Will the station's interest continue?


Tony Lewis' gift of words distinguishes him from the rest of the cricketers turned writers.-N. SRIDHARAN

JULY 4. The radio station talkSPORT is sold to Ulster Television and there is doubt about whether this organisation, based in Belfast, will continue the station's interest in cricket. It has its highest listening figures last winter during the Test series in South Africa and those closely connected with the production of that tour are consoling themselves that the head of Ulster TV is an Australian and they are preparing for talks with the Pakistani authorities when they arrive in England later this month. "This decision can go either way," says my man inside the oversized head set.

July 5.I'm half way through the autobiographical Taking Fresh Guard by Tony Lewis, England captain when Ray Illingworth does not want to tour the sub-continent in 1972-73 and an all-round nice human being. There are amusing stories in the book but here is one of my own. I am sitting at Lord's one evening as a cup-tie comes to an end when Lewis leans across and says: "Ted, I'm the man of the match adjudicator. I'm going to make the announcement in the pavilion and my choice is John Emburey." I go: "Is that right, Tony? I mean Clive Radley is 70 not out and Middlesex are going to win it." Tony says: "No Emburey bowls ten tight overs in a low-scoring match and makes 30. I reckon he's the choice." And off he goes. As the match ends I tell the half dozen reporters: "Emburey is man of the match. Tony Lewis tells me a few minutes ago." One writer comes over and asks if I'm sure. But together we see Emburey get his medal. However the agency men who send out the bare details of the match miss the message and the ceremony. They do not need to be told: Radley, hitting the winning runs to go past 80 out of 215 and he is the obvious choice. So that is what they file while the angry writer who asks the questions writes a story damning Lewis for a fool. An hour later he receives a phone call from his newspaper informing him that both agencies name Radley as man of the match. So he spends an hour writing a new story and learns the next day that I am right. Even to this day he is not sure if the whole thing is a giant leg pull.

July 6.Tony Greig, England all-rounder, captain, Packer rebel, commentator for Channel Nine and other stations around the world, is arriving shortly to work for Channel 4 and talkSPORT. "Which side do you want me to barrack for?" he asks at one stage of the negotiations that include the cost of his family, his nanny — he is 57 but he has two young children and if they are half as lively as the big man they will be a handful — and, naturally, a large fee to emphasise his fame. You may wonder: what nationality is this wandering cricket person? "First I am English, then South African and thirdly Australian," he says with a diplomacy that is not always his strong suite. He is also exceptionally fond of Sri Lanka. At 6ft 7in there is plenty of this enjoyable man to share around and the stories about him are legion. Sometimes he gets a little mixed up in his media duties as in West Indies a couple of tours ago when he can be heard telling his radio audience: "As you will see on your screens." Perhaps he is thinking that the listeners are watching television at the same time as listening to him, a thought that drives TV commentators insane with fury. I wonder what sort of mix-up Greig will fashion when working for radio and TV in the same match. Just watch this space.

July 7.Devon Malcolm, that genial fast bowler for England — although I doubt if that is the adjective nine South African batsmen of the 1994 vintage will use about the most destructive paceman of his generation — turns up at Headingley to collect a few autographs on a bat. He is auctioning it so that he can help provide a ground for a group of young cricketers who live near him. "You still playing, Dev?" "Just at the week-end," he says. Then his grin broadens. "And now I'm concentrating on my batting!" You may remember that when Graham Gooch is captain he summons the whole team on to the balcony to watch Dev bat. About 200 miles south bombs are exploding in London, giving cricket a headache. The two remaining one-day internationals of the NatWest Challenge will continue but what of the nerves of the Australian visitors. Will they want to play out the Ashes, particularly if there is another similar incident in the next few weeks? Will England's tour of Pakistan take place? Will these terrorists include sport in their agenda even though to my certain knowledge the Irish revolutionaries had a declared intention to steer clear of it. This murderous attack on people going about their daily work will affect all of us.

July 8. Tony Lewis is a fine batsman, a decent captain and a whole-hearted Rugby player but it is his gift for words that distinguishes him from the rest of the mob who play cricket and then write about it. In Taking Fresh Guard he writes one sentence I wish I can write now. "John Arlott was a good friend," he says and there is no doubt about the special link between these two poets. Arlott begins public life — after time as a policeman — as a poetry producer at the BBC and works with the great Welsh playwright and poet Dylan Thomas. Perhaps he sees something of the author of Under Milk Wood in the writings of young Lewis; somehow they adopt one another. The appreciation of Arlott that Lewis delivers at his funeral is still spoken of with awe by those who hear it. I wish I am one of that number. What a shame though that a generation grows up who never hear Arlott's commentaries and now, as one ex-cricketer after another sits in front of the Test Match Special microphones without half his talent and none of his words and even less of his understanding of the human condition I wonder if we will hear his like again. Or the like of Lewis, a distinctive voice on radio and television, a fine violinist and, not surprisingly for a Welshman, a memorable singer. And write? Stuff like this puts us all to shame: "Fenners was gorgeous on the balmy days after the examinations when the lads drank ale and picnicked with pretty girls on the boundary edge." What a picture that conjures up. What a shame Lewis decides to stop writing when he was just coming to his zenith. He was also chairman of his county Glamorgan for a while and his deputy was one David Morgan, now chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board.

July 9.David Shepherd is another whose like we will never see again. Imagine his discomfort standing in temperatures of 40-plus in many parts of the world; imagine too the respect he won from players younger, slimmer, more active and a damn sight more aggressive than Shep was in his days with Gloucestershire. Avuncular is the word that comes most readily to mind. "Hey, get yourself on a better newspaper," he shouts at me one day and, a couple of years later, when I am making a mark on the prime cricket paper, he bellows half way across Lord's: "That's better, Ted. Now lets see what you can make of yourself." I like to think I never let the old boy down.

July 10.As I place a paltry sum on the outcome of the Ashes — England to win in case you want to follow my example — I remember the words of Lord Condon, head of the Anti Corruption Unit, in the ICC annual report. "During the last 12 months there have been no major corruption scandals in international cricket." Complacent or true? M'lord concedes that "it does not mean the fight against corruption is over." More money than ever is being bet on international cricket, he says, including around 500 million US dollars a match in India's home series against Pakistan. So, he says, cricket must remain "exceptionally vigilant." All I will say is that his job is harder since it has rarely been matches that are fixed but all too often batsmen who sell their wickets for low scores. And as recently as last month I hear suspicions about a match lost to gain political advantage.