If we were tasked with producing a faceless match report for the Twenty20 international between England and New Zealand, we’d write: “Joe Root top-scored in an innings in which Jason Roy and Sam Billings showed great promise,” or something like that.
Joe Root is not the focus there. He’s context. He’s something you mention but don’t feel the need to write about at great length. Root’s form has clearly gone beyond being remarkable and become unremarkable. Who knows whether it’s a high point or a false summit, but it’s still worth taking a snapshot. He currently averages 54.11 in Tests, 42.36 in one-day internationals and 41.83 (with a strike-rate of 131.41) in Twenty20. That is better than fancying a brew in the belief that you’re out of milk but then discovering that actually, no, you’re not out of milk so you can have a brew after all.
Last night’s match was also a sad end, however. This New Zealand cricket team who have been such fun will now disperse (for only a few of them will actually go home). This is disappointing enough in itself, but it also means that Ian Smith walks out of the Sky commentary box.
We appreciate this is of little interest to those of you who don’t get to see live coverage, but Smith deserves a nod all the same. We’ve always liked him, but didn’t perhaps realise how much until this summer. Smith can offer insights into the New Zealand cricket team and the dark art of wicketkeeping, but it’s his demeanour which is his greatest strength.
Quite simply, he enjoys cricket, which doesn’t always seem to be the case with some commentators. He also enjoys his job and his English colleagues clearly enjoy working with him more than most. Smith, Mike Atherton and Nasser Hussain have exchanged (good-natured) dry jibes with increasing frequency and when David Lloyd tried to discomfit him with one of his trademark man-of-the-people digressions, Smith smoothly outmanoeuvred him without breaking stride.
For reasons known only to himself, Lloyd was testing Smith on bingo calls and when the Kiwi didn’t know one, Lloyd asked: “Do you not have bingo down there?”
“Yes,” said Smith, and cited a different bingo call as proof. “What’s that?” asked Lloyd. Smith gave him the answer and then shot back: “Do you not have bingo up here?”
Point is, Ian Smith can give and take a joke without the unsavoury word ‘banter’ welling up in your mind. It’s a priceless ability for a commentator and as the Ashes wears on, we’ll undoubtedly miss that.