The modern avenues to get updates


I FLICKED on the BBC's text channel the other day and saw that Surrey needed 410 to beat Kent in their second innings and that they were 375 for eight.

As I watched it became clear that their opening batsman Ian Ward, already past 150, and their burly fast bowler Jimmy Ormond were going to get the runs and, inevitably, I sat down to see how the last few overs panned out. On the screen.

The score changed every two deliveries so that I could work out that a four and a single must have come off the last two balls of an over, that the struggle grew fiercer as 390 dribbled towards 400 and through the period of defensive play around the 405 mark when Kent threw their remaining energy into grabbing the final wickets.

(Yes, you can call me an anorak and one of the saddest people you know; but it was only 20 minutes and, besides, who cares? I still get excited by the prospect of a hero achieving the impossible. When I don't I'll know it's time to quit.)

Anyway, it set me thinking about the different ways in which you can now keep up with cricket: newspapers, magazines, radio, television, text services, phone lines, information direct to your mobile phone, the Internet. Yet 45 years ago it was difficult to find the score on the last day of any match in this country after 3.30 in the afternoon.

In those days I worked as the sub-editor on an evening newspaper in York and my main task in the summer was to update the county scoreboards, finalise the racing results, act as page lay-out designer and see those pages past an irascible head printer five times a day. Jack of all trades and, according to the head printer, master of none.

I doubled up as that newspaper's Rugby League correspondent. My editor, an old-fashioned man, once referred to me as "one of my sub-editors with an interest in sport". I moved on as soon as I could.

One sunny afternoon in late August as the county championship grew to a finale and the Rugby season began I completed all the jobs in the office and then caught the players' bus to the far reaches of the Rugby League empire for a night match.

Just before I left the office I heard that Yorkshire had been set to make 215 by Sussex at Hove. Victory meant their first championship for seven years over Surrey who had Jim Laker, Tony Lock, Alec Bedser, Peter May, Ken Barrington and had won the last seven titles.

As we paused in Leeds to pick up two of the Rugby players I saw a newspaper placard in the deserted city centre: Yorkshire Triumph At Last. "Let's turn on the radio and find how they managed to score more than 200 in 90 minutes," I suggested. Sadly we missed the only sports bulletin of the day. We had to wait until the next morning to find just what had happened.

It was several decades before I heard the truth about that remarkable match. Yorkshire began the day thinking they might win easily but at lunch the game seemed set for a draw.

The Sussex captain Robin Marlar, an old favourite of these pages and always a plain spoken man, told me that "he was under pressure to declare and try to win the match because Sussex were bottom of the table and Yorkshire would be forced to try for the runs".

Wandering round the pavilion, he heard a conversation between Arthur Gilligan and Hubert Doggart, influential voices in that traditional club.

Gilligan: "Can't you get Robin to declare before lunch?"

Doggart: "I have tried but he won't listen."

"What neither of them knew," Robin recalls, "was that at best we had one and a half bowlers. The rest were on their knees at the end of a long summer. Winning was out of question. What is important is that Bryan Stott and Doug Padgett batted magnificently to put on 141." And, can you believe it in this age when every decision is put on the umpire's plate, the Nawab of Pataudi caught Padgett in front of the pavilion, looked down and saw his feet were behind the line and signalled "six." Great sportsmanship; great annoyance from Marlar.

Ray Illingworth, now retired from all cricket except a seven-days-a-week chairmanship of his old club Farsley, remembers everything. "Stott hit his second ball over the sightscreen and we carried on from there. Not too many boundaries, but we ran all the two's and three's and in the end Robin had the whole side on the boundary."

If you think 218 off 28 overs was run of the mill - in the days when India can beat England 325 off 50 - you should note that this feat was accomplished before the tactics for one-day cricket had been thought through, without fielding restrictions and with no concept of the one-day wide.

Quick scoring was hardly the science it has become; and the communications art was in its infancy too.

Over the next 40 years, both worlds have changed beyond recognition. If I want to know what is happening on the third day of Bangladesh's Test against Sri Lanka I can - as well as watching the BBC Ceefax or the ITV Teletext services - have the scores flashed to my cell phone, dial a premium rate phoneline and listen to the scores, go into Cricinfo who will give me enough information to write a book.

I can watch the sportscast on Sky News every half hour, see their continuous rolling sports news service. Or go to Five Live, the BBC news and sports radio programme, or find talkSport and hear their scores.

If you want to watch live cricket Sky Sports shows 100 days each summer from the counties, one Test - the rest are in the hands of Channel 4 whose coverage was described to me by John Major, the former Prime Minister and cricket fanatic as "the best I have ever seen" when we met recently - all the one-dayers, with previews, up-to-date news and a vast assemblage of experts.

Unhappily, there is no-one in the role of the younger me, compiling county scores every half hour in the local newspaper. They print their final editions at midday and do not even summarise the scores in the Stop Press section. Sunday papers, and particularly the tabloids, seem to find it difficult to squeeze in the abbreviated scores though they have more space than we ever dreamed about all those years ago.

Part of that dearth of newspaper reports is brought about by a decision from the Press Association to cut back on its cricket coverage. True, they have four or five reporters out in the counties, but they have stopped the service which had a man at every county game and their accounts are culled from the scores and notes from the county scorers conveyed electronically to their main office.

Never mind these internal political storms. The ordinary Joe can behave like a child in a sweet shop; as I have told the visiting Indian Press corps often the cricket-o-holic has only to choose between his suppliers to fill the gaps in his knowledge.

While I was entranced by the efforts of Ward and Ormond to win the Surrey game I saw a flash that said Darren Gough had been forced to drop out of the England side for the first Test and two minutes later I had the same news on my lap top from the England and Wales Cricket Board press officer.

Not just a bare note but a review of the injured fast bowler's summer of misery, a suggestion from David Graveney, chairman of selectors, that Gough might be out for much longer and then Duncan Fletcher's hint that his place would be taken by the young Glamorgan fast bowler Simon Jones.

As the events 45 years ago were unfolding Jeff Jones was an 18-year-old left-arm fast bowler trying to break into the Glamorgan side, never dreaming that one day his son would also play for England; or that he would be spoilt for choice whenever he wanted to follow the lad's progress.