What is Christmas like on tour with TMS?

What is Christmas like on tour with TMS?


Simon Mann, Vic Marks, Alison Mitchell, Jim Maxwell and Glenn McGrath take part in a TMS Boxing Day quiz
A Boxing Day quiz has always been popular in the TMS box…
Venue: Melbourne Cricket Ground Date: 26-30 December Time: 23:30 GMT (25-29 December)
Coverage: Test Match Special and live text commentary, plus clips, features and analysis on the BBC Sport website and app. Daily highlights show on BBC iPlayer from 17:00 GMT

One of the aspects of life on tour with Test Match Special is normally, two out of every four years, you are working away over Christmas.

Boxing Day Tests take place in South Africa and Australia and, as I enter my 20th year working as part of the BBC Cricket team, this will be my 10th Christmas away from home.

We are incredibly fortunate to travel as part of an England cricket tour, this winter especially considering the restrictions still being placed on trips overseas. Although being away from family can be hard at this time of year, we normally do our best to keep spirits high among the TMS team.

From Mike Selvey leading a late night singalong for colleagues and hotel staff on his guitar, previous TMS producer Peter Baxter always packing a miniature Christmas tree, to Alison Mitchell playing carols on her phone in the TMS box.

There used to be much more interaction between players and broadcasters on Christmas Day with the famous team fancy dress party and the festive show put on by the media, but sadly that is no more.

Normally the TMS team gather together on Christmas Day. But unfortunately this year, like with so many people, we have been struck by Covid among the group so that won’t happen.

However, we have plenty of good memories… and here are some of the best.

Harry Potter quiz and Alec Stewart injury

James Foster (left) talks to Richard Dawson (right)
James Foster (left) played his seventh and final Test match in the 2002 Boxing Day Ashes Test in Melbourne

My first Christmas in Australia came on my first tour working as part of the BBC Cricket team in 2002-03. I took over as producer halfway through the tour feeling daunted by what lay ahead.

As has often been the case, I landed in the country with the Ashes already secured by Australia.

Naively, I assumed the players and travelling media would be free to enjoy Christmas Day, but I soon learned that is not what transpires with a Test starting the next day.

So that Christmas morning, like all the others since, I went down to the ground to check on practice and conduct interviews.

It is always worth observing nets even on Christmas Day and I remember on that tour I noticed England’s reserve wicketkeeper James Foster going through a much longer than normal training routine which I reported back to the UK.

It turned out next day that Alec Stewart was suffering with a bruised hand and Foster did indeed play.

The English travelling media pack often get together as a group to share Christmas lunch and kindly invited me to tag along as I didn’t really know anyone.

It was totally surreal as I shared festivities with writers I’d read for years and I was particularly thrilled to be sat next to the legendary Christopher Martin-Jenkins, who went on to display an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of the Harry Potter books, assisting us to triumph in a post-lunch quiz. I thought he’d know more about Jeremy Snape than Severus Snape, but how wrong I was.

Vic Marks and the mankini

A digital advertising board wishes Australia Merry Christmas after their cricket side had wrapped the 2013-14 Ashes pre-Boxing Day Test
Australia won the first three Tests of the 2013-14 series by large margins to claim the Ashes before the Boxing Day Test

In 2013-14 England arrived in Melbourne rather shell-shocked as Mitchell Johnson and Co had blown them away to claim the urn. It was particularly disappointing as England had actually arrived down under as favourites.

But morale was still high among the TMS team as we gathered in Melbourne post-nets for a team Christmas lunch.

Luggage limits mean we don’t normally arrive in Australia laden with presents for each other, but that Christmas we did a Secret Santa – the undoubted highlight when Vic Marks opened a parcel containing a Borat-style bright green mankini.

Disappointingly he refused to wear the item in the TMS box the next day, although whether he donned it on a beach in St Kilda later remains a mystery.

TMS commentator Vic Marks with a mankini
TMS pundit Vic Marks was a given a mankini during a Secret Santa on the 2013-14 tour

Boxing Day bonanza of 2010

Most Boxing Day Tests I have experienced in Australia have come with the series already decided, but on the 2010-11 tour England arrived at the “G” with the outcome very much alive.

They had famously fought back to draw at the Gabba, won in Adelaide and, although Australia had secured their traditional victory in Perth, somehow things seemed really different in Melbourne.

The media and players mingled together much more on that tour and there was quiet confidence oozing from Andrew Strauss and his team.

I remember we interviewed Alastair Cook on Christmas morning, which is also his birthday, and you just sensed something special was going to happen.

Alastair Cook (left) talks to Jonathan Agnew
England won the 2010 Boxing Day Test by an innings and 157 runs – and sealed the series 3-1

But surely no-one predicted England to be 157-0 at the close on Boxing Day having skittled Australia for just 98.

They say 90,000 were in the ground as play started and 9,000 by the end. The Barmy Army quipped that the Australia fans were entering into the festive spirit by turning up in fancy dress that day – as empty seats.

And finally…

On our last tour to Australia four years ago, one of the Australia journalists had a house in the city and kindly invited the travelling English media for an evening drink on Christmas night.

We had Ebony Rainford-Brent as part of our team for that series and, after a barbecue by the side of the Yarra with some TMS colleagues, she announced she was off for an early night with a big day ahead.

So it was a surprise when some members of our team arrived at the evening house party later to find Ebony sipping a glass of champagne sitting in a jacuzzi!

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