As the game gears up for a partial return, BBC Radio Leicester commentator RICHARD RAE (pictured above right) reflect on the charms and characters of a season in the sun covering the County Championship
DEAR Lord, I’m missing Grace Road. And that – speaking as someone not only born, bred and educated in Yorkshire but who played nearly all his cricket in the Broad Acres – is a lamentation for most of my life I could not have imagined uttering.
In the last five years, however, I’ve seen every ball bowled at the Fischer County Ground, an unpretentious, hospitable and pleasingly open ground where the general lack of architectural merit (cupola-topped manual scoreboard aside) means there is little to distract from the cricket.
As most Leicestershire supporters would wryly attest, there have been times in those last few years when distraction would have been welcome, but I’ve never left the place without reflecting on how ridiculously lucky I am to work there. Because even the worst of days have been watched in the best of company…
*With players and coaches – among whose ranks, incidentally, not one who was at the club when I began commentating in 2014 remains (though happily Jigar Naik, then the team’s off-spinner, is now back coaching).
*With club staff (and get well soon Big Phil, dressing room attendant for so many years).
*With listeners, whose loyalty, generosity of spirit and sense of fun never seems to fail, and many of whom I’m now proud and grateful to regard as friends.
Above all, however, I’ve watched it with the individuals with whom I’m lucky enough to spend a few days each season sharing a microphone.
It’s an odd business, being closeted with someone for six or seven hours, eight or nine days a season. It’s a relationship that’s forced upon you, and you have to make it work. That’s rarely proved a problem – a mutual love of cricket is after all a pretty firm foundation – and happily, increasing familiarity has bred anything but contempt.
Commentating with Gloucestershire’s Bob Hunt (“Come on The Shire!”) is always interesting, not least because when it comes to matters other than cricket, the teacher, theatre director and jobbing extra (he’s appeared in Casualty, playing, he admitted with becoming modesty, ‘patient in adjoining bed’) is always liable to surprise. Or even startle, as when choosing to enliven a quiet session last season by gleefully discussing upcoming ‘Tinder’ assignations.
Glamorgan, against whom the Foxes often seem to start and finish their season, means the benevolent if sometimes slightly exasperated (especially when trying to organise a full turn out of his village cricket team) Nick Webb, together with the now semi-retired Eddie Bevan. These days Eddie spends most of the day in the press box, but regularly wanders over to record a Welsh language report, or spend half an hour delighting Leicestershire listeners with unfairly mellifluous vowels. One BBC Radio Leicester listener reckons they should be recording relaxation tapes.
Derbyshire’s big, bearded, amiable, calm, rock group tribute T-shirt wearing Dave Fletcher, the same listener added, ‘sounds like everyone’s avuncular uncle’ and ‘has a wonderful way with words’. No argument there. Northamptonshire’s Alex Winter – no mean cricketer himself – ‘creates the most drama because every ball sounds like it’s a wicket’, while Lancashire’s Scott Read, ‘always sounds like he’s on the verge of being mischievous’.
Resentment towards our talent-nabbing neighbours means listeners are always happy to hear the knowledgeable Dave Bracegirdle, simply because it means Nottinghamshire have managed to get themselves relegated again. The Girdler knows he’s batting on a dangerously lively track when he makes another attempt to convince them it’s more to do with coaching and facilities than money, but never fails to strap the pads on and get in line.
The unfailingly cheerful Kevin Hands is always welcome when Middlesex make one of their occasional visits, as are Worcestershire’s Dave Bradley and Sussex stalwart Adrian Harms. It helps that none make any secret of the fact they enjoy their trips to the east Midlands, notwithstanding the long, steep and in wet weather decidedly hazardous metal stairs up to the commentary boxes on top of the pavilion.
The best lunch in county cricket helps, taken courtesy of the club in the outstanding pavilion restaurant at a table shared with the umpires, scorers and match cricket liaison officer. True, you might find yourself sitting next to manual scoreboard operator Dave Goodacre, whose penchant for sharing obscure Leicestershire statistics has proved impervious to decades of scorn, but the quality of the food makes it worth the risk, and besides, some commentators, such as Durham’s encyclopaedically knowledgeable Martin Emmerson, are capable of matching him volley for volley.
Odds are that Kent’s Matt Coles and Ben Watt will be back in town before too long, but it could be some time before acquaintances are renewed with Hampshire’s Kevan James and Somerset’s Anthony Gibson, while Yorkshire’s Jonathan Doidge is likely to remain a one-day-a-season visitor – unless, of course, Leicestershire are promoted.
No doubt you’re aware that in the absence of any genuine play, the website ‘CricketWorld.com‘ has been running a virtual county championship, using complicated formulae and, er, dice to work out the results. The Foxes are top of Division Two, having just ‘beaten’ Middlesex at Lord’s to make it five wins out of seven at the half-way stage. It is, without doubt, a sign of things to come.
*Despite playing right-back in the Leeds University Faculty of Law football team when one Keir Starmer was left-back, Richard Rae abandoned a career in the legal profession to become a journalist, working for the Harrogate Advertiser, Gloucestershire Echo and Yorkshire Post before joining the Sunday Times, writing about cricket, football and rugby league before becoming F1 correspondent. Six years and over 300 plane journeys later he went freelance, writing extensively for The Guardian, The Independent and BBC Sport Online. He became BBC Radio Leicester cricket commentator in 2014, winning the Christopher Martin-Jenkins Commentator of the Year Award in his first season, when Leicestershire failed to win a single championship match.
Photo by John Mallett/JRMPhotos