To judge by the reaction on social media, talksport’s success in outbidding the BBC for the radio rights to England’s tours of Sri Lanka and West Indies this winter is further proof that the country is indeed going to the dogs.
And it will not be the end of the outrage. Sportsmail understands that talkSPORT, financially boosted by the takeover of parent company Wireless Group by Rupert Murdoch, are on the verge of securing coverage of England’s trip to South Africa in the winter of 2019-20.
In other words, there is a real chance that Test Match Special — which last year celebrated its 60th birthday — will be limited to England’s home matches in the summers ahead.
Radio coverage of Joe Root’s England in Sri Lanka and West Indies will now be on talkSPORT
It is a sobering thought for those who regard the programme — synonymous down the decades with Arlott, CMJ, Johnners, Blowers and Aggers — as a national treasure.
‘Personally, I’m devastated that I can’t listen to TMS during the winter months any more. Another guilty pleasure gone,’ said one fan on Twitter.
Another tweeted: ‘Can’t think of anything worse for cricket.’
But, as much as anything, it is a sign of the times.
As one talkSPORT insider put it: ‘It’s up to the BBC — it depends if cricket’s a priority for them and they want to spend more money. But we can now bid with authority. We’re not just dipping our toe in the water.’
It’s easy to forget that talkSPORT are not newcomers, having covered England’s tours of Pakistan in 2000-01 and South Africa four years later. And they are determined to throw everything at their coverage, with Geoff Boycott among those who could be sought to join a team that will also include Darren Gough and station regular Jon Norman.
Left to right: Brian Johnston, Fred Trueman and David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd in the TMS booth
Neither can this be blamed on the ECB: the rights are in the gift of the host broadcasters. But such is the affection in which TMS is held that its lead commentator and BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew took to social media to apologise: ‘I know our loyal listeners will be very dis-appointed and I’m very sorry.’
The truth, of course, is that the BBC can no longer rely on tradition in a marketplace tilted inevitably towards the highest bidder.
But the sense of deflation among the TMS faithful also reflects the dispiritingly exclusive nature of cricket’s radio coverage in the UK. In Australia, for instance, home Tests are covered by three networks — ABC, Macquarie and Triple M — each with their own style and audience.
And although not all TMS listeners will warm to talkSPORT’s trademark mix of informality, banter and adverts, there’s no reason they cannot attract a new demographic.
The suggestion that giving them the rights to England’s overseas coverage is like loaning Match of the Day to ITV reflects a widespread aversion to change.
But judgment should be deferred — at least until the first one-day international in Sri Lanka on October 10.
BBC’s cricket man Jonathan Agnew has tweeted an apology to TMS listeners
England’s first match on talkSPORT will be an ODI against Sri Lanka on October 10