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Ray Markham — The Press Box Scorer who made it from the Loft to Lord’s

Ray Markham in the Ageas Bowl press box © Arunabha Sengupta
Ray Markham in the Ageas Bowl press box.  Photo Courtesy: Arunabha Sengupta

Ray Markham is an ever present face in the press boxes during the Test matches and One Day Internationals held in England. Whenever an incident of note takes place in the field of play, the voice of this assiduous scorer is heard providing all the associated facts and figures for the assembly of journalists. He cannot afford to miss one single ball, and somehow manages to cater to every query while making scrupulous notes about the on-going action. Arunabha Sengupta caught up with the press-box scorer at Ageas Bowl during the third Test match between India and England.

Ray Markham sits in the the Ageas Bowl press box. He is 67. He has just climbed up several flights of stairs because the lift for the Media Centre has broken down. The air-conditioning in the press box is on full blast, and his normal dapper self is wrapped up in cardigan and muffler. He says on the phone that he is receiving artificial respiration but that is far from the truth. He is as sprightly as the next man, whatever be his age, and especially so when there is cricket in the offing.

His paraphernalia is neatly laid out. There is his laptop with the special scoring software, there is the linear scoring sheet which he painstakingly maintains with his assortment of coloured pens, then there are the famous coloured pens themselves. A packet of mints and sweets are spread within reach as are a calculator, a small digital clock, a binocular, a pencil, a rubber, a ruler, an assortment of clips and bands, and finally the correction fluid.

According to his uproariously entertaining autobiography From Loft to Lord’s any scorer who says he has never made a mistake is being economical with the truth … ‘scorers ought to be sponsored by the makers of the fluid.’ Press box scoring started for Ray only after he retired from his day job as a teacher. Migration into the world of county and international cricket from the club world ensured that his pens were no longer ‘borrowed’ by the players – to scribble batting orders or to do their crossword puzzles.

“Never lend a player a pen, if you ever want to see it again” is a rhyming couplet in his autobiography that he prescribes for all scorers, as important as the other scoring aphorism: ‘The sum of the batsmen’s runs plus total extras should equal the sum of the bowler’s runs plus fieldsmen’s extra’s. His pens have disappeared so often that he goes on ton write, “I’m convinced that there’s a black hole somewhere in the universe labelled Scorer’s Pens and it’s filling up fast.”

He has every reason to be testy about this. He needs those pens. He jots down the balls faced by different batsmen in different colours, so also do various different events taking place in the game find their way into his sheets in multiple hues. A practiced eye aware of the colour coding can pick up the story of the match in meticulous detail with one glance at those sheets.

Ray Markham’s scoring aids © Arunabha Sengupta
Ray Markham’s scoring aids. Photo Courtesy: Arunabha Sengupta

He is bright and early as always, having already had his refreshments. Unlike pressmen, as a scorer he cannot afford to get up and hover around the lunch room during the game. Neither can he snatch bio breaks other than during a drinks, lunch or tea interval. Besides, he is the last to arrive for lunch, after having scrupulously balanced every figure in his scorebook, and the twenty minutes for tea hardly ever allows him to grab a snack. “At the tea interval, I feel like a cross between the white rabbit and the mad hatter in Alice in Wonderland, as I mutter to myself — ‘Oh, my goodness me, is that the time? I’m going to be late! I’m going to be late!’ and hurry back to the scorebox clutching my cup of tea and a plate, on which are perched my unfinished sandwiches and piece of cake,” Markham writes.

But, he loves what he does. Every time a bowling changes, a wicket falls, a session ends, two consecutive boundaries are hit, a milestone is reached – his voice is heard over the microphone announcing the specific details. No, these details are not readily available even on live scoreboards of the online world. For Markham’s voice is one step ahead, “In case you are interested in the breakup of the partnership, Cook 16 off 28 balls, Ballance 33 off 24 balls and one wide.”

No those numbers are not accurate but a simulation based on what I have heard over the days and, well, influenced by the England captain’s somewhat strained approach towards quick runs in the second innings. For the exact figures, one has to laboriously go through the online archives or simply ask Ray. Most journalists prefer the second option. What is the bowler’s analysis from wicket to wicket? Pat comes the answer, two for one from 13 balls. How many minutes has the partnership been going on for? The online scoreboards don’t update this until after the end of the innings, but Markham’s digital clock has recorded it all. “What was Rohit Sharma’s score when he was dropped?” The answer is there, including a small remark – ‘Hard chance’ jotted noted down by hand in his scoring sheet. And once a day he picks up the microphone and says, “Ladies and gentlemen, the most popular announcement of the day. Lunch is now served.”

Before retiring from his job as a teacher, Markham used to score at the local club fixtures. His two sons played in the club, and because of his past background of scoring as a 14— year-old Ray Markham was asked to score for these matches. “Every Saturday, we used to go as a family to the games. As they progressed from the Colts to the first team, I started to score – because I had experience of doing it. I had been a scorer at 14, and used to score from a little loft above the pavilion of the village green.” These forays into club cricket often involved hilarious incidents, documented in From Loft to Lord’s in fascinating anecdotes. From standing up manfully against the conflicting scoring sheet of an intimidating fellow scorer of the opposite sex, to swatting wasps in dingy scoring boxes; from documenting a batsman’s name as Bonehead, to the time when a jilted-in-love teenage poured her sob story into the ears of a grandmother who was too busy checking for a leg-bye.

“When I took early retirement from teaching, I could score mid-week and ended up scoring for Cambridge University.” That was how his scoring slowly moved into the lush green fields of Test cricket.

“It was when I was scoring in a match for the Cambridge University against Duke of Norfolk’s XI, that the scorer of that team, whom I had known for about three or four years, out of the blue asked me if I’d be interested in doing some press-box scoring. To which my response was ‘what is press-box scoring’. I’d never heard of it. I didn’t realise there was a scorer to help the media if they had any question about the match in hand. So, when he explained all this to me I was a bit daunted, but thought it was something I would like to have a go at.So I ended up sending my details to a lady at the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and she contacted me and asked me to score a Test match in 2007 – at The Oval against India. It was the match where India totalled over 600 and Anil Kumble scored a century.”

A few One Day matches followed and then in 2009 the legendary scorer Bill Frindall passed away. “Malcolm Ashton moved on to the Test Match Special team which left a position in the press box to score the Test matches. I was asked and I jumped at the chance. My role is specifically and simply to score on behalf of the world press and to give them any information that they may want about the match at hand. Apart from normal information about a batsman’s innings, bowling spells, partnerships, if anyone is writing an article from a particular perspective I can provide the stats from the needed angle as well.”

To identify the fielders of the unfamiliar foreign teams is often not easy. When a catch is taken, the correct name has to be jotted down, and that requires deciphering the fielder by looking past the cap and, on occasions, helmet. “Sometimes I get to know who the fielders are by watching them in other matches, on television, or by looking at their profiles in websites. But, it is often difficult when they have their caps on or helmets. So, I rely on Sky Television, the TMS commentators and journalists in the box. You have to check from at least two sources.”

Throughout his scoring career, Ray’s wife Sheila has been a pillar of support – although she used to take up a bit too much space during their initial journeys to cricket matches by packing clothes for every possible weather.In his book, Markham calls his wife Dearly Beloved or DB. The amount of trust he puts in her is apparent from the episode when he leaves her in charge of his laptop with the Duckworth Lewis tables, in the midst of two zealous club teams. The human trap of a chair she carries to the matches often proves a tedious burden, but that hardly offsets the blessing of a cricket-loving wife.

“Fortunately for me my wife loves cricket and is fully supportive of me doing this. As a family we love cricket. My sons are very interested in following the game.We have great discussions, particularly about the England team. My wife still has the chair and she does expect me to put it up.”

The most challenging task is to be able to focus on each ball. “Unlike the official scorers of the match, or county scorers or the premier league scorers of today, I have to do all of this alone. The other scorers generally work in pairs. So my attention has to be greater. Also there is the challenge of picking up the umpire’s signals, because he signals not to me but to the match scorer. There is also the additional challenge when journalists come to me asking for additional details while the match is in progress, and I have to retrieve information and pass it on to them while continuing to score the balls. I have to appreciate that some of them do need it immediately to put in an article.”

Ray archives his scores on data-sticks, but keeps them on his computer till six months after the match in case some writer requires information for Wisden or some other work. He also prints out the scorecard of every Test match he scores, purely out of passion. Yes, he is passionate about what he does and it is apparent in the delightful autobiography which should form a part of any cricket lover’s collection. Not to be missed is the appendix which lays out some things every scorer needs to know.

Some of these tenets are:

  • How to get a batting order out of a captain
  • How to shout ‘Bowler’s name please’ at a ridiculously loud volume, and how to decipher the reply shouted back
  • How to develop X-Ray vision to see through the helmets in order to identify the incoming batsman

And most importantly

  • How to stop players and coaches from pinching your pens

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)

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