Why Dom Sibley’s bowling deserves the very best commentary

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Dom Sibley’s first-class bowling average is 67.75. The remarkable thing about this is that it means he has taken a wicket – four of them, to be precise.

On the fifth day of an intolerably moist match against Pakistan, Dom Sibley had his first bowl in Test cricket.

He bowled one over.

He did not take a wicket.

It’s safe to say that Sibley the bowler is not in the James Vince class and he is certainly no Gary Ballance. His output has rather more in common with Alastair Cook’s round-arm shod – only without the wholly undeserved spectacular strike-rate.

Sibley started his over with a delivery so short it had a Napoleon complex. The next one was a full toss. The third one was another quite breath-taking half-tracker, only this one had the added brilliance of starting wide and actually turning a decent amount to end up wider still.

The rest of the over was less rubbish and therefore, from our perspective, much worse.

Our all-time favourite moment of commentary was delivered by Michael Atherton in some match or other in the semi-dim-and-distant past.

We don’t remember who was batting, we don’t remember who was bowling, but we do remember what he said.

He said: “Well that’s just filth.”

It is impossible for us to do justice to the sheer disgust Athers heaped into those four simple words. We also cannot properly convey the significance of the momentary pause just before he uttered them. You’ll just have to take it from us that the whole thing was perfect.

Atherton saw the delivery, he carefully considered what to say, and he concluded that the correct thing to say was, “Well that’s just filth.”

Ever since then, we have dreamed of a bowler who could bowl sufficiently filthily that we might again hear even a fraction of that distaste and contempt. We know we can never truly experience that moment again, but even just a hint of something similar would allow us to fractionally relive it.

On the BBC, Isa Guha got pretty damn close when commentating on Sibley’s first ball.

“Ohhhhh, that is dross,” she said.

But again, it wasn’t just the words. It was the way that she said it. She said, “Ohhhhh, that is dross,” with complete certainty. She said it with the kind of conviction you can only ever really unleash when you have just witnessed a delivery that is, unequivocally, without a shadow of a doubt, complete and utter dross.

In summary: England should bowl Dom Sibley, much, much, much more often.

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  1. I wasn’t able to pay too much attention to this test, but I did have the honour of watching this over. I have no idea how the Root and Buttler kept a straight face after that 3rd one. I was almost in tears.

  2. Maybe this bowling was what made Michael Vaughan write the piece condemning our bowling and prophesy doom in the next Ashes.
    He has obviously graduated with honours from the G Boycott school of gloom.

    1. Think he’s graduated from the Piers Morgan school of magicking up arguments out of thin air and picking a side without any real genuine belief in what he’s saying to be honest.

  3. Atherton has been heard to describe his own bowling as “filth” which I thought took self awareness to the borders of self flagellation.

  4. I does make me wonder whether “Dross” is officially worse than “Filth” in the bowling adjectives list.

    1. There’s a question. We’d actually have them pretty much on a par – or at the very least overlapping – with delivery crucial.

      Athers meant his “filth” a fair bit more than Isa meant her “dross”.

  5. I wonder if Athers rolls out the same tone and disgust, proclaiming ‘well that’s just filth’, whenever he happens across one of ITV or Channel 4’s more risqué reality shows whilst channel-hopping of an evening?

    The audio clip of his commentary over, say, a clip from ‘Naked Attraction’ (which I have not seen, but of which I have heard tell), seems like it would be sure to do whatever the new term for ‘going viral’ is now that the epidemiological reality of 2020 has made that term considerably less lighthearted than it was.

    1. Atherton doesn’t strike me as the channel hopping type, APW.

      Nor am I the channel hopping type, come to that, but I suspect that I would not be using the adjective “filth” for the risqué shows you seek to describe. There’s a big difference between tackiness and filthiness in my lexicon.

      Also a big difference between filth and dross. The word filth expresses disgust on the part of the speaker, whereas “dross” expresses a belief in the worthlessness of the thing being described.

      The wonderful thing about rubbish bowling of the Sibley sort (beautifully illustrated by the “Buttler grab” photo) is that any of us who have played cricket at school/club/scratch/charity/yard/maidan level have seen (and possibly delivered) such bowling.

    1. Brighton Watambwa used to captain Belgium, after moving there for his corporate career. Just a little dose of turn-of-millenium Zimbonostalgia there.

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