SHAMIR PATEL SPEAKS TO THE NEW FACE OF BT SPORT'S CRICKET COVERAGE
For those wondering whether Greg James could possibly be as energetic and in love with cricket as he seems, let me put your mind at rest – it’s not an act.
As the new face of BT Sport’s cricket coverage, James is evidently aware of how armchair pundits from up and down the country are deeply envious of him despite those early starts: “I have felt very lucky. There are those moments at 4am when you think to yourself: ‘I hate my life. Why am I in Stratford at 4am?’
“But then you suddenly remember that it is a great, great privilege to sit and discuss cricket with two of the greatest captains (Ricky Ponting and Michael Vaughan) who have ever played the game.”
So what does he think of Joe Root’s chances of emulating the captaincy success of those two towering figures?
Enthusiastic would be an understatement: “It’s the best move for England, he is the perfect man for the job and I couldn’t be more excited for the game. He’ll bring a completely fresh approach. He’ll be a bit more inventive and I think he’ll be the modern-day captain, drawing from all formats of the game.”
And in the Yorkshireman, James sees something of a kindred spirit: “The thing that really excites me about him is that he’s a young bloke who is passionate about the game. One of my big passions is getting young people into the sport and I think he does that.
“You see what it’s like when he comes out to bat, people love him. He’s so likeable, a great character and funny as well. Not to mention one of the best batsmen in the world!”
James clearly thinks about the game in detail – a fast-developing ability he credits to constantly asking questions of the ex-pros who appear on BT Sport from Ponting and Vaughan to Marcus North and Graeme Swann. It means that he is aware Root won’t be able to turn around a stagnating team on his own stressing that although Root is a “proper nerd” of the game, being able to call on senior players such as Alastair Cook, Jimmy Anderson, and Stuart Broad will be invaluable especially in tricky game situations.
The reputations of England captains are usually defined, or at least strongly shaped, by their Ashes records. It is why Mike Gatting, triumphant in Australia in 1986/87, is regarded as being a good captain despite winning only two of his 23 matches in charge.
But James is under no illusion about what a tough test this winter will be for Root and his men: “Australia will pose a really big threat especially in their own conditions. It will be very tight – their turnaround this winter was extraordinary to watch. And those Aussie quicks are incredible.
James is in his element talking about cricket but it hasn’t all been plain sailing for him at BT despite the praise he heaps on the team around him. For instance, he recalls, tongue firmly in cheek, that sitting in Stratford (where the BT Sport cricket studio is based) on Boxing Day night watching the rain incessantly fall in Melbourne was “probably one of the most depressing moments of my life.”
BT’s Australia-heavy coverage also means a challenging blend of “late starts, early finishes, early starts, late finishes” which are “killer” and hard to get over.
Through it all though there has always been the cricket and James admits he is lucky enough to have already witnessed some brilliant cricket and series. But with BT Sport covering T20 cricket in the form of the Big Bash and this month’s T20I series between Australia and Sri Lanka alongside all of Australia’s home Tests, which way does he fall in the Test v T20 argument?
“I am a Test purist. I love it, always have done and always will do. But it’s really important to nurture T20 cricket. It doesn’t detract from the Test game at all. If the mindset is right from the bigwigs they’ll realise it attracts so many people to the game and, from there, people will move towards Test cricket.”
Greg James is on a mission to bring cricket to as many people as possible and you get the impression he won’t be satisfied until everyone has the same love for the game as him.
BT Sport is your new home for Australia’s home international matches and Big Bash League, including the 2017/18 Ashes series. Watch Australia v Sri Lanka exclusively live on BT Sport 3. For more info please visit sport.bt.com/cricket