Radio Days

Test Match Special is one of those British institutions which is always destined to be not quite what it was.

You get the impression that for many people over the age of fifty (a demographic I haven't quite joined yet), the programme's 'Golden Age' belongs back in the era when John Arlott was still going strong. Johnston, and Gibson, and a younger Frindall and Martin-Jenkins would have been there too. Now all of those are gone - for me it would be a wonderful thing to hear CMJ again but it seems I never will - but, for those of us who care about such things, the programme is still a central part of winter mornings and summer days. With the right sort of technology you can even hear it without interruptions from the shipping forecast or Yesterday in Parliament.

TMS endures.

As Michael Henderson and a few others will tell you, aspects of it may not be what they were, but, as this fluctuating, unpredicted, enjoyable series has unfolded, TMS has sounded as essential as ever. Like Cook or Pujara on one of their many good days it has displayed an innate sense of control and authority.

For me, the most enjoyable and refreshing element of recent weeks has been the experience of listening to Rahul Dravid. This is a man who has been one of the best and most famous cricketers in the world, yet has retained an alluring air of humility and gentle humour, and his reminiscences and judgements are lent weight by their grounding in recent experience. He could perhaps do to play a few more shots, but he'll learn.

A penny for Simon Mann's thoughts when Dravid thanks him (implicitly for giving him the privilege of sharing the airwaves).

I'd retire there and then.


Ponting in the Age of Certainty

I once met a Yorkshireman on an England supporters' tour of Australia who'd been at the Antigua Recreation Ground when Brian Lara made his 375. He told me that after Lara had been in for about three overs he knew he was going to break the world record. His brother, who was with him, confirmed that he'd stated as much at the time. It sounded ridiculous, but it was simply that he'd seen the pitch, he'd seen the bowling and he'd seen what Lara could do, and decided that nobody was going to get him out. For a couple of days they didn't.

I once had a similar feeling about Ricky Ponting.

In an ODI at Bristol in 2001, England won the toss and batted, making what those of us in the shadow of the Jessop Tavern thought was a competitive 268, the innings rounded up by an unbeaten partnership of 70 between Ben Holliaoke and Owais Shah, who was making his debut. At the start of the Australian reply Darren Gough dismissd Gilchrist cheaply, and we thought England were in with a shout. Ponting, batting at three, knew different.

I can see him now, low-slung and determined, businesslike but with just a hint of swagger, in his gold and green uniform and helmet. Very early on he plays a forward defensive that is so solid and the product of such an all-encompassing stride down the track that I know that no bowler will get him out today. They don't. 104 runs later, with the game almost secure, he is run out. Steve Waugh and Ian Harvey finish the chase off.

When we arrived in Australia in December 1994, everyone was talking about Ponting. It took him another year to get into the Test side, but, by 2001, he was approaching his greatest years. All bowlers came alike. The concept of retirement would never have entered his head. It was his Age of Certainty.

As Russell Degnan points out in this masterly piece, Ponting represents the last link with one of the greatest teams the world has ever seen, and he was that team's greatest batsman.

Within the next two days his career as a Test cricketer will end. The thoughts of the cricket world go with him.

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