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Come on Blowers, you gotta play ball
Published 19/05/14

BE honest now. Is there a woman out there who actually understands cricket? I mean really understands it? (Shocking question! My cousin, Carol, could probably teach most men a thing or two about cricket. Comment from Web Editor)

If so I’d like to meet her so she could explain (in easy-to-understand-for-blondes-language, obviously) the following cricketing quandary: how comes a bunch of blokes dressed in pyjamas can spend five whole days lobbing balls at one another and then declare the match... a draw?

That’s question number one.

Question number two is: how come so many men (including a certain bloke that resides not a million miles away from me) can sleep peacefully and easily through a baby screaming all night with colic, but manage to rouse themselves at 4am to watch the Ashes from Down Under on Channel 4, and then go off to work five hours later without even a bleary eye?

There are lots more questions where those two came from (the obsession with tea? Googlies? Silly mid-off? Could anyone but an old Etonian have invented this baffling lexicon?) but by now I’m expecting an awful lot of ladies to be nodding their heads in rueful and knowing agreement.

As for the fact that during a test match every room in the house, including the garden (and not forgetting the car) has a radio/telly/laptop tuned in to the commentary, with its unmistakable mix of sound effects — the thwack of leather on willow interspersed with the fortissimo, drunken roar of the barmy army as a fast bowler comes in to deliver... well, it could be worse. It could be football.

There’s only one thing that has saved me from declaring war during the cricket season each year, and that’s the fact that out of the sea-mist of commentary that swamps our house pings the occasional pearl of wit. And that pearl is usually delivered in unashamedly plummy tones by Johnners, Aggers or Blowers, AKA Henry Blofeld, who says he has now more or less retired from watching cricket and has forged a new career as a raconteur.

Blofeld is back in Henley in June. Last time he was at the Kenton Theatre with his one-man show, this time he’s with his radio producer Peter Baxter, and he says the evening of “untold stories behind the scenes at Test Match Special” has nothing to do with cricket, and lots of women love it.

Hmmm. Not convinced.

“Don’t think this show is cricket, it isn’t,” he says with that distinctive old-boy-network twang. “You don’t have to have been near a cricket ground to enjoy the show. It’s all the gags, spoonerisms and double entendres that you get with great commentary. I’ve been commentating for 42 years and there are some really wonderful stories we tell.”

OK, but they’re still about cricket, right, which means that the theatre must be packed with men?

“This is where you are absolutely wrong. It’s a lady-friendly show and at the moment we are getting 50/50 ladies and men. It’s really a comedy.”

And he goes on to describe one of his funniest moments in the commentary box: “There’s Brian Johnston describing a dachshund running on to the pitch — ‘Here’s the first intruder of the match, and he’s scratching away at his right ball and I think he must be a fast bowler, well I know he’s a fast bowler because his balls are swinging both ways,’” and he laughs, before adding as a female-friendly aside: “Cricket is played with balls, you know.”

It’s all very schoolboy, but nevertheless, even the cricket widows among us can’t help but like Blowers because like all great English legends he is just so eccentric.

He started out as the Cricket Society’s most promising young player of the season back in 1956 at the age of 17, but his career came to a swift end when he was run over by a bus while out cycling. He forged a career as a sports journalist instead and has become equally notorious for his observations on pigeons, his outrageous sartorial choices and his love of chocolate cake as for his commentary of the sport.

In fact, it’s quite difficult to get him to wax lyrical about the nitty-gritty of English cricket now. For example, when asked who he considers the best English cricketer of all time you expect him to drop some names — perhaps Truman, or Botham, or even Flintoff? But no.

“I’ve seen lots of very great cricketers and I have no idea,” he says. “I have seen thousands and you can’t compare them. It’s like asking which is the best cricket ground. I love watching cricket being played where it’s played. I just enjoy it hugely.”

Blast, there goes another question.

The fact is that Blowers has made his success from being the man with the dulcet tones and the poetic turn of phrase, not for being opinionated. He leaves that to Geoffrey Boycott.

But as a last ditch attempt to ruffle his feathers, I ask him what he thinks about women playing cricket — and get a surprising answer.

“I think they are absolutely brilliant. I know some of them and they have improved beyond all knowlege.

“In fact, there was an England ladies’ team before the First World War you know, and the game has developed.

“I’m not a feminist in any way at all but I think it’s great fun and they play extremely well. They won the Ashes last year.”

Which is more than the men’s team did, I remind him.

Touché. It’s a cheap shot, but hey, anything else and it’s just not cricket.

• Blofeld and Baxter: Memories of Test Match Special is at the Kenton Theatre on Saturday, June 21. Box office (01491) 575698 or visit www.kentontheatre.co.uk

Test Match Special commentator Henry Blofeld says his new show coming to the Kenton in June is nothing to do with the sport, but long-suffering cricket widow LESLEY POTTER begs to disagree.

PUBLISHED 19/05/14

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