BBC’s angry Agnew lashes out at cricket rival Test Match Sofa
Test Match Special agrees deal to cover England series, but row erupts with rival broadcaster
THE BBC has resolved its dispute with the Indian cricket authorities and agreed that Test Match Special will, after all, provide radio commentary for England's upcoming Test series in India. However, the announcement has been overshadowed by an unseemly row over a rival cricket commentary service, owned by The Cricketer magazine, that has rocked the usually genteel world of cricket coverage.
The unseemly spat revolves around The Cricketer's irreverent internet commentary service, Test Match Sofa, which covers Test and international matches from a secret location in London, and does not pay for the privilege.
The existence of 'The Sofa', as it is known, has infuriated some members of the TMS team, and they lashed out at it during the dispute between the BBC and the Indian cricket authorities, who were threatening to prevent the Beeb from covering the series.
Writing in The Times this week, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, one of the senior members of the TMS team, said he hoped that the BBC would be able to sort out the impasse. "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 too ghastly to contemplate," he wrote. "The sooner they are nailed and swept offline, the better."
In reply, Andrew Miller, editor of The Cricketer, wrote a piece for the Daily Mail in which he defended the Sofa, whose commentary is provided by "enthusiastic amateurs" and the occasional expert. He said he was "baffled" by the hostility of the BBC commentators and said: "You can no sooner stop Test Match Sofa from commenting on the action than demand silence while fans watch it in the pub."
That, however, sent TMS lead presenter Jonathan Agnew, a former investor in the 91-year-old magazine, into a fury and he embarked on a Twitter rant. "I've never read such hypocrisy & assumed knowledge as that spouted by the once great Cricketer magazine today," he raged. "I won't be reading it again."
Agnew later took to Twitter to clarify his comments and said he was angry about the "hypocrisy of Miller advising BBC how to spend its rights money". He also took umbrage with a suggestion that cricket commentary box legends like Brian Johnston and John Arlott would not fit in with the current Test Match Special set up, which Miller claimed was geared towards ex-players and media professionals.
The row has even generated coverage overseas. Writing for Wisden India, Dileep Premachandran described CMJ's attack on the Sofa as "depressing" but said his view was "in keeping with the general air of mistrust with which many mainstream journalists view 'new' media".
But Dan Norcross, the founder of Test Match Sofa, told the Alternative Cricket blog that he was flattered to be called a "predator".
"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," he said.
- Jonathan Harwood is an occasional contributor to Test Match Sofa.