|Genre||Sport (cricket) commentary|
|Running time||During England matches|
|Country of origin||UK|
|Home station||Five Live Sports Extra & BBC Radio 4 LW|
|Original release||1957 – present|
|Audio format||LW, digital radio and digital TV|
Test Match Special (also known as TMS) is a British sports radio programme, originally, as its name implies, dealing exclusively with Test cricket matches, but currently covering any professional cricket. It broadcasts on BBC Radio 4 LW (long wave), BBC Radio Five Live Sports Extra (digital) and via the internet to the United Kingdom and (where broadcasting rights permit) the rest of the world. TMS provides ball-by-ball coverage of most Test cricket, One Day International, and Twenty20 matches and tournaments involving the England cricket team.
BBC Radio was the first broadcaster to cover every ball of a Test match. Live cricket had been broadcast since 1927, but originally it was thought that Test match cricket was too slow for ball-by-ball commentary to work. However, Seymour de Lotbiniere ("Lobby"), who was responsible for live sports coverage and who went on to become an outstanding head of outside broadcasts at the BBC, realised that ball-by-ball commentary could make compelling radio. In the mid-1930s he got Howard Marshall to begin commentating on cricket, rather than only giving reports. From the mid-1930s to the 1950s the amount of ball-by-ball commentary gradually increased, but it was not until TMS was launched in 1957 that every ball was covered for their British audience.
Robert Hudson was responsible for the launch of TMS, writing to his Outside Broadcasts boss Charles Max-Muller in 1956, proposing broadcasting full ball-by-ball coverage of Tests rather than only covering fixed periods, and suggesting using the Third Programme (as BBC Radio 3 was then known) frequency, since at that time the Third Programme only broadcast in the evening.
TMS became a fixture on BBC Radio 3 on AM medium wave until Radio 3 lost its MW frequency in February 1992. The programme moved to Radio 3 FM that summer and the following summer the morning play was on Radio 5, switching to Radio 3 for the afternoon session. The start of Radio 5 Live meant that TMS moved to its present home on Radio 4 long wave (198 LW, plus various localised MW frequencies including 720 MW in London and 603 MW in the North East). At times of cricket matches, the normal BBC Radio 4 schedule continues on its FM frequencies, whilst longwave is taken over by the cricket.
Digital Radio was seen as the solution for "where to put" TMS and a way for cricket fans to avoid broadcasts of the Shipping Forecast, The Daily Service and Yesterday in Parliament which would otherwise interrupt the cricket. Since 2002 it has been broadcast on Five Live Sports Extra, which is the network the BBC primarily cross-promote on air. Five Live Sports Extra is also streamed via the Internet (though sometimes only available in the UK due to rights issues). Full commentaries are now available for 30 days on the BBC iPlayer and since late-2015 a "live-rewind" feature is available.
Many spectators who are present at Test matches listen to TMS via headphones attached to portable radios. Fixed frequency radios with radio and/or TV commentary are sometimes available for purchase at grounds.
From 1973 to 2007, Test Match Special was produced by Peter Baxter. Halfway through 2007, Baxter retired and was replaced by Adam Mountford, previously the Five Live cricket producer. Mountford was aged just one when Peter Baxter became involved with TMS.
Format changes include the addition of daily live weather forecasts and reports on the domestic county championship for home series, plus an end of day summary with Jonathan Agnew and Geoffrey Boycott.
In December 2008 the BBC won the UK radio rights up to 2013. On 26 January 2012 the ECB announced a further six-year deal covering home Tests until 2019 (the next UK Ashes series). In 2017 the ECB agreed a new deal with the BBC to cover England Cricket on Radio from 2020–2024 alongside the new rights for BBC TV coverage of Live Twenty20 Cricket and Test Match & ODI International Highlights.
The BBC currently covers all winter series too, but did at one stage lose certain rights to TalkSport – broadcasting rights for tours are controlled by the host country and it is not uncommon for there to be disputes. In 2001, Agnew was forced to broadcast by mobile phone from Galle Forte, overlooking the Sri Lankan ground, when the BBC were locked out.
In a Test match three or four commentators and three or four summarisers are used in rotation; each commentator "sits in" before the microphone for 20 minutes, and each summariser for 30 minutes, at a time. Some of the commentators have nicknames (a few based on the first syllable of their surname, plus the syllable "-ers"). They have included:
Current TMS commentators include:
The long-standing pattern of a broadcast is commentary during the over followed by a summary or other comments between overs (usually by retired first-class cricketers). In recent years, this pattern has rather broken down, with comments being made not just between overs but between balls.
Past summarisers have included:
Current summarisers include:
In addition, visitors from overseas join the TMS team as commentators or summarisers when their country is touring England or vice versa. These have included:
The TMS team also includes a scorer. The first was Arthur Wrigley, followed in 1966 by Bill Frindall (affectionately known as "the Bearded Wonder") whose final Test was England's drawn 2nd Test with India in December 2008. Jo King was used as scorer for overseas tours after Frindall stopped travelling. When Jo was unavailable for the 2006/07 Commonwealth Banks Series finals in Australia, Michael Robinson replaced her for the first final at the MCG. Malcolm Ashton (affectionately known as "Ashtray") became TMS scorer following Frindall's death in 2009. South African Andrew Samson was the scorer on overseas tours from the Ashes tour of 2010/11, and took over from Malcolm Ashton in 2014, for the home series against Sri Lanka and India. Andy Zaltzman became the scorer on the Sri Lankan tour of England in 2016. Having been the scorer on numerous England women's matches, Phil Long made his debut on the programme at the start of the 2019 Cricket World Cup where himself and Zaltzman were the scorers.
TMS has always had a distinctively irreverent style. While it takes seriously its role of describing and commenting on the action, there is also much light relief. Brian Johnston, who was as happy on the stage and working in light entertainment presentation as he was in the commentary box, was the master of this style. This could on occasion lead to hilarity in the box, for instance on one occasion in August 1991 at The Oval when Ian Botham was dismissed "hit wicket" and Agnew said Botham "just couldn't quite get his leg over." This remark led both Agnew and Johnston to collapse in a fit of giggles, which was quickly followed by Johnston's giggly chastening, "Aggers, do stop it!" This clip has become a broadcasting classic and is frequently replayed. In 2005, Radio 5 Live listeners voted it the greatest sporting commentary of all time, with ten times as many votes as "they think it's all over".
Other Johnners classics include, "There's Neil Harvey standing at leg-slip with his legs wide apart, waiting for a tickle", and "...and Ward bowls to Glenn Turner, short, ooh! and it catches him high up on the, er, thigh. That really must have hurt as he's doubled over in pain. I remember when..." and after 2 minutes of typical Johnners fill, he continued, "Well, he's bravely going to carry on ... but he doesn't look too good. One ball left."
Listeners' letters and emails are often read out on air. Brian Johnston was once taken to task by a schoolmistress correspondent, pretending indignation, for saying during a West Indies Test commentary: "The bowler's Holding, the batsman's Willey." However, on this occasion he was innocent.
Concern about BBC Sport's commitment to maintaining the tone and style of the programme after its 50th anniversary led to an Early Day Motion being tabled in Parliament by Andrew George MP in June 2007.
Brian Johnston started the fad of the public sending cakes to the commentary box. In Johnston's day they were chocolate cakes, whereas now fruit cakes seem to be more popular. Indeed, in 2001 the Queen herself had a fruit cake baked for the TMS team. She said that it was baked "under close supervision" by her following Jonathan Agnew's light hearted questioning of her as to whether she might have baked it herself.
Beards have become a recurring theme during TMS commentary, under the supervision of "Bearders" himself — scorer and statistician. The TMS team receive sporadic missives from Keith Flett, social historian, serial newspaper letter writer and chairman of the Beard Liberation Front, a group dedicated to the removal of a societal prejudice against the facially follically enhanced or bearded. Flett offers his opinions on the state of beards in the game today and his views are frequently discussed on TMS, particularly by Jonathan Agnew, including transformations in the recent and bygone Pakistan cricketers, and most recently with regards to the "splendidly hirsute" Monty Panesar. Bill Frindall was announced "Beard of the Year" winner in 2008.
There is a tradition that every Saturday of a home Test match the commentators wear a Primary Club tie. Membership of the Primary Club is available to anybody who has been out first ball (a "golden duck") in any form of cricket. Proceeds are donated to a charity for blind and partially sighted cricketers.
This is a regular Saturday lunchtime feature during home Test Matches, in which guests from all walks of life are interviewed about their love of cricket as well as their own sphere of activity. In the early years of the feature the interviewer was usually Brian Johnston; nowadays most interviews are conducted by Jonathan Agnew. Lily Allen has been interviewed twice and stated a preference for the longer Test form of the game during her first interview on View from the Boundary. Daniel Radcliffe was interviewed on his 18th birthday at the Lord's Test in 2007 after being hunted down by Shilpa Patel, TMS's assistant producer. During the Ashes Test in 2009 at Lord's Patel also attracted the New Zealand actor Russell Crowe into the TMS box, while his cousin, the former Kiwi test cricketer Jeff Crowe, was serving as the match referee. Agnew remarked "that we have been joined by the cousin of the match referee" live on air. British prime ministers have been guests, including cricket fans John Major, David Cameron, who was interviewed twice, once as the Leader of Her Majesty's Official Opposition, and Theresa May.
At the end of each test match, the commentators vote for their favourite special moment in the match, and the player involved wins a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne. Examples include a personal milestone for a player, such as a century or five-wicket haul, a dramatic celebration, or a spectacular piece of fielding, wicket or shot.
In 2008 Mike Selvey was replaced as a TMS summariser as new producer Adam Mountford brought in Phil Tufnell and Michael Vaughan. Selvey then criticised what he described as a shift towards "laddish" commentators such as Arlo White and Mark Pougatch who have "little knowledge of the game, especially of the cadences of Test Match cricket". This sentiment was echoed by some of his contemporaries.