Cricket on television has undertaken a dramatic evolution in recent years. From the innovative days of the Analyst, Hawkeye and the Red Zone on Channel 4 to rev counters for spinners, swish graphics and the drama of DRS in the modern era the concept of televised cricket has moved with the technological times as the match itself has become liberally decorated with fripperies to satiate the desire of the modern viewer. Many of the tweaks have improved the experience and analysis of the sport but one development has perhaps left the sport and the tele-visual production a little poorer.
My earliest memories of watching cricket on television is from the 1989 Ashes series, a summer in which England were perpetually beaten and outclassed by Australian players seemingly playing on a different level. Opener Mark Taylor always seemed to score a century, Steve Waugh always seemed to follow suit whilst Terry Alderman always seemed to run through England’s top order. At ten years of age the details of each match didn’t really sink in but the first sighting of a scorecard produced by the BBC etched something into the psyche that still remains to this day. Players referred to by their first and surnames by the commentators were all of a sudden listed in a curious manner on the graphical representation: GA Gooch, RA Smith, MW Gatting, RC Russell, JE Emburey, AR Border, SR Waugh, MG Hughes, TM Alderman et al.
Naturally, the meaning behind the letters quickly became apparent but their presence provoked much curiosity and fascination. What names did those second letters represent? GA Gooch: is it Anthony? Or Andrew? Or Alexander? Aside from a commentary insight the questions remained unanswered. The sight of ARC Fraser only furthered one’s curiosity. Three initials? None of my family had more than two. Of a similar nature was the discovery that Tim Robinson’s first name did not match with his first initial. There’s only so much a ten year old boy’s mind can comprehend on such matters. Of course, it all harked back to the gentlemen and players era but such historical issues didn’t even appear on the radar of a ten year old boy during that Ashes summer. In a pre-internet world the mysterious, multi-lettered names proved curious and intriguing. Questions abounded but many remained unanswered whilst one had to wait for others to become apparent.
The following summer plenty became clear courtesy of a copy of the Playfair Cricket Annual. GA Gooch became Graham Alan Gooch, Angus Fraser’s middle name gluttony translated as Robert Charles whilst Tim Robinson’s moniker was pre-fixed by Robert. All very interesting. The initials provided an intriguing subplot to the contest itself, particularly with the inherent unknown nature of the business, the changing cast of players and teams involved further stoking the fires of curiosity. Several summers, and Playfair annuals, later the 1994 edition of the Playfair annual introduced a further nuance to the novelty as HDPK Dharmasena made his test debut for Sri Lanka but within a year the future test match umpire had been eclipsed by fellow countryman WPUCJ Vaas as the levels of curiosity increased further; chief of which surrounded which of the five initials served as this player’s first name? One’s memory proves a little patchy on the subject but the answer likely wasn’t revealed until England hosted Sri Lanka in a one-off test at the conclusion of the 1998 summer.
Rarely do things stay the same though, even in cricket. The Beeb would soon lose broadcasting rights to Channel Four and the introduction of the aforementioned graphics and analytical tools. None of which should have affected the listing of players along with their various initials but the upgrade in graphics and the change of broadcaster represented a brave new world and such frivolities were no longer de rigueur. Rather, as England took on New Zealand at Lord’s, the simple listing of a player’s surname was deemed enough for the television scorecard amid a brave new world. Perhaps it was viewed as progression or a modernising of the sport but, for some reared on Auntie’s classic scorecards this was arguably a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
In truth, it matters little and as a young boy moved through adolescence into adult life maybe such trivialities are just that. The world had also changed. The advent of the internet dictated that such curiosities could be answered via a few clicks in a few seconds, perhaps reducing the charm of this old tradition to the point where the debut of Chanaka Welegedara and his half a dozen initials didn’t quite resonate as the discoveries of Messrs Dharmasena and Vaas in the pages of the Playfair annuals. Nevertheless, the odd throw back to bygone eras provide important touchstones to the sport’s heritage in an era when too much from the past is readily dismissed at the altar of expediency and consumerism.