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Jonathan Agnew: Calling it the ‘Men’s Ashes’ is sad – it began in 1882

Daily Telegraph Features Cricket commentator Jonathan Agnew, also a former professional cricketer. Photographed at the Oval, London . 9 June 2023

Daily Telegraph Features Cricket commentator Jonathan Agnew, also a former professional cricketer. Photographed at the Oval, London . 9 June 2023

‘Inclusivity’s great, but come on!’ Jonathan Agnew says – Heathcliff O’Malley for The Telegraph

Jonathan Agnew, the BBC’s departing chief cricket correspondent, has complained over cricket’s adoption of the gender-neutral ‘batter’ and references to the Ashes as the ‘men’s Ashes’.

Agnew, who has just signed a new four-year contract to remain part of the BBC’s Test Match Special team, announced earlier this month that he will step down after 33 years as cricket correspondent at the end of summer.

“This was my call,” he said. “I think you can be in a job for too long.”

However, in an interview with the Sunday Times, the 64-year-old Agnew alluded to certain frustrations. “I hate ‘batter’,” he said. “I always call a woman batsman a ‘batter’. But why can’t a man playing a man’s game be a ‘batsman’?”

Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) replaced the term “batsman” with the gender-neutral “batter” back in 2021, saying that cricket was “a game for all and this move recognises the changing landscape of the game in modern times”.

It is a terminology that has been adopted in the media, including at the BBC. “I just think it’s sad,” said Agnew. “Inclusivity’s great, but come on!”

Agnew, who is currently speaking around the country in an “Evening with Aggers” tour, also spoke about the 142 year history of the ‘Ashes’ contest between England and Australia. There has been a women’s ‘Ashes’ since 1998, following on from a name that first emerged in respect of the 1882-3 series between the England and Australia men’s teams.

“That doesn’t mean to say that the Ashes has to be the ‘Men’s Ashes’,” said Agnew, before asking if that was old fashioned and if he would look like a dinosaur. “People will call me an old fart, I suppose,” he said, before adding: “It’s an event. It happened. It’s not the ‘Men’s Battle of Hastings’, is it?”

BBC Sport Cricket commentator Jonathan Agnew ahead of day one of the second Ashes test match at Lord's, London

Agnew has been at the BBC for 33 years – PA/Mike Egerton

In discussing his departure later this year as cricket correspondent, Agnew also referenced the pressure of the job and “turning back from school runs, abandoning shopping trolleys in Tesco” and his love of Test cricket. “I can’t get excited by somebody’s move from the Delhi Daredevils to the wotsit,” he said. “If people are brought up thinking that that is what cricket is, that’s a real shame. The game has clearly changed a lot.”

In announcing his decision to stay on at TMS until at least 2029, but leave the correspondent’s job, Agnew earlier this month: “I am really delighted that I shall continue to present Test Match Special for the next four years. It is a unique programme of which I am immensely proud, and means so much to so many people.

“However, this does seem the right time for me to step back from my role as BBC cricket correspondent. This summer, my 34th in the post, will be my last. In a quickly changing cricket landscape it is time for fresh legs to cover the daily duties, leaving me to focus entirely on TMS.”

England bowler Kate Cross has claimed that the term batsman could be off-putting to girls. “It is just a word, of course. But it is a word which could potentially put a young girl off the sport because she feels like the door isn’t open for her,” she told The Cricketer.

“It, most likely, will not affect a young boy being called a ‘batter’, but it might affect a young girl being called a ‘batsman’.

“I grew up playing cricket in a boys’ team and I can tell you, the only thing I ever wanted was to feel accepted, and not stand out like a sore thumb because I was the only player with a ponytail sticking out of my cap.”

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