Last week, when we were meant to be doing something productive like the laundry, taking the empty gin bottles to the recycling centre or reading a book written by Henry Blofeld in 1999, we watched Hampshire lose to Essex in the one-day competition (the competition shall remain nameless, because we can never remember what the hell it is called). Obviously, as at least two members of the 51allout team – those that have not yet jumped ship or decided to be Australian – support Hampshire, this was a bad night. What made the night even worse was that Sky Sports had their B team out on commentary duty. With Nasser, Bumble and Athers given the evening off, the microphones were passed between Charles Colville, Nick Knight and Dominic Cork. At least muting the television for large chunks of the game meant we could do other things such as ring our mothers and listen to early Oasis singles.
There was one other man commentating however, one who always stands out from the relative mediocrity of Sky’s domestic coverage: Mark Butcher. Luckily it was Mark Butcher sans guitar: as those who follow him on twitter will know, he spends as much time promoting his band or linking to Dr John live performances as he does actually discussing cricket (yep, we know this is like the kettle calling the pot a receptacle for boiling water). He is, to put it simply, the top candidate for promotion to the Test coverage. He ought to have been given the gig when Andrew Strauss undeservedly was given the golden handshake. And should the Sky bosses anytime soon consider a shake-up (clue: they won’t), then Ian Botham ought to be bundled into the back of an unmarked white van and Butcher given a call.
A few things we like about him: his enthusiasm sounds genuine rather than forced, but equally he is able to admit when something is not deserving of rolling news coverage or IPL-like hyperbole. Knowing when to raise his voice, when to pass quiet comment and when to shut the hell up is a trait that ought to be automatically instilled in commentators, but is sadly lacking in some (hello Warnie you utter utter gobshite). He seems to know his stuff and / or do some homework. Plus his songs might be handy during rain breaks when David Gower is otherwise asking David Lloyd for the umpteenth time about DRS or the seventeenth part of the Ricky Ponting Masterclass has finished.
As a player, his career never quite took off as a top England player, but his record was far from awful. Nine and a half years on from his final Test (in South Africa), it is surprising to see that he played as many as 71 Test matches (and famously, absolutely no ODIs). In those games he returned just eight hundreds – most notably the match-winning 173* against Australia in 2001, but was a good enough batsman to avoid being described as an Unlikely Lad. Indeed, his average of 34.58 was better than both Graeme Hick’s and Mark Ramprakash’s, despite those two being far more talented and dominant in county cricket. Looking at his figures, the main problem appears to be inconsistency, for example averaging 18.00 across two series in 1999 (which saw his international career take an 18-month sabbatical). In 2002 he averaged 84 at home against Sri Lanka, sandwiched between 29 against New Zealand and 35 against India.
He seems to have been a bit-part member of the Sky team for years now, comfortably moving from the Surrey team to the studio without too many hitches. And though we fear his guitar is never far from his hand, at least he hasn’t yet called anyone an absolute c**t live on air.