The Battle of Roncesvals: A Test Match Special Broadcast

Composed in an idle hour (or two) when I actually should have been doing something more useful ...



RB = Richie Benaud

HB = Henry Blofeld

GB = Geoffrey Boycott


 RB:      Good morning everybody, Richie Benaud here, live at the Roncesvals pass for the encounter between the French and the Saracens. It will be an interesting battle: Charlemagne is one up in the series following his victory in Spain. Now, it’s down to the pitch with Henry Blofeld.


HB:      Thank you Richie. I must say, it’s a beautiful morning here in May, just right for the battle to commence. I did see some pigeons flying around earlier, but I’ve just been informed by the groundsman that they are in fact vultures circling, so that’s another first for the series. It’s sunny here in the pass, which is of course making its debut as a match venue, and the pitch conditions should throw up some interesting challenges. And now it’s over to Geoffrey Boycott with the team news.


GB:      Thanks Blowers. Well, the big news is that the French captain Charlemagne is unable to take the field today, so he’s leaving his team in the untried hands of his young replacement, Roland. He’ll have his work cut out for him facing the experienced tactician Marsile.


The French have named a twelve-man squad:


Roland, Olivier (the acting vice-captain), Count Gerier, Oton, Berengier, Astor, Anseis, old Girard de Rousillon, Duke Gaifier, Archbishop Turpin and Count Gautier. But of course there’s no room in the squad for Ganelon, who has been suspended because of a suspect action.


Back to you Blowers for the toss.


HB:      Thanks Geoffrey, and the news here is that the Saracens have won the toss and elected to set the ambush. Roland and his men have gone off for a team huddle, he’s giving his pre-match talk, looks like very inspiring words. Can you catch any of that on the microphone up there Richie?


RB:      I can catch a few snippets, Henry – it looks like there’s some good tactical thinking from young Olivier there, encouraging Roland to play his trump card and blow the oliphant, but oh, it looks as though Roland has decided to ignore the advice, preferring to assert his independence as the new captain. Will this turn out to be a wise decision?


GB:      Well, ever since they were boys at the Academy I’ve thought that Roland was brave but Olivier was the one who was wise. I’ll put my money on this being a bit of a harsh introduction to leadership for young Roland, you mark my words.


RB:      Well, thanks for that Geoffrey. Now, we’re all ready to go, and the umpire has signalled for play to start. Aelroth, Marsile’s nephew, is the first into the attack, so let’s see how that goes … oh, but Roland just takes him apart with a wonderful attacking stroke.


HB:      Absolutely Richie, you couldn’t wish for a better cut than that. Simply marvellous. Oh, but he’s gone further and words have been exchanged there – some sledging going on and I’m not sure whether that’s appropriate.


GB:      Don’t worry about that kind of thing, Henry – it’s a man’s game and if the Saracens can’t take it, they shouldn’t play the game. Anyway, there’s plenty of action to come yet. Obviously it’s a team game, but there are plenty of fascinating individual duels to come today – Olivier and Falsaron, Turpin and Corsablix, to name but a few.


RB:      Ah yes, but the Saracens are relying very heavily on the sultan Margariz, their star player. Here he comes into the attack against Olivier, forcing the young Frenchman to play a rare defensive stroke. That’s well played.


HB:      Yes, the game is really on now, and one could wax lyrical about the occasion – so many great deliveries, so many great shots, so many boundaries and so many wickets …


GB:      Oh! Sorry to interrupt you there, Blowers, but that’s a very messy stroke from Berengier, my grandmother could have done better than that with her washing-up brush. The French are going to have to go some to recover from this.


HB:      But here’s Roland making his presence felt again, cutting and driving with his Durendal blade. Just look at that – it’s going to be four, four, four, no, six Saracens killed in one stroke there. But I think there’s some tactical thinking going on there Richie.


RB:      Yes, the Saracen captain Marsile is looking over the carnage being wrought here, and he’s decided to reset his field. That’s a formation which hasn’t been seen since, oh, the storming of Paris in 780, I should think. Very interesting.


GB:      Well Richie, it’s starting to have an effect, the French wickets are starting to fall. They’re going down like ninepins. There goes Gerin, and, as is often the way with an established partnership, the other doesn’t last long and Gerier has gone too. Oh, and Anseis has really fallen to pieces there and lost his head.


HB:      It’s going to be up to Roland and Olivier to mount a rearguard action here, and yes, Roland is going for it, he’s taken on the challenge and he’s going to blow the oliphant – how exciting. Oh, but there’s a mix-up going on out here, and now it looks as though Olivier doesn’t want him to blow it! Roland has made the fatal mistake of turning a no into a yes when he was halfway down the pitch, and he’s going to pay. This could be suicidal in the context of the game …


RB:      That was a  dangerous moment there, but Roland seems to have survived. But it’s obviously playing on Olivier’s mind, and he’s played a rash stroke there against Marganice, and it’s done for him. Oh, and Roland has lost him – how sad to see such a productive partnership broken up, but he’s got to go. His sister, who always follows his career with interest, will be disappointed to hear that.


GB:      Yes, it’s just Roland and the archbishop now in a last-wicket partnership. Roland is walking around on the field like a man possessed, and oh – he’s slipped! He’s slipped and the Saracens are appealing to the third umpire for a run-out. Who is the thrid umpire today, Richie?


RB:      I believe it’s God umpiring today, Geoffrey. Obviously he’s an umpire of great experience, although let’s not forget that he did give the young debutant Vivien a bit of a harsh decision in the French’s previous series.


HB:      Looking at the replay, I think Roland knows that he’s gone, he’s already raised his blade to break it, a sure sign that he thinks it’s all over. And God is taking an absolute age to make a decision here, he’s really keeping everyone on tenterhooks. But here comes the decision, and yes, as we all thought, Roland’s wicket has fallen.


GB:      It’s a disaster for the French, they’ve lost their advantage, and didn’t I say that young Roland would have some problems?


RB:      So, to sum up, an unexpected win for the Saracens there and the series level. It will be up to Charlemagne now to avenge his country’s honour, so tune in soon for the final deciding test – we’ll be here. But for the meantime it’s goodbye from all of us here at Roncesvals.