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More famous off the field than on it.

Submitted by on Saturday, 25 April 2009One Comment
More famous off the field than on it.

Mark Nicholas has no problem with never having played a Test for England — but reckons there are too many second-rate commentators.

Everything I’ve read about you, at some point remarks that you are one of the best cricketers never to play a test for England. What is your reaction to that?

Oh it’s no problem at all for me. The simple truth is that I wasn’t consistent enough to be picked for England. I played a few good innings on some big occasions; for example I made a couple of unbeaten hundreds against Australia. I mean I could play, but I don’t think I ever truly justified been selected. I think there were only two times in my career when the selectors picked someone and I went ‘Oh hello..?” You also have to remember that the middle order during my career was Gower, Gatting and Bothem and I was no way as good as them. So 99% of the time, I think the selectors got it right.

Considering you never played at international level, what was it like joining the Channel 9 commentary team in Australia, all internationals many of whom had captained their country?

Yes it was very daunting. The legend of the Channel 9 commentary team is fairly considerable everywhere in the world. So much so, people have made highly entertaining CDs (The 12th Man series), parodying them. But, I would certainly put being able to be part of the 9 commentary team and do well with them, above any sporting achievement I may have accomplished.

Do they parody you in the 12th Man CDs?

Yes. They have me constantly popping up and saying, “Smashing baby’ in the voice of Austin Powers.

It was said that you were most likely to take over from Richie Benaud as the face of cricket on Channel 9. Where is that situation?

Nobody is actually taking over from Richie. The programme has changed since he was the face of it and it is now done very differently. Television has moved on. I have already been the host of Channel 9 for a few years now, but I haven’t replaced him as such.

Have you ever been accused of apostasy by the English now that you are so firmly ensconced in the Australian commentary community?

No. There’s no one in England who cares enough to bother.

There was an incident where Brett Lee was indisputably LBW to Monty Panesar and you apparently ‘couldn’t see it’?

Maybe I just didn’t agree (laughs).

You were Royal Television Society’s Sports Presenter of the Year in 2001 and 2005. You also hosted a Survivor series, commentated on the Commonwealth Games in 2006 and were the host of a programme called, ‘Britain’s Best Dish’. How did a sports presenter end up doing a cooking programme?

It was a cooking show with a competition element. People would ‘cook-off’ against each other. They were interested in my ability to bring the drama and excitement of competition into the kitchen. I’m hugely interested in food and wine, so it seemed a good fit. It’s gone extremely well and we are now due to start recording our fourth series.

What’s your cooking like?

Ordinary, but enthusiastic.

While captaining Hampshire you won the Nat West Trophy in1992, the Benson& Hedges Cup in 1988/ 92 and the Sunday league in 1986. Did that make up for not playing for England?

It really, really, really does not play on my mind. Growing up I had no doubt that I would play for England. It never occurred to me I wouldn’t be an England cricketer. Every match I played in the garden was a test match. So it is odd, but the fact I never was an international, truly doesn’t play on my mind. I joined Hampshire pretty much from school. I ended up being captain for nearly twelve years and it was my whole life. So those four trophies at Lord’s made me very proud for the county.

An astonishing number of great cricketers played for Hampshire. Who made the greatest impression on you during your time as captain?

The most exceptional cricketer and person was Malcolm Marshall. I would find it difficult to leave him out of my all time World X1. He had a remarkable interest in others. Although he was absorbed by cricket he wasn’t self absorbed. He gave a lot back to cricket. The other one who also stands out a country mile was Robin Smith. He was the finest big match player and possibly one of Hampshire’s most important cricketers ever.

I see Kevin Peterson played for Hampshire.

Hampshire has always had a nice semi-relaxed attitude to cricket; we always played quite ‘bright’ cricket which I think never suited KP, and the people of the county have always felt involved with the game. Peterson lives in London and not in Hampshire which increases the problem of the lack of identity within the county. So I see him as having played cricket for Hampshire, but not as a Hampshire cricketer, as such.

What was your take on his problem with England coach Peter Moores, which led to him losing the captaincy?

In many ways I think he did the right thing. I think he could have been an interesting captain of England. He would look the opponents in the eye and scare the life out of some of them. When he obviously couldn’t work with Peter Moores, he did something about it, which is fine. I just think he went about it in a naive way. If effectively you are going to organise a coup, make sure you are going to be around. He went off to the Kruger Park or somewhere which was a long way from the action. I mean these things can turn in a day or two; never mind a week.

You captained England Schools in 1978, England Counties in 1985 and England A in 1990, on tours to Zimbabwe. What were they like?

They were all as utterly fabulous as the previous one. And the lovely warm people who welcomed us with open arms were simply amazing. I mean, I really do believe in the magic of Africa. It is like no other place. And through cricket and my trips I have made many friends here. So I do love visiting this part of the world, and I suppose it all started on those early tours. When I think that I haven’t been here since I came for a holiday in 2004, I can’t believe I haven’t been in Africa for five years; I must have lost the plot.

I see your grandfather got Blues at Oxford for football and athletics. What are you like at other sports?

Pretty good. I play golf off a 5 handicap; I played soccer and rugby at school and I suppose if I pick up a table tennis bat, I can play. Yes my grandfather was a very capable sportsman. He represented Britain at the Olympics. Sadly he was wheelchair bound from arthritis in his old age.

You were quite scathing in an article you wrote about the Stanford debacle. Subsequent events have vindicated a lot of what you said. How does that make you feel?

You know very little makes my blood boil like the people who run English cricket. I really despair the way they go about their jobs. They don’t seem to understand that the power base of cricket is on the sub-continent, with Australia alongside it. But they managed to get involved with Stanford who apparently is a crooked megalomaniac and it was a disaster. They completely miss the point that they are custodians of the game.

You are currently commentating on the IPL which has provided a lucrative extended lifeline to cricketers like Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist etc. Will this/ does this apply to the commentators?

In general I have a problem with commentators in cricket. There are far too many, average commentators and there is no quality control. If you happen to be an ex-player and can string two words together, you get a job as a commentator. I don’t think commentators are paid anything like enough. There should be a smaller elite band that are paid better and treated almost as stars themselves. You can probably pick between eight and twelve in the world that people think are good enough. That would sell the game far better worldwide.

What are your views on Twenty/20 cricket and for that matter, the IPL?

I think it is great. It is a shorter version of the game that has cleverly been turned into a very viable commercial enterprise. The IPL is fantastic because it is a festival of cricket. Anything which promotes the game in such an exciting and colourful way is good for the game. There are certain parts of IPL which do it no favours – like the strategy break. So I still feel they have certain aspects to sort out. But I would like to see the model of the IPL as the global brand of the game.

Do you think people will get behind the teams, just as they support football teams such as Chelsea or Arsenal?

People have grown up with Teams like those football clubs. But you would be quite surprised how quickly the Indian supporters took to the IPL teams. One of the problems here is that most of the players are Indian premier league players. But as more information about these players comes out and people are better informed I think you’ll be surprised how much support there will be. There is a move to have IPL stadium commentators that provide more information on individual players.

To digress, you are apparently a very keen wine-lover?

Yes I am. It fascinates me how twenty five years ago your wine was pretty archaic; it was all Chenin Blanc and Pinotage. But now it has evolved with some very spectacular wines and some unusual blends which is another reason to keep visiting your country.

And you are a great fan of Bruce Springsteen?

The greatest hero of my life is Bruce Springsteen. If I’m with my wife and my daughter, and have a glass of good red wine in my hand while listening to him, I am in absolute heaven.

One Comment »

  • Jock Wellington said:

    Good interview. I think he is certainly one of the best, most well informed and interesting commentators around.