‘Day I knew my time at the mic was up’
Idon’t think it had ever really occurred to me that one day I would have to retire from Test Match Special. Although I was 77, I was still doing five or six Test matches a year – three or four at home and a couple on tour. I was getting by, I like to think, and my inability to determine, with anything approaching accuracy, the name of the fielder at third man had, I hope, become more of a joke than anything else.
Then, in December 2016, I went to India to commentate for TMS on the Tests in Bombay and Madras. In both, England lost their last five second-innings wickets for 16 and were massively beaten. I would like to think my commentary was a touch surer than England’s batting, but maybe not by much.
On Dec 20, the fourth and, as it happened, final day in Madras, I was on the air when England’s batsmen seemed almost to throw their hands in. A slog drive from Moeen Ali off Ravi Jadeja had ended up in Ravi Ashwin’s hands at deep mid-off. I got that right. Liam Dawson, in his first Test, was now facing leg-spinner Amit Mishra. We were at the bowler’s end and Mishra was running away from us. For Dawson, he had about five men round the bat, including a short mid-off and a short extra cover. He ran in to bowl, his arm came over and I saw the ball leave his hand and Dawson start to shuffle across his stumps. Then, for a moment I shall never forget, everything went blank. I could see nothing, although the crowd were cheering their heads off, which told me a wicket had fallen. When my vision cleared, I saw Dawson taking his first step towards the pavilion and the close fielders on the off side jumping about in celebration.
I took a punt: “And Dawson has been caught there at short extra.”
Sunny Gavaskar, sitting beside me in the summariser’s chair, now entered the conversation: “No, Henry, he was bowled.”
Get out of that one. I struggled on but it must have sounded dreadful. The memory of that moment has never left me. It was my worst experience at the microphone.
An eye specialist told me later there is a logical explanation for what happened and it was a chance in a million. Which was little help. The incident played on my mind relentlessly. Then, in the middle of the night, just as the England season was beginning in April 2017, I suddenly realised the time had come. As the problem had happened to me once, it could obviously happen again, and at my age things like that do not get better; they only get worse. I did not want to make a fool of myself and, even more important, I did not want the programme responsible for the wonderful life I have led to be made to look stupid too.
Blind spot: Henry Blofeld consulted an eye specialist after his vision went blank just as England’s Liam Dawson was bowled in Madras (left), and eventually decided it was time to retire