From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.32 :: NO.07 :: Feb. 14, 2009
There have never been more than a dozen international radio and television cricket scorers in the world — but 12,000 wannabees —and by any calculation Bill Frindall was their king.
When he died last month, aged 69, after a cricketing trip to Dubai that gave him Legionnaires disease, he had not just scored for the BBC in close to 300 Tests from 1966 until the Mohali Test last December but given the profession of scorer such a hig h status that those who have risen to the same high level have reason to be forever grateful.
Bill — whobecame a friend when my partner Jo King made her bid to be one of that special dozen — was, to use a jazz analogy, the solid rhythm section keeping a regular beat to the Test Match Special soloists who were inclined to play their own riffs as they preferred anecdote and jokes to the ball-by-ball formula.
Even the most inattentive listener could hear both his chuckle and his demand that commentators of the stature of John Arlott, Brian Johnstone (who nicknamed him The Bearded Wonder), Jon Agnew and Henry Blofeld, at least give their audience the score from time to time.
He was almost entirely responsible for the revival of the linear method of scoring, originally devised by the Australian scorer Bill Ferguson between the two world wars, and made it a necessary tool for everyone who wanted to occupy the scorer’s chair on radio or television.
His importance to radio cricket is almost beyond measure — but it was the most natural place in the world for William Howard Frindall.
His school teachers remember a neat, organised boy, a spell in the Royal Air Force reinforced his tendency towards disciplined perfection and in 1966 he was hired by the BBC to score all home Tests when their first choice scorer died.
By the time he had settled into his chair Test Match Special had become a national institution, not just a must-hear six hours of cricket for every fan but talked about wherever sporting types gathered.
Arlott’s poetry, Johnstone’s jokes, Blofeld’s posh tones, Mosey’s Yorkshire, ill-disguised by BBC’s version of the mother tongue, and Agnew’s despair at the abroad being so unlike England, all needed Frindall’s solid drum beat.
The fans loved it to the extent that many of them watched television with the sound muted while they listened to the radio commentators and for all he stayed in the background — he was eventually given his own microphone — it was the Frindall stats as much as his immaculate scoring that played a big part in the TMS success.
Bill was a cricket person from the tips of his toes to the tips of his fingers that in the last few years needed three operations to correct the claw hand that has been the lot of everyone who has written under pressure since Medieval monks spent their days copying books.
Frindall the cricketer bowled a sharp straight ball from a high action, batted without the luck all sloggers need and sometimes — as in Dubai recently — played in and scored the same match.
Don’t even ask how. The TMS producer Peter Baxter sometimes had to take over the Frindall role and found the concentration so tough he could not take his eyes off play to sip his coffee.
“Bill seemed to be able to saunter to the back of the commentary box, make himself a coffee and return three or four balls later not having missed a thing,” Baxter remembers.
Accuracy and missing nothing; just another sign of a man touched by greatness. Like Brian Lara playing a cover drive, it seems so easy, yet it is the result of years of practice.
You would not expect anything less from a man with so many years experience behind him.
He also found time to paint, collect stamps, write books and act as a Sunday newspaper cricket correspondent for four years. He also edited the Playfair Annual from 1986 — which meant he could not always go abroad with the BBC — and spoke regularly at cricketing dinners. The Queen handed him an MBE to mark his work for charity and his skill in raising the profile of his game; he recorded his life in an autobiography two years ago.
Frindall was, like so many of us, not a perfect human being. He did not have many friends in the media group among whom he worked and he could be gruff when a kind word would have been more appropriate.
He was unhelpful to those young commentators who, not surprisingly, made mistakes and his obsession with accuracy was too much for those who cared less for precision than a general wish to have the facts in a presentable form. “We are not in this business to be 98.88 per cent accurate,” I heard him shout at a willing helper.
Women found him attractive, he was known to drink a glass of wine and he found it difficult to tolerate anyone who could be a rival. Some of those who have written fulsomely about him in the days since his death did not enjoy his company. But how many of us are perfect?
None of his foibles were important in a man who died too young to see his daughter had grown up. He was still in such good health that he insisted on going to India for the England Test series — he detested one-day cricket and held Twenty20 in contempt — as he approached 70.
He had been born on March 3, 1939 on the first day of the final timeless Test between South Africa and England; a cricket person’s birthday if ever there was one.
Bill intended to retire in September after the Ashes series leaving a gap which the BBC must now hasten to fill before the Tests begin again in May.
Whoever takes his place — probably one of the Frindall-inspired dozen — will have to work hard, grip various pens tightly and concentrate fiercely if he — or she — is to be a worthy successor to the King of Scorers.
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