I watched the BBC’s newly edited version of “John Arlott in Conversation with Mike Brearley”, with some trepidation. Here was the owner of the voice of cricket from my youth, about to be quizzed by one of England’s most successful captains, the man with the reputation of having perhaps the most probing mind amongst all England cricketers.
In the days when I had time to watch or listen to broadcast cricket matches, I longed to hear more of Richie Benaud’s expert dissection of the play – Benaud could tell you exactly what had just happened, and why – but Arlott remains the only commentator, ancient or modern, who could describe a cricket match with his poet’s eye and entrance sports fans and non-fans alike.
The original programmes were not scripted-for-TV interviews. The pauses, for thought and for another glass of wine, might not be allowed in a modern broadcast (maybe even not in 1984, when the original interviews took place, but for the remit of the then recently launched Channel 4 to provide an alternative to then existing channels).
But “John Arlott in Conversation…” is a most moving portrait of a truly human human being, who also happened to be the greatest commentator on cricket, ever.
“What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?” – CLR James
John Arlott knew so much more than cricket. But let’s not talk about that any more.