It is going to take some time to get used to Test Match Special without Bill Frindall. He was part of the furniture in the commentary box, his soft, well-spoken voice as much a sound of summer as that of leather on willow. His death at the age of 69 leaves a gaping hole in the TMS team he served for 40 years, a period in which he redefined the hitherto tedious stereotype of the cricket scorer, making him as essential a part of the team as any pundit or commentator.
His quiet, unobtrusive but completely accurate responses to any query thrown at him at any time are a central part of the unique chemistry contained within the programme. As much as that, one could also enjoy the unmistakable note of irritation and impatience on the rare occasion when the ground scoreboard did not tally precisely with his meticulously compiled records.
If you have ever seen a photo of the contents of Bill Frindall’s scorebook, you will know precisely what I mean when I say that to the untrained eye it is as indecipherable as morse code, a seemingly shapeless mass of information. Yet a closer look reveals that it is about as structured a piece of writing as you could ever wish to see, documenting in perfect handwriting every single detail you could possibly demand of the match in progress.
But Frindall’s role went beyond that of scorer. He was a sparring partner for the merciless banter of Brian Johnson, the subtle cajoling of John Arlott and the light-hearted fun of Jonathan Agnew. They all clearly enjoyed his company, marvelled at his knowledge and fully appreciated his value and how much easier he made their jobs. Johnson’s appreciation led to the bestowing upon his colleague of the mandatory nickname, in this case ‘the Bearded Wonder’ or ‘Bearders’ for short. I doubt there are many scorers in broadcasting boxes around the cricketing world who played such an active role in the programme, received a nickname and have been regarded with as much affection by his colleagues.
The Bearded Wonder has a barely noticed but very amusing role in the incident which was recently voted the best piece of sporting commentary of all time. I am referring of course to the famous Johnners-Aggers ‘leg over’ incident at The Oval in 1991. If you listen carefully, just after Aggers explains that Ian Botham ‘couldn’t quite get his leg over’, you will hear the clatter of crockery in the background. That is Bearders dropping his tea cup on to the saucer in shock at what he has just heard. If you haven’t noticed it before, listen again and you will laugh every time you hear it.
Quiet and unobtrusive though he may have been, Bearders was a staunch defender of the game’s traditions and disapproved of some of the excesses and gimmicks which have blighted recent years. For example, he refused to count the Super Series between Australia and the Rest of the World as a proper international series. He also stopped doing one-day internationals recently in protest at the number of them and how they impinged so much on the traditional cricketing calendar. In both cases, you would have to concede that he has a point.
An integral part of many people’s summers has gone with Bearders’ passing. Many will have grown up listening to him, chatting away with a variety of commentators on lazy summer afternoons about anything that took their fancy, occasionally referring to the cricket, but always knowing that whatever it was that they needed to know, Bearders would be able to provide the answer. There have been many great moments and great commentators on TMS over the years. There has been and will always be only one Bearded Wonder.
by Stuart Peel