Charles Dagnall, Test Match Special Presenter
There’s nothing better on a summer’s day than sitting back, beer in hand, listening to the BBC Test Match Special team talk you through a day’s play. They are a British institution. From Brian Johnston, Christopher Martin-Jenkins and John Arlott to the current legends, Jonathan Agnew and Henry Blofeld. It wouldn’t be a British summer without Test Match Special. And this month we are fortunate to speak to one of the recent additions to the team, Charles Dagnall, or ‘Daggers’ as he is affectionately known.
I’ve loved doing all our recent Addis interviews, but I must admit this was up there as one of my favourites and it’s easy to see why the programme is so special, to so many people.
“Our job on the radio is to inform and entertain,” said Daggers. “I like to think if we’re laughing on air, then everyone else is.”
Daggers joined the TMS team back in 2012, a team which now includes (in addition to Aggers and Blowers) the likes of Vic Marks, Michael Vaughan, Phil Tufnell, Geoffrey Boycott, Alison Mitchell, Graeme Swann, Ed Smith, Ebony Rainford-Brent - to name just a few.
“You are part of a select club at TMS and that will never be lost on me. There is not a moment when I come off commentary and don’t think about the legends who have been before me.”
As this was me interviewing someone from the media, I thought it was only right to try and get an ‘exclusive’ of some sorts. I think I succeeded... The TMS team love their cakes, but is a shift happening? I asked Daggers on the kind of cake he would like us supporters to send in. His response was unexpected... “You can never fail with a lemon drizzle. But, we need savoury snacks; pork pies, sausage rolls, cooked meats. Things people can pick at.”
There you go, you read it here first, a world exclusive. The cake is dead. Long live the savoury snack. Of course, I’m not sure if Daggers’ co-presenters would agree.
Now, before we probe Daggers about his life on TMS it would be remiss not to look back at his life as a county cricketer.
Born in Bury, Daggers was a right-arm fast-medium bowler. As a child, he played all sports but cricket was always his first love. I thought it was ironic that all three of his boyhood heroes went on to enjoy successful media careers once their playing days were over. An omen perhaps? “As a child I loved watching Michael Holding, David Gower and Ian Botham. Holding and Gower were poetic, but Botham was always the one I wanted to be like. He was sheer entertainment. I even got the Duncan Fearnley Attack with Ian Botham’s name on it as one of my first bats!”
Daggers’ cricketing career began in the much-respected Lancashire leagues. “I played a lot of league cricket as a junior and it was when playing in the leagues that I got selected to play for Cumberland in the Minor Counties. I loved it. It was brilliant cricket; it was always a great atmosphere and we played some really, really, good cricket. It was great to learn from some old pros like Ashley Metcalfe and Marcus Sharpe and to play against the likes of Wayne Larkins and Derek Randall.”
But first-class County cricket was his dream. Having played Lancashire schoolboy representative cricket the red rose was firmly engrained in Daggers, but sadly, despite all his successes as a junior; he was never able to fulfil the Lancashire dream. “I was one of the few, if not the only one who didn’t get a Lancashire contract having won the under-19 player of the year award. It was hugely disappointing as I was the red rose through and through. It was always my dream to play at Old Trafford.”
Despite the Lancashire snub, Daggers was intent on not letting his goal of becoming a county cricketer die. The young seamer wrote letters to all the first-class counties asking for a trial. “I think I still hold the record for the most trials before getting a contract. I played second XI games for 13 counties!”
At the 13th attempt, he was finally snapped up, by Warwickshire. “I loved my time at Warwickshire. I played a trial game against Essex. It was always quite daunting as a trialist walking into a second team dressing room. You weren’t always made to feel welcome. I got that, as a lot of the players in the second eleven are trying to save their jobs and don’t want to lose their position to a trialist. But at Warwickshire it was different. Phil Neale was the head coach at the time and wanted to have a look at youth, so a lot of the regular first team players were playing in the 2’s for a short period. So, I walked into the dressing room for a trial game and sat there was Gladstone Small, Tim Munton, Andy Moles, Dominic Ostler, Keith Piper and Trevor Penney; guys who had been there, seen it, done it; they didn’t feel threatened by a trialist. And Moles was captain and I think he liked the fact that I was confident enough to ask for my own field placings. I remember one ball, where Moler wanted the short leg to come out; I said I think I could get this batsman out with that fielder so could we keep him in there. Moler agreed and the very next ball I had the batsman caught at short leg! I think that helped my cause!”
It certainly did, as Daggers was offered a full-time contract with the Bears. And in those early years how did he find the step up? “Bizarrely, it was and wasn’t a big step up. I had been playing with and against some top league cricketers, who had recently retired from first-class cricket, so the quality in the second eleven cricket wasn’t that too dissimilar. I think most of the minor counties at that time would have given second eleven teams a great game, if not beaten them. The main difference was the step up in fitness and the time spent practising.”
In Daggers’ league days, any kind of practice was impossible, it was just bowling - day in, day out. “I remember a seven-week stint when I played league cricket for Great Harwood in Blackburn. As a professional they pretty much expected you to bowl at one end all the way through and then bat 3. I was bowling 25 overs from one end on a Saturday and then doing similar on a Sunday. I would then play minor counties four-day cricket from Tuesday through to Friday and then at that stage of the season second eleven bowlers would get called up into the first eleven so I’d be the workhorse in the seconds and all in I’d end up bowling over 100 overs a week. The thing is I loved it and in that seven-week stint, I must have bowled 600 or 700 overs. I always felt because of that I was ‘bowling’ fit, but whether I was truly ‘fit, fit’ I don’t know as Saturday nights you’d have ‘some’ pints and you’d rock up the next morning and get out bowling. It’s very different now for the youngsters as they get taken care of. But I was 18/19 and I loved it. It’s probably why I’ve now got a body of an 80-year-old! I never had many miles an hour to lose, but in my later years that probably cost me a few miles and the reason why I was never electric quick. I’d do it all again though!”
During his time with the Bears, Daggers opened the bowling with arguably one of the fastest bowlers of all time, the great Allan Donald. “AD was a great hero of mine. I remember watching him in a NatWest Trophy game against Somerset on BBC TV; he came on to bowl against a fellow South African, Jimmy Cook, who was opening the batting for Somerset. AD bowled a couple of deliveries and Cook didn’t even get out of his stance. They hit him on the thigh pad and in the ribs. When I got to open the bowling with him it was amazing and it gave me a little insight into what Test cricket was like.”
Daggers made his championship debut for Warwickshire away at the home of cricket. “I remember on my debut we had white lightening coming in from one end and let’s just say persistent drizzle, me, coming in from the other! Justin Langer was opening the batting for Middlesex alongside Mike Roseberry. Although we never spoke about it, I think there was an underlying agreement between me and Roseberry, where he didn’t fancy facing AD and I didn’t fancy bowling to Justin Langer. I think there were an unwritten rule that Mike would only hit me for two or four, which I was quite happy with!!”
I asked Daggers of some of his most memorable games for the Bears. “Two that spring to mind would be taking my first ever five wicket haul (6 wickets in total) against Derbyshire which got us promoted to Division One and the other was playing in AD’s last game for Warwickshire, in a one-day game against Derbyshire at Edgbaston; I actually took four wickets and spoilt the party somewhat, but just being near the bloke was special.”
With such a high regard for Warwickshire, what prompted Daggers to make the move to nearby Leicestershire? “It was a really tough decision to leave Warwickshire. I was in the middle of a two-year contract; I’d just taken a 6-for to get us promoted and I was a mainstay of our one-day side. But Leicestershire came in and said they’d like to talk to me. I mulled it over for a quite a while, there was a small salary boost but nothing major, but I was in and out of the county championship side at Warwickshire. My games in the championship typically came at the end of the season when the first-choice bowlers had picked up injuries and I then came in. I wanted to play 16 county championship games; I wanted to know if I was good enough. It wasn’t a problem if I was rubbish, but I wanted to know. I wanted to be more than a one-day cricketer. Leicestershire came in and although they couldn’t guarantee me games, they said I’d have a lot more opportunities. I asked Bob Woolmer, Dennis Amiss and others for their thoughts and advice. They said they had no problems if I wanted to go. I then spoke to James Whitaker, the then Leicestershire Chief Executive and he got a contract together. Then on the day I was due to sign the contract Dennis Amiss rang me and asked if I could come into the office. Dennis said he didn’t want me to go and that I had a lot to offer and there would be opportunities for me at Warwickshire, if I stayed. But I couldn’t let Leicestershire down. I felt awful, but everyone at Warwickshire had said they had no problems with me going. Some people thought I got tanked by Warwickshire but that was never the case. Dennis to be fair to him admitted he did say he was happy for me to leave but he was just disappointed that I was going. I like to think I did it the right way. I just wanted to know if I was good enough.”
It was a move that became blighted by injuries, leading eventually to a shin injury that was to end his career, at the age of just 28.
“Leicestershire was very different to Warwickshire. There were a lot of politics involved during my time at the club. I’m sure there were politics at Warwickshire, but they never filtered down to the players. At Warwickshire, we had much bigger backroom and office staff, whereas at Leicestershire, Chief Executives came and went, and there was just a revolving door of change at the club. I personally didn’t get off to the best of starts; I got injured in my first year and had to have a hip operation. I then didn’t play well at all in my second year. Philip DeFreitas, sat me down and asked me what I wanted to be, a quick bowler or a swing bowler as he (and I) just didn’t know. I was playing ok but I wasn’t doing anything fantastic. I was at a crossroads. Daffy grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and just said do I want to make a success of my career or not. I became twice the bowler after that conversation. In 2004 I felt good. I was charging in and I was getting more wickets caught behind; I was beating the bat at will. I felt I’d finally sussed it. We won the T20 competition which was amazing. I remember the games at Grace Road were bursting, with over 7,000 people in the ground and I found that I liked performing in front of big crowds. At 26 I felt I could be a good county cricketer.”
Sadly, things went downhill in 2005, when a shin injury struck, which led to his sad retirement. “In 2005, I felt really fit. After the success of 2004, I trained my nuts off in the winter so that I could be the best I could be in 2005. We had a new captain in H.D. Akerman. He was a brilliant captain. One day, I stupidly bowled for 2 hours straight in the indoor nets at Leicestershire; but I was so keen to bowl. My shins started hurting. I’d never had issues with them before. We went on a pre-season tour to India and Pakistan and I was literally screaming in pain throughout; I’d never had pain like it. I started the season, but they never got right. I tried everything from ice to rest. Nothing worked. So, for the first part of the season I was just like a vicar – coming out every Sunday to play Sunday League cricket! I would play those games, bowl well, but then wouldn’t be able to walk on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday; I would pop some pills on a Thursday; get taped up on a Friday; bowl a couple of overs on a Saturday in practice; play the game on Sunday. I did that routine for about six weeks, but realised I couldn’t go on like that. I had a big operation, bizarrely on my birthday in 2005, but understandably I got released by Leicestershire; I was told I could come back if I got over the injury. Sussex were also keen to sign me if I got fit. I tried so hard to get over it, but at the turn of the year in 2006 I was still struggling massively. So, I told Leicestershire and Sussex don’t go with me I’m jacking. I didn’t want to take their money. I could easily have signed a contract and been injured for the entire year; that didn’t fit well with me - I couldn’t take people’s money and not play.”
And that was the end of Daggers’ playing career at the age of 28.
I asked Daggers if he had regrets. “As I look back I do wonder if I had done it too soon, but then I remember in 06 I played a little bit of league cricket and struggled so honestly, I have no regrets.”
One thing that softened the blow of retirement was the opportunity to pursue a career in radio.
“I was already working in local radio in the off season so I was lucky that I had something to go straight into.”
A friendship with BBC presenter (and Warwickshire supporter) Nick Owen gave Daggers his first taste of radio. “Nick used to come down and watch Warwickshire and then go into BBC Pebble Mill studios and one day he invited me along to have a look around, just for interest’s sake. I wondered in and watched him do a programme for Midlands Today, but he then showed me around the radio studio and I got buzz for it. You saw all these things happening live: stories breaking, football commentary was going on – it was great. I loved things that were live.”
Daggers’ first break on radio came during his time at Leicestershire. “When I signed for Leicestershire I got interviewed by the local radio station, as they did with any new player; they asked me what my other interests were outside of cricket and I said that one day I wanted to get into radio. Within a week they had me on with my own weekly cricket show.”
John Shaw, a radio presenter, who delivered reports on Leicestershire’s games became Daggers’ mentor. “John saw something in me and my keenness for radio so I went and trained and shadowed him when he was doing sports reports at 6am in the morning. John trained me in how to read scripts, write cues, and how to use my voice etc. I remember a game we had at Southend; rain had stopped play so he printed out some sports scripts and we were sat in my Vauxhall Vectra reading through them as the lads were in the dressing rooms playing cards.”
John has sadly since passed away, but to this day, not a single day passes without Daggers thinking of his mentor. “There’s not once piece of radio that I do without John Shaw in my head; I always ask myself what he would have thought. He passed away way too soon. After every stint, he would always tell me what was good, what I could improve upon, what needs work etc. He was a great man.”
So, was Test Match Special always his goal?
“Having always listened to TMS it was something deep down that I always wanted to do, but if I’m honest I never thought about it until I retired. At first I just wanted to learn radio. My experience at Radio Leicester was fantastic, because as well as my cricket show I also did a lot of non-cricket stuff. I interviewed party leaders at election time and during the expenses scandal. I also reported on other sports such as rugby and football; I was presenting programmes on Leicester Tigers and Leicester City. I was out of my comfort zone but it was a great experience. Eventually I looked at TMS and they seemed to like what I was doing. I got invited to present some domestic T20 stuff, again they liked what I did there and eventually I got the nod to do a couple of one day internationals against the West Indies in 2012.”
His first international game, at the Rose Bowl, had him teamed up on the commentary roster with some of the greats of radio and cricket. “For my debut game there was me, Jonathan Agnew and Tony Cozier – I couldn’t have been up with two more distinctive voices in cricket history. I thought to myself this is not good! Who are the summarisers? Phil Tufnell – that was good, I knew him; Michael Vaughan - good; Viv Richards – oh my God! It was obvious Viv did not have a clue who I was and the fact I played and stuff. He was told by the producers I’d played County cricket and I’ll never forget this Viv phrase… there was a bit of rain and the players stayed on. Viv said ‘this might just grease up and give the bowlers a bit more to play with’ and then turned to me and said ‘you would know, you were quick’. I just thought to myself, you never did see me play! It was a daunting first experience, but a genuine thrill.”
Two years later and Daggers was commentating on his first Test match for TMS, in the 2014 home series against India, again at the Rose Bowl. “I had to catch my breath before I walked into the Rose Bowl on that first morning because the ghosts of TMS past just hit me. This was a different feeling to my previous commentating. Jonathan Agnew and Michael Vaughan helped me; Vaughany more than anyone. He really helped me feel at ease.”
Another person Daggers was forever grateful to, for his words of encouragement, was the great ‘Blowers’. “On the day before that first Test match, I was doing a function for Dean Headley, when I received a phone call from a number that I didn’t recognise. It was Blowers. ‘Daggers, my old dear. Blowers here. I understand you’re making your debut tomorrow; all I want to say is good luck old thing. Be yourself and you’ll be brilliant’. I thought to myself, what an utter legend. He didn’t have to call me, but showed just what kind of bloke he is.”
And it’s obvious the high regard in which Daggers holds the great man. “Whenever I hear Blowers on the radio, I know it’s the summer. His vocabulary is wonderful; he’s just a broadcasting legend. You could give him a bowl of fruit to describe and he would do it in a way that nobody else could! And it’s very similar with Jonathan.”
I asked Daggers if he ever feels the pressure. “Commentating on Test cricket is much tougher than ODI’s in that it really tests you as a commentator. When things are slow or ponderous in play, you must entertain people and keep it interesting. You’ll never achieve commentary perfection, but you always continue to strive for it. There’s always going to be some people who like the way that you commentate and some people who don’t. You just hope that the people who have followed TMS for years and years like what you do.”
And why is it people have always stayed in love with TMS, what gives it the magic? “I think it’s the fact we try to entertain as well as inform and commentate on a game of cricket that’s being played. If you’re on air for seven hours a day for five successive days, people want more than just the cricket. They want to know about Aggers’ BBQ’s or what the Rio Olympics was like for him. 35 hours’ straight cricket without that, would be difficult. On radio your company for people. As John Shaw once said to me, when you’re commentating on radio, you’re speaking to someone who is home alone; you’re their company. That’s who you talk to. We’ll never miss a ball in our commentary, but we will always try and entertain as well as inform.”
One can only imagine the preparation that goes into a programme such as TMS, so I asked Daggers how he prepares for his commentary stints. “I always read lots of articles to get a sense of what people are thinking. It’s not that I can’t form my own opinion but I like to get a sense of what people are thinking about certain cricketers. I’m not a massive one for statistics. In the main I think these can be a bit boring. I don’t care if someone averages ‘x’ in their last few Test matches, you can just speak on their recent form. I love knowing the geography of the ground however. I do laps of the ground when I arrive to see what I can see, again because in the art of broadcasting you must be someone’s eyes; if I have spotted something interesting I might talk about it on air. I also like to talk to a few supporters to get a sense of what they are thinking. But honestly, I just like things to be organic. That way you never know where it’s going to go and that’s part of the fun of it. But everyone is different.”
Having commentated in many countries throughout the world; it’s Australia that is the country, outside of England, that Daggers has enjoyed commentating in the most. “Australia is something different. It’s THE place to commentate. Each ground has its own distinct quality. I remember doing a tri-series before the last World Cup and I was the only English voice on an Australian broadcasting team – that was fun. I certainly had to fight the battles for England; what with all the grief they dish out when they are winning!”
And his favourite ground in England? “My favourite ground in the whole world is the Oval. I just adore the place. I enjoyed playing there and I love commentating there. It’s more relaxed than Lords and I just love the buzz of the place. You think of all the history that has happened at that ground – it hits you when you walk in. I will never tire of the Oval.”
Since 2012, Daggers has been fortunate to commentate on many fantastic games, but which games have stood out more than most? “I recently commentated when England broke the ODI World record – that was a real thrill. The record will get beaten again sometime, but that previous record stood for a long time and to be at Trent Bridge and to get to call it, was special. Also, being at Eden Gardens for the World T20 final was fantastic. As a commentator when you get to call a player or team’s milestones and must describe how it happens is truly special. I have been fortunate in 2016 to get to call a couple.”
Throughout his time on TMS, Daggers has had the pleasure of interviewing some of the great names in cricket and it’s an interview he did with Bumble (David Lloyd) that he cherishes more than any other. “Bumble had just brought his book out. Sky were good enough to let us interview him. It was a pre-recorded interview, but honestly I could have spoken to him for hours. I read his book in two and a half days and just adored it. His humour and qualities as a human being are totally genuine. He does radio broadcasting on television. It was weird because although I see him every day I found it tough because it was like interviewing Michael Parkinson. In fact, I once did an interview with Michael Parkinson, at a Chance to Shine function and I genuinely s**t myself! There I was interviewing the King of interviews but he was a darling, just brilliant.”
Others cricketers on his ‘favourites’ list are interviews he did with Brett Lee and Andrew Flintoff. “Both were absolute pleasures. But Bumble is the one that stood out.”
Finally, I tried to get Daggers to open up on some of the biggest bloopers that have occurred in the TMS box. “There’s been a couple of times where I’ve just lost it; someone will say something funny and you just have to laugh. Ebony and I have become like an old married couple. I adore Ebs and she’s come out with some absolute pearlers. I remember setting her up and off she went! Michael and the cat are just a joy and Vic Marks has some dark humour, when his lips start to curl up you can’t help but laugh. And you know what I like to think that if we’re laughing, then everyone else is.”
TMS really is a British institution. We are very lucky to have it. Daggers and the team do a sterling job and there’s a reason why the programme is loved by so many. It’s truly magical and it will continue to be so for generations to come.
Daggers – it’s been an absolute pleasure.