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Friday, 24 January, 2003, 13:37 GMT

Massive task for TMS

By Peter Baxter
Test Match Special producer

Henry Blofeld, Christopher Martin-Jenkins and Jonathan Agnew Twenty-seven years ago the Controller of Radio 3 was not over-keen on the forthcoming first World Cup.

Radio 3 was then the home of Test Match Special's ball-by-ball commentary, but it carried only the memorable final in that inaugural tournament.

Ten years ago, I suggested that Jonathan Agnew and I should be supported by a third reporter in Australia and New Zealand, but that idea was treated with total scorn.

As the crew for the eighth World Cup mounts through 40 souls, I am constantly reminded how it has all changed.

We have had complicated operations before, notably in 1983 and 1999, but those were for World Cups in England, when we were feeding our commentaries all round the cricketing world.

This time we are replicating that in a foreign field and for the biggest World Cup yet, with 54 matches.

To add to the task is the massively increased coverage planned by Radio 5 Live, with featured matches covered in an alternative style.

Then there are reporters for regional radio, the World Service - in English and in other languages - and the BBC Asian Network.

The advance crises include the highly charged question of whether England's match in Harare will go ahead and, more importantly, how many lunches we might need on any day.

Have we booked enough broadcast lines, flights or hotel rooms?

Does everyone know where he or she is meant to be on any given day?

" In terms of personnel and logistics BBC Radio is nearer to television than any of the other radio organisations at the tournament "
Peter Baxter

Get all that right and we might be able to concentrate on the programmes.

Those will start on 8 February, in Cape Town, with the noisy background of what is mainly a visual opening ceremony, under the blank gaze of Table Mountain.

The delight of a World Cup always lies in its international flavour.

I remember a wonderful evening in the 1987 World Cup in India and Pakistan when for one night most of the teams and media found themselves in the same hotel in Delhi.

Tales were swapped and suitably embroidered.

Umpire David Shepherd was travelling with Dickie Bird, who was nowhere to be seen. "Oh he's happy now," said Shep. "Now he's properly ill!"

" Some say the talk gets too schoolboyish, and trivial and others probably get tired if it gets too technical "
Vic Marks

If anything it was more chaotic nine years later, when New Zealand were England's first opponents.

Radio New Zealand were so pleased with the quality of commentary as Brian Waddle joined the TMS team, that they looked forward enthusiastically to the next game.

Poor Brian had to commentate for seven hours on a telephone in the pavilion at Baroda on New Zealand playing Holland.

Another low-point was the disorganised midnight press conference in the bar at the Sydney Cricket Ground a few weeks later.

The notorious rain rule's defects had been highlighted by South Africa returning to the field after a break and required to make 22 off one ball to win.

That is the World Cup.

Last time it swung from a soggy day at Canterbury to the last ball semi-final thriller at Edgbaston.

ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed has exhorted us to 'raise cricket broadcasting to new heights'.

If the specially-provided commentary boxes are as small as threatened, that may be a challenge, but the scale of the event itself will give the commentary its own wings.

What cultural delights await us in Southern Africa?

We can be sure there will be many surprises. The biggest will probably be if everything works!

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