From knitted jumpers to tea breaks, Cricket is a game that is stooped in tradition. Nothing signifies the legacy of cricket more than Test Match Special (TMS), the age-old radio programme that captures every ball of every test match of every series that England plays. However, as interest for the purest form of cricket has dwindled drastically in recent years, so has the excitement for TMS. Despite insightful analysis, witty quips and a plethora of cakes for the commentators to feast on, the show’s sluggish format fails to connect with a whole generation of young cricket fans, including me.
Why, then, was a TMS fun match able to rally a sell-out crowd in a Derby stadium that often fails to top 100 spectators? The answer lies in their opposition: Tailenders. The podcast, fronted by new Radio 1 Breakfast presenter Greg James, former Macabees guitarist Felix White and England’s greatest ever bowler (and counting) Jimmy Anderson, is a smash hit and regularly tops the iTunes charts. Aimed at the both the village cricketer and those who have never picked up a bat, the trio celebrate everything silly in cricket, lampoon the trivialities of the game, and invent ridiculous catchphrases, all whilst being accompanied by hilarious guitar riffs provided by Felix.
Despite TMS boasting legends Michael Vaughan, Ebony Rainford-Brent, Graeme Swann and Phil Tufnell, the match ended in an emphatic victory for Tailenders. Felix led the celebrity team, that included McFly’s Harry Judd and Love Island’s Chris Hughes, to a bowling masterclass that ended in Ashes winning captain Vaughan being caught following a late flurry of wickets. The metaphor of TMS stalwart Vaughan being caught out by the Tailenders team to concede victory is too good to miss.
White Strikes: Former Maccabees Guitarist Felix White caught mid action
Whilst TMS often alienates fans who are new to the game, Tailenders encourages them. In each episode, the lads are joined by Matt ‘Machin’ Horan, a distant and very contrived relation to Indian cricketing demigod Sachin Tendulkar, who knows nothing about the game. Every week, the befuddled Bristolian tries to understand another aspect of cricket to no avail and much bemusement from Greg, Felix and Jimmy. But while Machin would be sneered at if he appeared on TMS, on Tailenders he is encouraged to think of wacky, innuendo-fuelled games that are loosely based around cricket, but mostly founded on his blossoming bromance with Jimmy. Unbelievably, in his first ever time on a cricket pitch, Machin took a breath-taking catch that sent the TMS vs Tailenders crowd into a mixture of hysteria and astonishment – leading to calls for the cricketing novice to be re-nicknamed ‘Cachin’ due to his heroics. Either way, this was a moment that saw the Tailenders vision achieved. They had managed to convert a man who previously hated cricket into a key player, and whose team defeated a TMS side led by an Ashes winning England captain. Incredible.
Changing of the Guard: Ashes winning England Captain Vaughan looks on as his team stumbled to defeat
Key to the success of the show is the natural chemistry between Greg, Felix and Jimmy. The trio are close friends, with the podcast resembling more of a chat between mates in the pub, rather than a sports show. Sure, a traditional cricket fan may rue the lack of professionalism that Tailenders is associated with, but this is what the team behind the 5 Live podcast are aiming for; casual fans relate more to a group of mates ribbing each other than elder statesmen of the game musing over the selection of canapés they were offered at Lord’s over lunch.
The connection between the hosts and the fans was clear to see at the 3aaa County Ground. Every time Jimmy walked between the commentary box and player dugout, he would answer shouts of the Tailenders catchphrase ‘Go well!’ with the obligatory response ‘Cheers!’. Felix celebrated captaining the winning side with podcast fans well after the final wicket. Greg, despite arriving late due to his new Radio 1 breakfast show, had a smile and a selfie for every fan, and even made time to chat to me about getting into radio after university.
The cricketing definition of ‘tailenders’ is: the last few batsmen who are left to save an innings for a team on the receiving end of a scathing bowling attack. It is fitting, therefore, that as the TMS has began to crumble, Tailenders has emerged to save cricket from alienating a whole generation by making the sport more relevant and enticing than ever. This has certainly been the case for me, despite picking up a bat as soon as I could walk, in recent years I fell out of love with cricket. However, Tailenders has managed to reignite my passion for the sport, and it only took a chart-topping rockstar, the biggest name in radio, and one of the greatest ever bowlers to do so.