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Test Match Special: The Pinnacle of Sports Broadcasting

09/07/2014 10:28 BST | Updated 07/09/2014 10:59 BST

If Phil(ip) Neville affects you like Night Nurse and hearing Jonathan Pearce hurts like a slap in the face, then listening to Test Match Special is akin to pouring warm honey into your ears.

On paper, a group of ageing middle class men wittering on for eight hours about a sport where very little can happen for five days straight doesn't sound like radio gold, however the BBC has turned it into an art form.

If you were to describe TMS to someone, you would most likely just say it was cricket commentary, which would be correct, but it's so much more than that. Yes, the action on the field is described ball by ball and the analysis is as deep as Kevin Pietersen's ego is big, but it's the moments in between the expected that make this programme so addictive. And that's because of the characters.

Over five days of radio you get to know the people you're listening to and instead of being blasted with a stream of information, you feel as though you're just in the company of friends.

This rag tail band are led by Jonathan Agnew, who serenely stitches everything together whilst the rest of the family bicker and play around him. Supremely calm, Agnew has a way of telling you everything that has happened and giving you his opinion on proceedings, without raising his voice or losing you in numbers; he must surely be considered one of Britain's top sports broadcasters.

The cast around him provide the colour, with ex-playing regulars Graeme Swann, Michael Vaughan and Phil Tufnell often the jokers. Tuffers easily supplies toe-curling anecdotes of his playing days, whilst Swann and Vaughan often bring what Adrian Chiles would no doubt label 'banter' to the table.

Expert summarisers such as Simon Mann and Ed Smith (to name but a few), although just as jovial, provide the sharp analysis; there will be no claiming ignorance of the rules on lbw here, a la Alans Hansen and Shearer on the offside rule. There are also the statisticians, Andrew Samson and Malcolm Ashton, whom have an encyclopaedic knowledge of all test cricket through the years. The jesters will throw knowingly treacherous questions their way and are more often than not swatted away with casual intellect.

It is, however, the blessedly less media friendly Geoffrey Boycott who steals most of the radio static. He'd say, and he does almost hourly, that he's just telling it to you as it is and that's what he's paid for, but his no-nonsense approach is liberating in a modern broadcasting community petrified of opinion. Although often referring to his ability to play with a stick of rhubarb and comparing players to his wonderfully talented mother ('caught everything, bowled like Swann and batted like me', she was only overlooked by the England team when the selectors 'cocked up') in his description of play you always instantly understand the situation on the field.

Special mention must also go to the dapperly dressed (pastel chinos and classic Italian loafers can be assumed), Henry Blofeld. If you tuned in whilst Henry was in full flow, you could be forgiven for thinking you were listening to a Radio 4 nature programme. He will notify you instantly if a bird lands on the pitch and will describe the creature in immense detail. In fact, in Henry's book, the only thing that deserves more air time than a pigeon is a helicopter. Or a crane, come to think of it. Henry has a way of painting a picture with words and somehow manages to be endearing rather than patronising when he refers to absolutely everyone as his 'dear old thing'.

It's the interaction between these characters which brings joy to the listeners; for instance during the last test against Sri Lanka at Headingley, Michael Vaughan was almost overwhelmed that tourist Roshan Abeysinghe had taken his advice and tried a Yorkshire pudding at lunch. Sure, instances like this may crop up during other sporting commentary but only in this format can the topic be discussed for a full ten minutes while the rest of the team challenge Yorkshire's apparent reign over British regional delicacies.

Like most radio shows, there are also semi-regular segments that you look forward to cropping up. For TMS this is most likely awaiting the delivery of cake or pies to the studio. There aren't many live sporting broadcasts where, at times, you're wondering whether the commentator has had any Battenberg so far today; but somehow this seems more of an event than the cricket itself.

When all this is combined, one can easily forget that a cricket match is going on, but at the same time know exactly what the status of the match is. It is this that perhaps makes Test Match Special the pinnacle of sports broadcasting.