I’ve been very lucky in my career as a journalist to interview some of the biggest names in business, politics and sport.
Quizzing Sir Richard Branson, putting politicians under the spotlight and interviewing England football managers and Olympic gold medallists is an honour and one that I don’t take for granted.
However if I had to identify the experience I enjoyed above all others in my 25+ year career it was spending nearly two hours in the Test Match Special box at the recent England vs South Africa Test match at Old Trafford.
I felt like the kid with the golden ticket to get into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. TMS is 60 years old this summer and has been a constant companion in my life. I’ve listened on a crackily line from Pakistan. As a kid I stayed up way beyond my bedtime for updates from Australia in the latest Ashes contest.
I cried with laughter at the immortal Aggers and Johnners ‘leg over’ sketch. There are too many memories to mention but TMS represents escapism for me. Walking into the TMS team is a bit like walking into a family front room and every member has a role.
I’ve never been star-struck but if I was it was when I met the bearded scorer Andrew Samson. The South African statistician has this amazing ability to find answers to the most complicated questions. I once appeared on a TV quiz called ‘Sports Anorak of the Year’ answering questions about the Ashes from 1971-1991 so I absolutely love stats.Samson is 53 and spends about 20 weeks of the year scoring at Test matches around the world. He has every single Test match recorded on a database so has virtually every answer at his fingertips.
For example after the Third Test at the Oval he tweeted that Moeen Ali’s hat-trick was the first in Test cricket that three left-handed batsmen had been dismissed.“You know when Duanne Olivier took the last two wickets of Mark Wood and Jimmy Anderson in successive balls to finish the Trent Bridge Test?” I asked him. “Does that mean he was effectively on a hat-trick when he bowled his first ball in the Old Trafford Test (having missed the intervening one at the Oval)?” “It wouldn’t have counted as a hat-trick because they were different Test matches but had he have taken a wicket with his first ball at Old Trafford it would have been three wickets in three balls,” was the immediate reply. Wow. For a split second I felt like a proper commentator. He was a top, top guy.
Then I met Phil ‘the Cat’ Tufnell, who spoke to me like I’d known him for years. “Do you know Tuffers you’re responsible for the fact that stuck with me most from the Oval match? I said. “Really,” replied the former England spinner in his laconic way. “Yes,” I said. “You said that a mouse has as many bones in its neck as a giraffe.” We both laughed like old friends. “I couldn’t believe it either,” said Tuffers. “I think I saw it on one of those TV nature programmes.”
No trip to the TMS box would have been complete without meeting Jonathan Agnew. I gave a speech last year at a show jumping event when he was in the audience so that broke the ice. He has a condition called Dupuytren’s contracture, which causes his fingers to gradually curl over into a claw-like state. My nan had the same condition and Aggers’ hands are a criss-cross of scars following a number of operations.
Unbeknown to me he was about to tell listeners that he was going to miss the end of the Test because his wife was starting treatment for breast cancer but he still gave me his time. I was gutted when I found out about his wife and then I realised why. TMS is like my cricket family and the familiarity of people like Aggers, Blowers and Co make them feel like relatives.
One of the highlights of the visit was being able to watch as the teams were picked for a special TMS cricket match on August 24 to celebrate their 60th anniversary.Agnew and legendary Geoffrey Boycott are leading the teams and former captain Michael Vaughan (who has a really strong handshake) and Tuffers are captaining them. Alison Mitchell oversaw the auction of players, with both sides able to bid using sticks of rhubarb as a currency. You couldn’t make it up.
The most sticks of rhubarb went for fellow TMS commentator and former player Charlie ‘Daggers’ Dagnell. He was at the back of the box and still plays a bit of club cricket at the weekend when his schedule allows. “I got a tidy little 30 on Saturday,” he said proudly.
Everybody in the box is exactly as you hear them through the radio. Boycs breezed into the box carrying his embroidered cushion with his name on it. To describe Boycott as outspoken wouldn’t do him justice and he took the auction really seriously. I’m laughing just thinking about it.
When it finished former South African captain Graeme Smith strode into the box to do the post lunch session. He’s a man mountain but I can confirm I didn’t see him tuck into any of the TMS cakes that are baked for grateful listeners.
It was an amazing experience and one that I won’t forget. Thank you to the unsung heroes of producer Adam Mountford and his colleague Henry Moeran. We live in difficult times but TMS always makes the world seem a better place.
* You can follow Chris Maguire on Twitter @ifthecap
Photos of TMS team and Chris Maguire with Charlie Dagnell and Jonathan Agnew