I thought there was an uptick in the number of podcasts covering cricket while I was watching The Ashes. Now the World Cup is in England, though, those podcasts have settled in and got serious about their publishing schedule. In fact, if you listen to them all, as at least three give daily coverage, you are at risk of burnout, as are the presenters, who might also be at risk of over-interpreting every game. Are South Africa really out of it after 2 losses? “Maybe” seems a fair reflection, but it assumes they lose to India; to listen to the podcasts is to think they are already done, as they fill their time with a little too much “what does this mean, this early on?” chat. Every day.
Here’s a look at the delights that await. Rest assured that, rather than listen to them all, you ought to flick through them, and that post World cup, their frequency will calm down, at least until The Ashes, later in the summer.
The Final Word. If you listen to only one, and all that. From the Australian Duo, Geoff Lemon (whose book, Steve Smith’s Men, won multiple awards this year) and Adam Collins (who I met on a plane). They prove there is simply no substitute for being a professional broadcaster; links are slick, they don’t dwell on their better comments, waiting for a laugh – in cricket terms, rather than stand with bat in the air, watching the ball depart to the boundary after a good shot, they have already turned, reset and are thinking about the next ball. Coverage is wide-ranging, fair and as neutral as possible, and the relationship between the two warm and inviting. There are a number of highly articulate ex-cricketers, but none of them have the facility with words of professional journalists, and these two are among the strongest of the latter group. Oh, and the music – easily the best.
Tailenders. Greg James (DJ), Felix White (musician and, of late, cricket writer) and Jimmy Anderson (great fast bowler). Something a little different, and regularly reduces me to tears of laughter. My only reservation is that jumping in now, part way through, might leave you feeling you’re listening to a clique, but I think they do a reasonable job of explaining what the in-jokes are. And there are a lot of those. It’s an odd mixture of people, but it works, and early on they pulled in ‘Machin’, who is an ordinary bloke, gifted them in a phone-in, who used to know nothing about cricket, but has a family connection to Sachin Tendulkar. He was too good to let go, after being on once, and the presenters have sufficient judgment, or small enough egos, to bring him in as a semi-permanent feature. They talk cricket, a bit, but mostly this is colour around the game. At its best, joyous.
Test Match Special. Perhaps because of the competition, they now do more than just a summary of the day’s play. That is still available during England tests, but now you will also have professional controversialist Vaughan and “here’s something everyone else has said” Tuffers, doing their show more often, and they wrap reports of the day in more chat from Andy Saltzman (comedian and statistician) and others. Some episodes are more skippable than others; still the best overall coverage, and the daily test summaries are excellent.
The Grade Cricketer. This is Australian, and took me a few episodes to get into. It can be hilarious, as they put time into spoof advertisements. They use the word ‘Alpha’ a lot, and in the same way as the Americans do – theoretically, as a joke, but I think they dig it just as Aussie culture can. But, excuse them the extended laughter (with more money, I hope they’d edit it out) that can seem self-congratulatory, and this is thoughtful while also being relaxed. Culturally very different to, say, TMS, and that alone makes it worth a listen.
Wisden Cricket Podcast. Wisden and its spin-off The Nightwatchman (itself an excellent, quarterly, magazine, giving more off-the-wall articles about cricket) have had a few goes at podcasts, which took a while to get going. Now they seem settled, with the editor a regular, and they do a decent job at rotating guests and covering issues, with the simple “moment of the week” (or day, during the WC) a highlight. It’s not quite up there in sound quality, but if they can keep it going, it’ll only get better.
Freelance Cricket Club. Vithushan Ehantharajah and Will MacPherson. At the moment this is an archive, with no new episodes since March 2018, but they were always irregular. For extended chats – and that’s a better word for the informality than ‘interview’ would be – with cricketers, there’s nothing better (though the Final Word does have its moments), so I hope they’ll pick it up again. Sound quality is bad enough that it isn’t always good on the move or in a car.
Sky Sports Cricket Podcast. Sky, after years in the sports broadcast business, still seem amazingly amateur round the edges. Rob Key sometimes introduces these podcasts, and sounds like he’s being forced to do so at gunpoint (meanwhile, over at the BBC, David Gower was a contributor to the News Quiz, and seemed effortlessly amusing while also slick). He’s a great contributor, though, and the ‘Captain’s Log’ series, Nasser Hussain the latest, Andy Flower a highlight, is excellent. Otherwise I pick my episodes carefully; always avoiding Bob Willis, who is difficult to take when you can’t see his face. Equally, when they have Atherton, Bumble, Knight and or Key, it’s a treat.
At the moment, The Final Word, Wisden and TMS are all doing daily podcasts, and The Grade Cricketer three per week, so there’s a lot of stuff to get your ears around. For a day’s summary, I’d go for The Final Word, with Wisden if I had time.