Someone who shall remain nameless – because we can’t remember who it was – recently tweeted something along the lines of “Cor blimey, Ian Ward ain’t half an idiot, wat did he ever do 4 england!” This had us spluttering into our G&T like a retired Colonel finding out that they’ve let women join the MCC. For whilst Sky does have its faults in the shape of two gobshites (hint: 1091 Test wickets between the pair of them) and the continuing employment of NV Knight, the relatively young ‘Wardy’ is a breath of fresh air amidst the stale golf-day old-boys’ club of the commentary box.
His role at Sky is two-fold. For county cricket he is one of the hosts forever in David Gower’s shadow. It’s not difficult, but he is certainly more pleasing to listen to and watch than Charles Colville or Matt Floyd. His commentary stints are at worst bearable, but perhaps he has not yet found a distinctive voice. From best to worst we’d rank the commentating Ians: Smith; Chappell; Bishop; Ward; Botham; Healy. The second of his jobs is as the junior dogsbody at a Test match – and it’s this role that has really caught our eye.
We can imagine him scurrying around a cricket ground from breakfast time to supper, grabbing an interview over here and filming a special feature over there. In an era where interviewers seem to just make a statement and point the microphone at the player in hope of a response (just what kind of answer do they expect from a statement like “You made some good runs today.”?), he actually does ask open questions – and is not afraid to draw upon a player’s errors and faults in securing an illuminating answer. He has taken to technology well, using footage on his SkyCartVideoPad (TM) to illustrate points and underpin his conclusion. In other hands, the SkyAshesHDiVideoMobile (TM) might have been tragically superfluous, but Ward deserves credit for making it a useful addition to their arsenal of gadgets. The recent Ashes series also saw him fronting a series of Masterclasses. These are not particularly new (Channel 4 used to do similar when they had the TV rights) but have been without exception excellent.
It is patently obvious that there is no correlation between ability as a player and ability in the media. Of all the ex-players who have commentated for Sky in the past few years, we reckon that Ward has the worst international record – even Rob Key and Nick Knight made Test centuries. His county career at Surrey and Sussex only occasionally rose above reasonable, scoring 1000 runs in a first-class summer just three times, but it was on an England A tour of the West Indies that he really peaked. In eight matches he scored 769 runs, including three hundreds and four fifties. It was a tour full of Unlikely Lads with only Ian Bell, Graeme Swann and Ryan Sidebottom going on to have decent international careers befitting of their talent. His form was rewarded with five Tests in the following summer. On debut against Pakistan he batted at No. 8 (behind nightwatchman Sidebottom). He was promoted to the heady heights of No. 6 for the next match – ahead of Knight! – and then played the first three Tests of that summer’s Ashes floating around the lower-middle order, getting completely found out by Glenn McGrath et al. He failed to reach 40 in any of his innings and was rightly jettisoned.
He had his best domestic season the following summer (1759 runs) as he helped Surrey regain the Championship but never really came back into consideration for selection. One more year at Surrey was followed by two at Sussex before retirement and his new career; one that suits him far better, whatever numbskulls on twitter may think.