It has been another long, harsh winter for England’s cricketers with the team making headlines for all the wrong reasons both on and off the field.
The 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Australia in the recent Ashes series has led to the usual media scramble to ask former players, pundits and commentators for their opinion of where it all went wrong for England.
One of the most sought after and respected of those is the BBC’s cricket correspondent and host of Test Match Special (TMS) Jonathan Agnew who offers a typically forthright verdict when I ask him for his assessment.
“Predictable,” he said with an air of indignation. “Alistair Cook and Joe Root were disappointing and, obviously, there are some real question marks over the batting line-up.
“Everyone is saying that England should do better with the two test matches coming up in New Zealand as they’ll be more suited to the conditions over there.
“But it’s not a given that they’ll get a result. New Zealand have some very fine players who will make life difficult for England.
“It’s all well and good Trevor Bayliss [England head coach] saying that he is going to leave when his contract ends in 2019 but if England don’t do well on the next leg of the tour then some serious questions will be asked of him too.”
Having played for Leicestershire and England in a career spanning 13 years, Agnew seamlessly made the transition into journalism in 1987.
He is a highly regarded newspaper columnist and it could be said has become a national treasure in his own right as the voice of TMS on BBC Radio.
With that pedigree it is little wonder he is a man in demand.
“The great thind about TMS and these shows is that you don’t have to be a cricket nut to enjoy it,” Agnew enthuses.
“People listen to it as if they’re part of a conversation and, of course, we talk about much more than just the game itself.”
England’s winter of discontent will be just one of many topics covered when Aggers — as he is lovingly labelled by colleagues, TMS listeners and just about everyone else — takes to the stage at New Wimbledon Theatre with one of the greats of the game, Geoffrey Boycott later this month (Friday, January 26) for a show entitled Ashes to Ashes.
“I have worked with Geoffrey now for many years and he has become a very good friend. We have an excellent rapport.
“He is 20 years older than me and our paths crossed when I was playing for Leicestershire and he was coming to the end of his playing days at Yorkshire.
“In the show, I sit down with him and ask him about his life. He has had an extraordinary career with Yorkshire and England.
“He can be formidable if you don’t know him but if you know about cricket and talk about it with authority, then you will quickly gain his respect.
“He has mellowed over the years and accepts he has made mistakes, especially during his spell as captain of Yorkshire.”
Aggers is so comfortable with Boycott these days that he was able to wind-up the notoriously plain-speaking Yorkshireman live on TMS about the validity of a century he made against the Rest of the World in 1970.
Aggers kept a perfectly straight face during the 12-minute joke in which he said the milestone was to be retrospectively wiped from the records and that subsequently, Boycott’s landmark 100th first-class 100, achieved at Yorkshire’s home ground of Headingly in 1977, would become his 99th.
The prank, which has been viewed thousands of times on social media and YouTube, ended with Boycott calling Aggers ‘a muppet.’
“I know him so well and knew what would wind him up,” said Aggers, rightly proud of his efforts. “But fair play to Geoffrey, he took it very well, actually.”
Following hot on the heels of the evening with Boycott is another show from the same mould, only this time with former England bowler Phil Tufnell at Richmond Theatre (Saturday, February 17).
“They are two very different beasts,” said Aggers.
“Both are outspoken and both are jolly good storytellers. However, Tuffers is an entertainer and he likes to play the fool.
“As a player he was a captain’s nightmare and a rebel, but he is a bright chap and has done some extraordinary things down the years.
“He’s been an art critic for the One Show, he’s been a captain on A Question of Sport and he’s competed in Strictly Come Dancing. He even won the second series of I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.”
As tough as the winter has been for English cricket, it’s a drop in the ocean for Aggers who has been supporting his wife Emma throughout her treatment for breast cancer since July.
He was understandably delighted to reveal that her final chemotherapy session was to take place a week after our conversation.
“It puts it all into perspective, really,” he said. “The support we have received from the cricket community and beyond has been truly humbling.
“People from all over the world have been in contact and their kindness and well wishes have helped us get through the darkest of times.”
The shows with Boycott and Tuffers are also aiming to raise money for the Professional Cricketers’ Association Benevolent Fund, an organisation that Aggers is keen to support.
“We all know someone who has fallen on hard times,” he said.
“Cricketers are not paid vast sums like footballers. It can be a precarious profession and it can be very difficult for players to adjust once their careers come to an end.
“We asked audience members to make a small contribution to the fund by way of a bucket collection.
“It might be an extra quid on the cost of a ticket but we’ve managed to raise £30,000 for the cause so far.”
Ashes to Ashes with Aggers and Boycott, New Wimbledon Theatre, The Broadway, SW19, Friday, January 26, 7.30pm. Visit atgtickets.com/venues/new-wimbledon-theatre
An Evening with Aggers and Tuffers, Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, TW9 1QJ, Saturday, February 17, 7.30pm. Visit atgtickets.com/venues/richmond-theatre