Every time a home series rolls around, we wait anxiously to find out who the overseas guest commentators will be. Generally, we find that Test Match Special do better than Sky Sports in terms of this component of their team. Obviously TMS do occasionally make a bad choice – Ramiz Raja in 2010 doing regular stints on both radio and television still gives us bad dreams. It seems, based on absolutely no research by us whatsoever (the work experience kid was busy trying to work our VHS), that Sky tend towards the ex-player, unsurprisingly given they are essentially an Old Boys club anyway, complete with matching polo shirts and ceremonial flushing of Nasser’s head down the studio bogs. Hence Shaun Pollock is currently guesting, adding another 400 odd wickets to the collective CV (Warne 708, Botham 383, Holding 249, Atherton 2, Gower 1). However impressive Pollock’s on-field record is – probably the best ginger bowler since Mark Ilott – his commentary largely passes us by, though it must be said that his occasional stints on the radio are slightly more interesting.
Conversely, TMS generally seem to favour broadcasters by trade: notably Jim Maxwell and Tony Cozier. This befits the nature of TMS, with the experienced commentators being supported by more outspoken and opinionated summarisers who are mostly ex-players (we should note that both Pollock and Barry Richards have appeared in the past on TMS before we get tweeted by their lawyers). For some South African series in the past, TMS used Gerald de Kock, whose name was the most amusing thing about him. However we’re pleased that they’ve opted for the other main SA commentator: Neil Manthorp – think Nick Knight with something to say, or Dermot Reeve with a cheeky glass of wine rather than the mountainous pile of cocaine.
He’s already popped up on Cricket Writers on TV, where he was wry, humourous and insightful. On air he is a pleasure: making pertinent observations whilst commentating in a casual style with a knowing chuckle. His camaraderie with his summariser (though the summarisers tend to be more co-commentators these days) is perfectly pitched.
Born in England, the Manthorps moved to South Africa when Neil was just one year old. He returned to his birth country to finish his schooling, before returning to South Africa after the end of Apartheid. His broadcasting career bloomed from journalism in the UK; he also set up a Sports Agency company. Since then he has become commentator on SuperSport, written about golf and rugby as well as cricket, and written a handful of books. We’re always happy to promote rival blogs (since when?- Ed), so here’s Neil’s tour diary on some amateurish looking website.
Always in tune to the atmosphere at the match, in the box and dare we say, across the country, the best praise we can offer is that he’s like a South African Aggers. And praise rarely comes higher than that.