“The thought of having to listen to the predators who purport to be producing commentaries from sofa or armchair without paying a penny to the England and Wales Cricket Board for the rights, is to ghastly to contemplate. The sooner they are nailed and swept offline, the better.”
So writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins MBE in The Times. One can only presume that the author also slammed his fist on the table after finishing each sentence.
As the author attempts to demonstrate, it is all too simple to spew out poetic, confident words with no factual basis, and a large proportion of the masses will often nod along in sheep-like agreement. However, thanks to the proliferation of social media, we live in a generation where reasoned thought and objective analysis are starting to usurp individuals who might be in a position to influence popular opinion. Clearly, it is a scary prospect for some.
Through years of deciphering passive-aggressive, agenda-driven journalists, we understand that Martin-Jenkins is referring to Test Match Sofa, the online alternative to traditional cricket commentary. In the past couple of days, both The Guardian and BBC have also made references to The Sofa in terms of being a potential fly in the Test Match Special gazpacho.
Interestingly, Martin-Jenkins chooses to make veiled, sneering attacks on the nature of the online station’s furniture – South London’s woodworking and upholstery communities are both outraged – but why does Martin-Jenkins fail to even gloss over the reality of the situation? Surely CMJ’s gripe with The Sofa can’t be that they are building up a formidable cache of swivel-chairs, bean bags, and bar stools? (I even heard they might be bringing in a patio chair, heaven forbid).
The only other explanation in Martin-Jenkins’ bitterness towards Test Match Sofa might have something to do with his pointing out that they don’t pay anything to the ECB. Legally, Test Match Sofa are not obliged to pay a single penny, cent or rupee to any governing body. Practically, it would be akin to Test Match Special forking out an extra £50,000 to the BCCI – and we all know how much that can grate.
In response to the ill-feeling emanating from the BBC, we spoke to Test Match Sofa’s founder,Dan Norcross.
“Establishment detractors either paint us as an unruly mob akin to Visigoths sacking Rome or Clockwork Orange’s Droogs. Or else we’re depicted as parasites, taking over the pure, blessed host from within,” he said.
“‘Predator’ however, is much more flattering. And anyone who has seen the raw power of a gaggle of middle-aged balding fat men commentating on cricket in front of the telly in a windowless box, at all hours of the day and night to avoid engaging in the futility of their dwindling lives, will attest to that.”
So, CMJ doesn’t like Test Match Sofa, but we’re still none-the-wiser as to why. It is uncertain as to whether he has tuned in to The Sofa to listen to even a single session of a Test match, but had he done so, his ears would have no doubt pricked up. To the outsider, it’s a jovial atmosphere where beers are swigged and esoteric jingles (these are often genius, see: Pawan Negi) are the norm. Moreover, there seems to be a grave misconception to an outsider such as CMJ, whereby an outfit such as The Sofa is ‘amateur’ (i.e. no formal experience in a press box, no journalism degrees from Cambridge, no nepotistic appointments as a county press officer).
Shockingly, it is almost as if those on The Sofa are simply driven by a pure, authentic love for the game of cricket. Furthermore, the ‘amateur’ term often used to label The Sofa is a huge misnomer – there are several commentators on their roster who would certainly not be out of place in professional commentary. In fact, they might even be able to teach the likes of CMJ, Jonathan Agnew, and their fellow cake-scoffing untouchables a thing or two.
Truly, this is where the heart of the matter lies. This is not some half-hearted resistance rooted in a misplaced sense of “in-my-day” nostalgia. This is the distilled arrogance and ignorance of an establishment that fears change; the very real fear that a younger, French-speaking, more intelligent, more handsome, IPL-literate version of your current self might be wooing your wife of many years, and that you are powerless to stop him.
What Martin-Jenkins, Giles Clarke and Test Match Special need to understand is that nobody owns cricket. Moreover, scoffing at what they perceive to be lesser mortals only serves to reinforce the view that English cricket’s establishment is out-of-touch. For now, both versions of TMS are perfectly primed to coexist – until perhaps, one fails to adapt to a changing cricketing landscape.
by the editor