Alastair Cook’s last ever Test innings – a composed, deft hundred, unbeaten as I write – was a triumph of all the qualities that have planted him in the record books. But on Test Match Special on day three (9 September) they were just hoping he’d get off the mark against India’s high-class new ball attack. Fraught nerves all round. Aggers grumbled about the inexplicably slow Oval scoreboard and Michael Vaughan kept saying the word tense. “The situation is tense.” “Adds to the drama and tension.”
It seems someone by the pavilion wasn’t suitably nervous. “Ploughing his way through the Sunday papers!” tutted Aggers, casting his eye around some more and then spotting Cook’s wife. “Ah. How’s Alice doing? She’s about as pregnant as it’s possible to be.” There was mention of the 20-year-old Rishabh Pant, India’s latest attempt to fill the shoes of MS Dhoni. Much schoolboy fun has been had of the wicket-keeper’s surname this summer, particularly by Aggers and Tuffers when he produced a few boundaries at Southampton: “Pant’s on fire!” Then, when he was out it was, “Pant’s stay at the crease was productive but brief!”
It hasn’t been a vintage year for commentary. Henry Blofeld’s departure has cast a shadow. Boycott is still fantastically awkward and threatening but bar Aggers and Tuffers the rest are pretty dull. Vaughan is way too prone to diversions and Graeme Swann even adds mimicry into the mix. “Do you want to get in the queue early?” mused Aggers on the controversy that always threatens to tear apart the very fabric of the game – when to leave one’s seat for tea.
There followed a discussion about the new-design pint glasses at the ground, with Vaughan suggesting a whisky chaser in the stackable hollow handle. Aggers expounded on the general mood of the series (“It’s been played in very good spirit,”), then reconsidered (“Little crochety period yesterday with Jimmy Anderson, of course, but other than that…”). Further conclusive thoughts, as Cook – for 12 years quietly brilliant, occasionally dominant – made himself at home at the crease one last time. “It’s so strange. One ball and it’s over.” PING. A consternating text from Jonathan’s wife at home! “Which fuse is the one for the smoke alarm?”
Test Match Special
Radio 5 live sports extra
This article appears in the 12 Sep 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The return of fascism