John Arlott's Cricketing Wides, Byes and Slips

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Test Match Special Ashes Archive

BBC Audio/ Audio GO, 1990, 2009
It might seem very perverse to publish a review of a compilation of the great cricket commentator's work on
But perhaps not.  As well as being a familiar radio voice, John Arlott (1914-1991) was also a practising poet, and he used his linguistic abilities to paint word-pictures as he described what he saw.  He once described a stroke of the great Clive Lloyd thus: "the stroke of a man knocking a thistle top off with a walking-stick."  At the Centenary Test in Melbourne in 1977, he observed "a colony of silver gulls ... perched on the top of the stand as if they were vultures recruited for (Dennis) Lillee."
This CD is full of such great phrases.  Arlott knew above all how radio depends for its effect on the well-turned phrase that helps to create word-pictures in listeners' minds.  He transformed cricket matches into mini-dramas; not by shouting into the microphone or repeating endless clichés, but by choosing his words carefully.  To listeners accustomed to the more frenetic pace of the contemporary Test Match Special, Arlott's Hampshire drawl might seem slow - perhaps too slow - but he still had a turn of phrase that no one has ever been able to match.
This CD includes some famous examples of his work - Bradman's last Test innings at The Oval in 1948; Laker's 19 wickets at Old Trafford in 1956; the famous "freaker" (streaker) incident at Lord's in 1975; and Arlott's last commentary in 1980.  On the way there are some more incidental pleasures, such as his describing Denis Compton at his best in 1954, or Boycott's first Test hundred a decade later.
The compilation is introduced by ex-Test Match Special producer Peter Baxter, who provides useful links into each piece.  For those wanting to hear more Arlott, the BBC's Test Match Special Ashes archive offers some great examples