first two rounds of the Trophy. 

And so I arrived at Trent Bridge. Partly by this process of elimination and partly because Notts v Yorkshire was being covered by Dave Bracegirdle and Jonathan Doidge for their respective local radio stations supported as “third voice” by Kevin Howells. As good a combination as there is on the cricketing airwaves.

I am fortunate enough through my cricket writing to have spoken to Bracegirdle, in advance of Somerset’s games against Notts, on several occasions. That in itself says something about the man that in a busy summer schedule he makes time to talk to a blogger for the opposition. 

Doidge, like Bracegirdle has given up time to talk to me about Dom Bess during his loan spells at Yorkshire as well as helping me write my previews. And he was kind enough, alongside Anthony Gibson to let me loose on-air at Headingly last summer. Even though it was, in Gibson’s own words in Somerset’s Summer, one of the poorest sessions of the whole season it is an experience that made me appreciate the job these guys do as well as making me want more.  

Howells, who was on a Zoom call with Somerset’s new CEO, Gordon Hollins, in early April was kind to the ageing rookie writer both before, during and after. Although from Staffordshire I suspect he, like that other north-western based giant of cricket journalism, Paul Edwards, has a sneaking affection for Somerset.

To confine the praise to a few though is unfair. Across the country the quality of commentary is superb. If Somerset aren’t playing I’ll look out for any Derbyshire, Durham, Glamorgan, Hampshire, Middlesex, Notts, Surrey, Worcestershire or Yorkshire as each offers Johnners’ “afternoon with a bunch of friends watching the cricket and having fun.”

Yorkshire batted through day three but, as a result of their 99 run first-innings deficit, were never in a dominant position. Bracegirdle, Doidge and Howells kept on top of the action while embellishing the day with fun, conversation and interaction with the listeners. And for me a challenging day at work with lots to get through sailed by (and I hit all my targets for the day!)

And that got me thinking. Brian Johnson always said that he wanted listeners to TMS to feel like they were watching the game with a group of friends, having a good time with a little bit of ribbing, and a joy of life. Those who are lucky enough to have heard BJ on TMS will know that he delivered exactly that.

Stop for a minute and compare this approach to the TMS of today which I’ve heard perfectly described as “Audio Clickbait”. With the notable exceptions of Vic Marks, Simon Mann and Daniel Norcross the decline in standards of the latter are both stark and worrying. 

TMS is now the home of the cult of ego with commentators and summarisers competing to promote their profile. The description of what is happening is always delivered in a way that suits their personal agenda. Which is a shame because there are some very fine cricket minds on air.

While at times Arlott, Bailey and Trueman used to drive the younger me to despair when I was younger, two things stood out to me. The first, that was self-evident to even me was that their underlying love for the game was beyond question. The second, as pointed out to me by my Dad was that Aroltt had seen it all, Bailey and Trueman had done it all, at the very highest level. They had earned the right to offer their opinion and when they did I, and many millions like me, listened,

It was therefore a joy to spend two days listening to the development and denouement of the game in Nottingham. At several time Notts looked like winning, at others Yorkshire were in the ascendancy and at all times you knew exactly what was happening – a pretty important part of the radio commentators job. 

There is a lack of impartiality and the coverage is all the better for it. The exultation in Bracegirdle’s voice when Bairstow went for 75 on Monday afternoon or the excitement in Doidge’s when Notts slumped to 61-5 adding to the enjoyment. As a neutral I was more aware of the mood swings of the commentators than I am when listening to Anthony Gibson, Stephen Lamb or Charlie Taylor. Their emotions are so aligned with mine; it doesn’t seem to reach my consciousness, with Bracegirdle and Doidge it did.

The only shame was that Notts did not put up more of a fight. Their second innings capitulation left half a day of hopping between other games getting a flavour of how other teams are doing beyond the scorecards.

The North Group looks particularly interesting with both Derbyshire and Yorkshire 2 from 2 while poor old Notts and Durham are both winless. After the next round it is possible we could have four teams all on two wins if Yorkshire and Derbyshire were to draw. The at Headingly will tell us if Derbyshire, who beat Leicestershire by 9 wickets are the real deal. I think they might surprise the Yorkies/ 

Essex are the other team that are perfect so far, topping the south group after disposing of a woeful Surrey on the fourth afternoon. Simon Harmer took 8 wickets in the second innings and was on for all 10 until the seventh wicket fell. Whether the Chelmsford wicket is the on the wrong side of the line as Taunton was adjudged last season is not a point here, but it is going to take something to topple them at home – although they aren’t back there in red-ball cricket until the final round. By then, with the other teams (apart from Surrey) looking like they could all beat each other, Essex could have secured a place in the final. Hampshire beat Middlesex with only 9 men while Kent beat Sussex using only three batsmen the whole game. But you could easily see winners becoming losers and vice-versa in the next round in this group. 

In the Other Group – I can’t call any group Somerset are in “Central” anymore – Worcestershire’s overly cautious declaration cost them dearly as Glamorgan survived for a draw with seven wickets down while Warwickshire could not hold on at Bristol much to the frustration of the undefeated Tim Bresnan. You would expect Worcester, on their form this year, to be too much for Northamptonshire and Worcestershire will have to step up to compete with Somerset, who surely can’t collapse again. Can they?  If Gloucestershire can win in Cardiff, which is by no means certain, this will be a three-horse race by next week.

Looking beyond the individual groups it looks like the final places are Essex’s and Somerset’s to lose at present, but Yorkshire and Derbyshire will definitely have something to say, and there may yet be a surprise team coming with a run in the second half.

Whatever happens do yourself a favour. Leave TMS to their egos on Saturday morning and follow the Bob Willis Trophy with Brace, Doidge, Gibson and the rest. I promise you won’t be disappointed.