Test Match Special - 50 Not Out May 17, 2007

The story of an institution

Martin Williamson reviews Test Match Special - 50 Not Out

Test Match Special - 50 Not Out by Peter Baxter (BBC Books) 224pp £18.99

The BBC's Test Match Special seems to have been around forever, and you have to be a pensioner to remember the time before ball-by-ball commentary of England matches. The first broadcast was in 1957, some 30 years after BBC commentary was born at Leyton, and it was promoted with the slogan: "Don't miss a ball, we broadcast them all".

They still broadcast every ball, but listening to the show is not as easy as it once was. The hey-day of TMS was possibly the 1970s when John Arlott and Brian Johnston were at their best and transmissions continued even when there was no play. Indeed, many preferred those spells of inactivity as the team chatted and joked without interruption. But the wise men who ran BBC Radio 3 increasingly regarded cricket as a nuisance, and it battled for survival in between shipping forecasts and news. Thankfully, the advent of digital radio and the web has given TMS a new lease of life.

Much as Fred Trueman became something of a figure of fun for always harping on that things were better in the old days, there is a general view that the current commentary team, increasingly based on former players, lacks the perspective and the rich vocabulary of the Don Moseys and Rex Alstons of yesterday. Rose-tinted spectacles? Possibly, as Jonothan Agnew and CMJ still remain among some excellent visitors from overseas.

This book, however, is a tribute to a great institution and concentrates on the positives, and so it should. What comes across is that beneath the japes and cakes, this is a thoroughly professional operation, and a happy one as well.

The anecdotes flood out, with enough of the old ones to raise a smile but not too many to become boring. The current commentators reflect on their first matches for TMS while those who are no longer with us are warmly - but not gushingly profiled. The increasingly important coverage of overseas matches also features.

Given that four decades of listening to Bill Frindall have led to many embracing the statistical side of the game, some more statistics would have been nice - who has commentated the most times, for example - much as CMJ did in his 1990 history of broadcasting. But that's a small and fairly anoraky quibble.

Like the show itself, this is gentle and entertaining. Would you expect anything else?

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo