Geoffrey Boycott and Jonathan Agnew brought their cricket anecdote and banter show to one of my favourite venues, the Bridgewater Hall, last night.
Agnew’s smooth and precise commentary has accompanied almost all of England’s ups and downs of the last 20 years. For someone so familiar and so ever-present he is rare for developing no particular idiosyncrasies that irritate. When it’s Agnew’s turn at the microphone, I sense myself become calm. He has control and a proportionate response to whatever the action brings. His words can be trusted and he delivers no shocks or alarms.
When Boycott came to commentary, he fulfilled the American term for the summariser: ‘colour commentator’. He was sharp – in both senses of the word: acutely observant of technical matters and cutting in his description of cricket that was mediocre or worse. Boycott, oddly given his approach to batting, also had a sense that he was in the entertainment industry. Strong opinion and contrarian attitude could make for a more interesting programme. After the blandness and ignorance of the late Bailey and Trueman years, Boycott entertained and informed.
I didn’t go to the Bridgewater Hall last night.
As well as being the BBC’s lead commentator, Jonathan Agnew is the corporation’s cricket correspondent, with responsibility for reporting on the game’s news. As England’s governing body has led the game down several blind alleys, Agnew has been slow to recognise the rot and dilatory in calling for change. I have no doubt he’s commented and written criticism (for example, he has long warned of the dangers of the heavy international schedule on the wellbeing of the top players), but recall he’s urged England cricket fans to forget their complaints and get behind the team.
When news of the ICC palace coup broke in early 2014 on Cricinfo, the BBC website failed to cover the story for several days. It was, after all, unconfirmed. When confirmation did come, the cricket correspondent made no telling move, offered no deep analysis and, to my knowledge, asked no uncomfortable questions of those who awarded themselves power. From time to time, Agnew, in sharp contrast to his calm commentary style, was sulky and vituperative towards those on social media who dared to criticise him – often with the charge of being too cosy with the establishment.
Boycott’s instinct for strong opinion has over time become an addiction; a fulfilment of what he must imagine the audience wants from him. Much of cricket isn’t played at the extremes, but Boycott now lacks the subtlety to convey that. He isn’t interested in helping the listener develop an appreciation of the game but in forcing his interpretation onto us.
And somehow these two figures have developed a ‘partnership’. It’s a pairing that is contrived and inelegant. Neither character enhances the other; merely drags the other one towards parody. It derives from some crude concept that we need to have a Saint & Greavsie, Saturday night light entertainment double act explain cricket to us. I detect no special chemistry between those two chums, just a bad recipe mixed by an organisation seeking a device that will make its coverage of cricket have a broader appeal.