Monday 12th September
This is me playing for England!
Wow, what an inspiring day. Obviously there were a few butterflies early on, a couple of jittery moments, but that’s only to be expected on an occasion of this kind of magnitude, and they soon faded as the adrenaline kicked in. By the end it was more of a triumphant cruise – a glorious celebration of everything that is great about English cricket. I think Richie Benaud, my mentor and erstwhile colleague summed it up best, when he said, with his famous understated eloquence: “Michael, I think you did a pretty decent job out there.” And then it was over. The crucial on-pitch presentation had passed off without a hitch, and it was all thanks to yours truly – MA Atherton, former England captain and raconteur extrordinaire. I think we can safely say the gauntlet has been well and truly thrown down to Sky: Beat that, Gower.
England won the Ashes, incidentally, though I missed most of the cricket as I spent the afternoon sitting on the toilet after a panic attack over whether it would be appropriate to refer to Andrew Flintoff as “Freddie” when I handed him the Man of the Series award. I decided to go for it, though I admit it may have seemed a little hypocritical – when we were team-mates at Lancashire I thought he was a lumbering, pie-eating oaf and, back then, I would have sooner forcibly inserted a cricket stump up my nostril than pandered to his absurd nickname, so to lionise him now is a trifle embarrassing. It’s also typical of my luck – when he played for yours truly, he couldn’t hit a cow's arse with a banjo, now he’s a national hero.
And when Vaughany gleefully came up and snatched that precious urn, it was all I could do to restrain myself from beating him to a pulp with the microphone. Jammy bloody Yorkshireman. It should have been me up there with the Barmy Army chanting MY name. “Michael Vaughan My Lord…” they sang. Michael Vaughan My Lord?? On what planet does Michael Vaughan sound like kum ba yah? Idiots.
But then, they never did like me. Too sophisticated I guess. Not one of them. I remember when I was captain I tried to drum up some support for “Atherton’s Army is here to stay” to the tune of “Oliver’s Army” but it never caught on. I guess even Elvis Costello is too highbrow for that bunch of baying, sunburnt plebs. Still, I quite liked it - at least it was close to the original lyrics and it even contained the word “Army” – what more do they want?
Michael Vaughan My Lord, indeed – he hardly deserves to be deified - look at the team he’s inherited: Flintoff, Pietersen, Strauss, Harmison – I was stuck with Mark Ramprakash and Peter Such. I may have been the grittiest opening batsman this side of Geoffrey Boycott, but you try fending off Warne and McGrath in their pomp armed only with Graeme Hick, John Crawley and nagging sense of your collective ineptitude.
Despite the blatant unfairness of it all, I managed to rise above it. Certainly the crowd responded well to me and were cheering and whooping whenever I cracked a gag. In fact, they seemed to be in a perpetual state of euphoria throughout the whole presentation. That’ll show the cretins who think I’m humourless and slightly dour. The only sour point was Slats standing just off camera making dickhead gestures at me the whole time. Git. I hate him.
Mustn’t be bitter though.
Tuesday 13th September
Spent most of today in a black funk. Everyone else was at the parade, but I was in no mood to celebrate as the spectre of unemployment loomed large. This is the first time I’ve been out of work since Wilmslow, 1981, when I was sacked from my paper round for reading the Times Literary Supplement on somebody’s doorstep.
Everybody’s snivelling about having to pay to watch the cricket since Channel 4 lost the rights, but what about us? Simon Hughes has spent the last seven years locked in a bloody caravan with a load of bespectacled IT workers – how’s he supposed to find another job? I don’t suspect there’s a lot of call for the digital recreation and intricate analysis of Matthew Hoggard’s inswinger in today’s job market. More importantly, what about me? What use is my unique brand of commentary – a slick fusion of savage insight and wry humour – now that Sky have won the rights? How am I supposed to form a rapport with a tedious prole like Paul Allot?
I guess my hand has been forced, so this evening, with all other options exhausted, I spent several hours drafting a grovelling letter to the Test Match Special team and attached my CV. Hell, at least most of them went to university.
Wednesday 14th September
Me and the lads. We've had some good times down the years. That's all gone now. I'm on my own again.
It was The Channel 4 Commentary Team farewell bash today – a predictably louche affair that I only attended out of respect to Richie. As I write, it is 4am and I have just endured the kind of depraved evening that has come to epitomise my profession. For the good of my sanity I have resolved to leave the cricket broadcasting game forever. One can only act the mediator in boozy, testosterone-fuelled strip club brawls featuring tearful lap-dancers and vomit-strewn expert summarisers so often before sheer, gut-wrenching languor sets in.
I’m going to call TMS in the morning and tell them to forget it.
It all started relatively innocently with the annual Channel 4 golf day at Pine Acres Country Club. Mark Nicholas was chivalrous enough to let Richie do the customary 1st tee announcements but you could tell it grated a little, so much so that he pulled his drive out of bounds at the first and lost valuable stableford points. Even so, spirits were high until around the turn when the Sky boys rocked up uninvited and started up with their usual obtuse behaviour.
A lot of it was your typical schoolyard taunting about dole queues and how Mickey Mouse and gyppo terrestrial television is. But Beef had evidently been skulling cans of lager since breakfast and was crossing the line of acceptable professional rivalry. He kept ostentatiously coughing on Tony Greig’s backswing, causing the big man to chunter with rage. Nasser Hussein, that simpering little toady, was guffawing with infantile laughter at Beefy’s every comment and following him around like a pathetic, lovelorn child.
Meanwhile Gower was using all his oily charm to persuade Richie to join Sky, promising him the opening berth alongside Bob Willis, and unlimited use of whatever crap gadgetry Murdoch’s Luddites are peddling nowadays.
Richie obviously wasn’t having any of it, but, good natured fellow that he is, took it all in his stride and suggested the Sky boys join us for a Ruby to continue the festivities. Nickers and I exchanged apprehensive looks. Charles Colville and his mob are unruly at the best of times, but once they’ve got a few ales in them they really are tiresome.
To compound matters, we bumped into the TMS team at the Spice of India on Brick Lane, which is always the precursor to some sort of carnage. I studiously avoided them for a while, aware that they were getting ever more boisterous – I didn’t want to scupper my chances of working with them by being a breathless sycophantic puppy like Hussein – but the chicken madras was playing havoc with my bowels and when I nipped off for a quick teddy’s leg I stumbled upon Blowers smoking crack in the toilet with Christopher Martin-Jenkins and cackling like a jackal.
“Bad luck, old thing,” he warbled, thrusting his jowly chops in my face and clapping me on the back. “Maybe one day you’ll come and join us old fogies on the wireless. It really is the most terrific fun.”
“Evidently,” I stuttered, before tumbling into the sanctity of the stall, narrowly avoiding CMJ’s flagrant attempt to goose me. As I sat there trembling, I could hear them giggling:
“Christopher! My dear fellow! I think he likes you!”
“Well we could certainly do with a few of the younger boys coming through. Brighten up the studio a bit.”
Those two are a nightmare when they’re on the hard stuff. CMJ was Dermot Reeve’s dealer for a while and Reeve-o held him in such humbled awe, that he took the rap when a newspaper expose threatened to break the whole cricket commentary/class A narcotics epidemic wide open. Blowers hasn’t actually seen a ball being bowled since he injected heroin into his eyeballs in 1987. Now his vision is just a crazy, hallucinogenic blur of pigeons and double-decker buses.
I was beginning to regret firing off that job application.
Back at the table the tension was almost palpable. Jonathan Agnew and Mark Nicholas haven’t spoken since an incident at a charity dinner when Aggers did his infamous blue stand-up routine that involved several thinly veiled references to Nicholas’s inept swordsmanship despite his reputation as something of a suave lady-killer, so the atmosphere was decidedly frosty – three groups of commentators and plenty of fragile egos – and they say the world of fashion is catty…
Nicholas always wants to be team leader and he was trying to give the farewell speech to the lads, thanking them for turning him into the housewives favourite and all that, but it’s difficult to act the smouldering, debonair smoothie when someone has slipped some extra cayenne pepper into your lamb vindaloo. Nickers always favoured a nice heavy red, but he was soon downing Kingfisher like it was going out of fashion and sweating like a hog. Aggers couldn’t stop smirking.
Simon Hughes is always the life and soul at these kind of functions – let’s face it, he doesn’t see the light of day all that often, let alone get out much. He entertained the waiters by fashioning a crude replica of Hawk Eye using a dish of mango chutney as the wicket and some crumbs of poppadom representing the path of the ball.
Only Slats was sulking after Shane Warne sent him a text asking to meet up with the Aussie team for their farewell drinks at the Vauxhaull Tavern and to come in fancy dress. “Turns out it he was having me on – the joint was full of bloody poofters!” Slats lamented, plonking down his whip and gimp mask and shifting around uncomfortably in his leather trousers.
Slats’ unconventional garb almost got us refused entry at Stringfellows, the inevitable last stop on the TMS team’s debauched crawl. But Blowers had a word with the doorman and in we tottered.
Hughes didn’t last long. He was ejected for bleeding all over the floor after Bill Frindall headbutted him during an argument about the relative test strike rates of Sunil Gavaskar and Alvin Kalicharan. Bearders was always likely to lose his rag – he doesn’t like it when snivelling upstarts who have grown up with the benefit of modern technology question his encyclopaedic knowledge
The Test Match Special team: Henry Blofeld, Christopher Martin-Jenkins and Jonathan Agnew. Mentalists.