THERE are some in my industry who resent slightly the large numbers of former players who work in the media.
That is understandable; after all, you would not expect the average journalist to open the batting for England, so why should an ex-player walk into a newspaper job, for example, without having first of all gained the necessary training/experience/qualifications?
A trained journalist has an eye for the unfolding story, the right line to take, in the way that a former player has an eye for the ball that challenges him on or just outside off-stump.Chris Waters
In some cases, media outlets have prioritised celebrity names over journalistic ability – particularly in the print medium, where the skill-set is vastly different to that of being able to talk into a microphone.
The dynamic of press/broadcasting boxes has certainly changed, and sometimes the balance between trained journalists and ex-players can be blurred too far in the latter’s favour.
My personal view is that you need a healthy mixture of both. A trained journalist has an eye for the unfolding story, the right line to take, in the way that a former player has an eye for the ball that challenges him on or just outside off-stump.
You cannot teach someone to write any more than you can teach someone how to play an inswinging yorker at 90mph. Occasionally, you get those who can do both – Michael Atherton, for example. But he is the exception rather than the rule.
The great value of former players, of course, is the tactical insight and nous that they bring. Whether as columnists whose work is ghosted by a journalist, or as summarisers/commentators behind a microphone, they can inject real understanding – although there are some truly dreadful ones out there, too, with little concept of timing, style or news sense.
In my opinion, Michael Vaughan is among the best in the business and I have been struck when listening to him lately on Test Match Special just how vast and incisive is his knowledge of the sport. The way that ex-players such as Vaughan read the minutiae, the field settings, the tactics and so on, as opposed to the broader picture that most of us see, is striking and goes a long way towards explaining why Vaughan was such a successful captain.
For me, Vaughan, Geoffrey Boycott and Nasser Hussain lead the pack in this regard. Not only do they have tremendous tactical insight, but they also possess strong opinions which they are not afraid to express.
When I listen to Vaughan, I can understand fully how he masterminded the downfall of Australia in 2005 as he always seems to be one step ahead.
At 76 years young, I also find Boycott unsurpassed in his ability to hold the airwaves in thrall and in the way that he reads/sums up events, while Hussain is another whose brain seems wired to observe things that the rest of us do not observe.
Of course, there are things that only ex-players would know, details that could only be known if one has played at the highest level.
Ditto, there are things that only skilled writers/commentators can do in terms of describing not just the cricket itself, but the extremely important periphery of it – the colour, the atmosphere, the general milieu, while they also possess the critic’s sense of detachment.
Listening to the likes of Boycott, Vaughan and Hussain is a cricketing education.
They should get more credit than comes their way.