We know about the endlessly jaw-dropping greatness of Ben Stokes (a peerage soon, surely), the furious power of a supercharged Stuart Broad and even Joe Root’s increasingly skilful captaincy. But another highlight of the brilliant Test series against West Indies was the presence of Carlos Brathwaite as a Test Match Special summariser and general benign presence.
Always funny, astute, and thoroughly likeable, with the bonus of a magnificent voice, Brathwaite — the man who smashed Stokes for four successive sixes to win the 2016 T20 World Cup — has been a marvel. He even read the shipping forecast, and no greater tribute can there be in British broadcasting.
What’s more, he lives in my home town, Oxford, where his wife works at the John Radcliffe hospital. He has been on anti-racism marches in the city, speaking at one. ‘We just want to stand up and be heard,’ he told the Daily Telegraph. Brathwaite is also a successful businessman in Barbados, where he was born, and in December will head for Harvard to complete a business studies course. ‘Carlos Brathwaite! Remember the name!’ roared commentator Ian Bishop as the fourth six flew into the stands in 2016. We do, Carlos, we do. Come back soon — we will be missing you.
And what a tremendous performance these cricketers have laid on over three Tests, with no crowds, and every endeavour greeted by deathly silence. On radio and TV we have the pleasing Lord’s hum; but for the players nothing — except perhaps at the Ageas Bowl the distant thrum of the M27, and at Old Trafford perhaps the clanking of the Altrincham tram, or some post-lunch banter in the queue for Lou Macari’s nearby chippie.
As for high endeavour, Shannon Gabriel’s mastery of the 90mph lifter shooting off a length at the batsman’s throat is just astonishing; and the range of emotions that sweep across his mighty visage — from bafflement to anger to overwhelming sadness as a catch is dropped — equally epic.
But how good a place is English cricket in now? The 2021-22 Ashes should be thrilling: a team of Burns, Sibley, Crawley, Root, Pope, Stokes, Buttler, Bess, Archer, Robinson and Broad sounds pretty tasty. And look who’s not there: Jennings, Denly, Bairstow, Foakes, Woakes, Wood and Anderson. That’s some resource!
Crowds or no crowds, four legs or four wheels, in this strangely muted sporting summer, we can salute two of the greatest champions we’re likely to encounter. On a gloomy Ascot afternoon last weekend, John Gosden’s brilliant mare Enable became the first three-times winner of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (ridden as ever by the seemingly immortal Frankie Dettori). Can anything stop her becoming the first triple Arc winner at Longchamp in October? We are lucky to have you, Enable — even if you can’t see anyone cheering.
This weekend, meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton is at Silverstone for the British Grand Prix. The six-times F1 world champion is not as loved in his home country as he should be. For a racial-equality activist, the whitest place in the world — the F1 paddock — is not an easy place to be, and Hamilton takes few prisoners in his general utterances. He is an easy target (tax exile and so on) for many and it says a lot that he’s not more recognised. I’m not a fan of dishing out knighthoods to active sportspeople, but what has Hamilton not done that Farah, Cook, Strauss and Murray have?
Now his record-equalling seventh world title beckons. Quite something.
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