Kev James: Hampshire & Back

Former Hampshire all-rounder looks back as he marks his twentieth year with the BBC

Kevan James never planned to become the voice of Hampshire Cricket, but after two decades behind the microphone, the BBC Solent commentator has proved to be the consummate all-rounder.

James is marking 20 years with the BBC, having gone from popular player to part of the summer hum at the Ageas Bowl.

As a cricketer, James spent five years at Middlesex before serving Hampshire for 15 seasons.

Although he is most celebrated for his four wickets in four balls and century against India in 1996, James boasted a first-class batting average of more than 30 and a bowling average of 32.

“I loved what I did playing, although it is a little sad that over a 20-year career most people remember me from that India game,” a typically self-deprecating James said.

“For me commentary is a bonus. It has pushed me like playing did, and I absolutely love it.

“I love following Hampshire around and going to other grounds and meeting up with people I played against and supporters who are still around.”

James, 59, fell into radio, having hung up his bat and pads in 1999 with no plans for his future.

He initially teamed up with the late John Hughes to front the cricket coverage on the south coast. Hughes proved to be the perfect colleague from whom to learn.

“John made commentary sound so easy,” James, who works across all of Solent’s sports programming, said.

“Those sorts of people are always the best to learn from. I used to just listen to him.

“He wasn't one for giving loads of advice.

“Every so often now, when I’m going through our archives, his voice pops up and I find myself listening a bit closer to the lines he is delivering.

“I used to listen to his 30-second reports and think, ‘Wow, he has got so much information in to that 30 seconds’ whereas many people would take a minute.

“Kevin Howells at 5 Live is also very good at that. It's amazing that within the first two lines that he delivers he has made this real vivid picture of the context of the game.”

When Adi Birrell arrived as Hampshire’s First Team Manager last year, he sought the players’ opinion of James – unsurprisingly the response was universally positive.

That respect from the current Hampshire dressing room is partly down to his playing career, but equally his fairness when calling the game and in post-play interviews.

James admitted: “Sometimes I think some of the questions could be harder hitting or challenging, but I know first-hand that nobody goes out there and doesn't give 110 per cent.

“At the end of the day’s play or game I can empathise with what was going on. The last thing that I needed straight after playing was someone telling me it wasn’t very good because we all know it wasn’t.

“I have probably missed out on some lines over the years but when you look back over hundreds of interviews there are plenty there that I wouldn’t have done if I was a bit the other way.”

That trust in James wasn’t always there, with former skipper Shane Warne taking him aside to give him some tips on how to get across his opinion while still keeping the players on side.

“I remember him saying to me one day that the players were a bit hacked off with me because they've heard one or two things that I'd said on the radio,” James said.

“He said the trick was that if you want to say something, say it in a way that doesn't sound cutting. You can still say it but be careful.

“The first couple of times I interviewed him he was definitely wary of me. But over a period of time he got to trust me a bit and some of the interviews I did with him were really good.”

In recent seasons, James has been at the forefront of modernising county coverage.

The biggest success story has been adding Emily Windsor to his team. The Hampshire Women’s player has entertained listeners and impressed the head honchos at the BBC, who offered her work on Radio 5 Live Sports Extra for the Kia Super League last summer.

“I thought it was very important to freshen it up and balance it out," he said.

“I’m nearly 60 and I probably view the game slightly differently than people 30 or 40 years younger.

“I know some people think some of my views now are starting to get a little bit dated, but then if I'm balancing that out with somebody who's younger, then hopefully by the end of the day you’ve had a nice mix.”

James' most enjoyable moments as a member of the media have echoed his most glittering as a player.

He claimed NatWest Trophy and Benson & Hedges Cup winners’ medals at Lord's, and has returned to the Home of Cricket for Hampshire's modern one-day successes - including back-to-back Royal London One-Day Cup finals in the past two seasons.

“I really like being on the pitch before the game doing the build-up and then talking to the players when they won afterwards," James said.

“I know what it is like as a player as I won a few Lord’s finals and it is just unbelievable. It isn’t the same as playing but it is the next best thing.

“After 2005, I remember chatting to colleague Adam Blackmore afterwards about doing the lap of the pitch with the players afterwards and he said, ‘I could tell in your voice you really enjoyed that, it must have been like playing’.

“It wasn’t, but it was the first time on air where I’d felt closest to being a player.

“I enjoy the game and watching Hampshire, always have done and always will do, and I think reflecting that is more important than anything else."

Words & Interview: Alex Smith (Reporters Network)


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