But what, asks Chris Bond, is the secret of its enduring popularity? The British summer, it has been said, consists of two fine days and a thunderstorm. They conjure memories of trips to the seaside, ice cream and uninterrupted cricket — the welcome sound of leather on willow. Michael Vaughan with the late Christopher Martin-Jenkins in
That is the question every armchair fan faces on the first morning of a summer Test as the clock ticks towards 11am.
How does such a venerable institution as Test Match Special survive, let alone thrive, in this 21st century multimedia climate? If only we could catch a particle of the magic dust with which TMS sparkles and then examine it under the microscope.
Well, in the Ashes summer of , I did. Dawn broke at Trent Bridge on Thursday, 6 August in unspectacular fashion. Indecisive clouds languished overhead, deliberating over whether to wash away the excitement of a sell-out crowd.
In the half hour before battle commenced, TMS did what it always does — transmitting the undiluted tension to its millions of listeners the world over. The recipe rarely changes: Aggers ferrets about the outfield, reporting on the teams and toss before queuing to grab a gentlemanly interview with the two captains while TV has first dibs.
The pundits on the rota unfailingly rib Aggers and each other from the off, and speculate like giddy schoolkids about the fresh pages of history about to be written over the next few days.
Or Meanwhile, miles away in Wood Green, I had taken a day off to fully luxuriate in the joys of a fresh chronicle in the Ashes saga. As recently as you could do both at once: the telly was free and the pictures were analogue, so it was perfectly possible to synchronise TMS with live television.
You could have your cake and eat it.
Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web, needs to get off his hammock and sort this out pronto. Until then, the next time you are faced with this crisis in cricket consumption, I suggest the temporary solution I stumbled on that fateful August morning.
This created two separate time-zones in the house, with the delay between audio and video just long enough for me to be able to hear anything noteworthy first, then run around the corner to see what had happened on TV, before returning to the warm sanctuary of TMS for the next ball.
I did a lot of running in the course of the next hour or so. The choice of new-ball pairing to start a Test match is always a crucial decision — not just on the field but at the microphone too. To steal a Blofeldism, they were both in mid-season form as they greeted us while the pre-match formalities frothed in the background.
Tuffers gladly rose to this challenge. Australia 4 for 0. Again, standard stuff. Nothing to leap towards the living room for. But the thing about earthquakes is that they happen without warning.
Three balls gone, Australia 4 for 1. It was a terrific start for England, but an early wicket is nothing out of the ordinary.
The second explosion was more telling. Tuffers was so excited he got the giggles.
Australia were 10 for 2 after one over. In my living room, the Sky Sports coverage let the pictures do the talking and, remarkable as the footage was, it lacked the frisson that comes from truly great commentary.
There is something about the nature of TMS that behoves its broadcasters to react more like fans and rely on their instinct. While television is unbeatable for presenting the physical reality of cricket, TMS is the most accurate transmitter of its emotional reality.
As listeners on that August morning, we were living it just as Blowers and Tuffers were. It was aural magic. Back in the kitchen, the maelstrom was already so massive that there was no time for Blowers to conduct his inventory of buses, cranes or Tina Turner lookalikes at the Radcliffe Road End.
A heartbeat and an inside edge later, Warner was being sent to the pavilion. Both openers out for nought. No one would have believed it, would they? It is amazing, Tuffers! Blowers was almost self-combusting in paroxysms of delight and his voice was laced with genuine, gleeful surprise.
He was a human lightning conductor for every England fan on the planet. This was Test Match Special at its best. After rushing to the living room to see the wicket of Warner, I was soon sprinting back to the radio to hear the drama that was fizzing over the wireless.
Then Shaun Marsh went for nought and Blowers went into overdrive. It took another hour for the innings to implode fully, Australia dismissed for I shuttled between rooms so often, I must have run more singles than the entire Australian batting line-up. The TV coverage might have been seconds behind in real time, but it was light years behind in emotion.
If a new Voyager probe was to be launched tomorrow complete with a gold disc of sounds from planet Earth, this radio clip should be on it.
But these celebrated facets are united by the strange fact that they do not directly involve the live sport itself.
Thursday, 6 August was different — it was all about the cricket. Eclipsing , , , , and dare I say it, even , this was England destroying the Australians more unexpectedly and utterly than they ever have, and it was TMS that crystallised the passion of the moment, not television pictures.
That morning I discovered that, in the strange world of cricket broadcasting, hearing is believing. This piece was originally published in Wisden's cricket journal The Nightwatchman, in summer