Friday, August 10, 2012

What these Olympics need is John Arlott

If I was a commentator at the Olympics I would avoid saying "what can I say?" for fear someone might ask, isn't that your job?

Maybe the reason they can't think of anything new to say is that they don't try, preferring to flail around for superlatives when a little description is what's really called for.

All the commentators agreed that David Rudisha, who won last night's 800 metre gold, was a beautiful runner but none of them tried to tell you why or how.

John Arlott, the great cricket commentator of my youth, would have done. Arlott likened a Clive Lloyd shot to "a man knocking a thistle top with a walking stick". He described Ian Botham running in to bowl as being "like a shire horse cresting the breeze". Asif Mamood approached the wicket "like Groucho Marx chasing a pretty waitress".

He was good at describing cricket because he hadn't wasted time playing the game. He was a policeman. He was also the only commentating genius we've ever produced.


  1. He wasn't afraid to take a couple of bottles of burgundy up to his commentary look-out either. The epithet 'we'll never see his like again' could have been tailor made for Arlott. And he was a desert island castaway twice.

  2. I met the great man at a book signing for 'Arlott and Trueman On Cricket'. I was thirteen. My copy was signed by Mr Trueman. Both of them were artists.

  3. I agree - the possible exception is Michael Johnson who is generally level headed and has something constructive to contribute while the others are leaping around the commentary box. A classic example was Hugh Porter's bizarre "encrusted with enthralling action" in the cycling road race. I can't wait for someone to say a performance was 'believable'. That would be entertaining. The constant pileup of superlatives is getting very wearing.

  4. I reckon the very recently late Sid Waddell might have had a field day with tonight's closing ceremony, and a number of the events for that matter.

    Sic Transit Gloria Sidney. :(

  5. David, I thought the finest piece of commentary to come from the recent Olympics was from Steve Cram at the end of Mo Farrah's epic 5,000m final. He spent the concluding seconds of the race in the customary spasm of excitement about the glorious result unfolding before our eyes and then took a second or two of pause as Farrah crossed the line and said "My words cannot do justice to the way I feel". I have to say I welled up in the brief silence which followed.