The banter bus backfires as live cricket returns on the BBC for the first time in 21 years

The banter bus backfires as live cricket returns on the BBC for the first time in 21 years… hosts Phil Tufnell and Michael Vaughan would be more effective from the experts’ chair

You could see what the BBC were up against when a Phil Tufnell segment on the rules of Twenty20 screened in the build-up to their first live cricket broadcast since 1999.

‘Both sides bat and bowl for 20 overs. The team with the most runs wins. A standard over is made up of six deliveries.’

Cricket hasn’t entirely vanished off the face of the earth in the years since Tony Lewis and Chris Broad were part of the soundtrack of a British summer but the BBC apparently have to prove they can seek new audiences for a sport which has been buried behind Sky’s paywall for so long. The strategy for doing that seems to entail commanding attention — making noise — at every available moment.

James Anderson (left), Michael Vaughan (centre) and Isa Guha share a joke on Sunday

When Tufnell wasn’t describing everything he could see — ‘He waves his bat to his team-mates, there’ — he was engaged in a Chuckle Brothers routine with Michael Vaughan which would have had most of those who could afford the choice scurrying back to Sky for an hour or two.

James Taylor’s cravat, Tom Curran’s moustache, Tufnell’s ‘rules of cricket’ segment — all were fuel for the banter bus.

‘Why’s it called a googly?’ Vaughan asked, for laughs, at one stage as Tufnell had remarked of an Adil Rashid delivery: ‘That’s the google.’

No-one knew or was inclined to try to know, so this hospital pass was thrown down to Andy ‘Zalts’ Zaltzman, the statistician, working in what Vaughan was calling ‘The Stat Cave.’

Phil Tufnel was engaged in a Chuckle Brothers routine with Michael Vaughan (right)

Phil Tufnel was engaged in a Chuckle Brothers routine with Michael Vaughan (right)


  • 21 years since the BBC’s last televised England game — the 1999 World Cup, when Alec Stewart’s host side suffered a humiliating group-stage exit.
  • Twenty20 did not exist and Tom Banton was seven months old.


The BBC’s 1999 team:

  • Presenter: Tony Lewis
  • Commentary: Richie Benaud, David Gower, Geoffrey Boycott, Barry Richards, Chris Broad

‘Not entirely sure,’ he said, instead dispensing a stat about Babar Azam completing the fastest 1,500 runs in T20 history.

There is actually no definitive answer to Vaughan’s question. The derivation of the word might be the formative ‘goggle-eyed’ response to such a delivery. But Sky would have been throwing a few theories around within a ball. With this new audience on board, it was surely worth some kind of a go. 

Vaughan’s wisdom and experience and Tufnell’s sardonic wit would actually both serve a BBC TV live broadcast far better from the expert summariser’s chair, supporting lead commentators like Simon Mann and Alison Mitchell, who are fluent and not excitable at the microphone.

It is, of course, a brutal and thankless task trying to match the erudition that Sky’s Mike Atherton, Nasser Hussain, Shane Warne and David Lloyd have been delivering for years.

But if the BBC are in the process of educating, a split-screen might have explained the difference between an off-cutter and back-of-the-hand ball — introduced to the conversation by Vaughan.

A table of the fastest players to 1,500 runs would have sharpened the output of Zaltzman — ‘the man who eats stats’, according to Vaughan. Neither split-screens nor stats charts were on show.

Richie Benaud, whose face flickered on to the screen in a retro montage of BBC live cricket at the top of the show, once described the secret of good commentary.

‘Learn the value of economy with words and never insult the viewer by telling them what they can already see,’ he said.

Benaud went quietly by, yet he is enshrined in the collective memory of so many golden summers from the days when cricket was free to view.

The game and the world have moved on but it is not mere sentiment to say that he had the wisdom of the ages.

Sometimes less is more.