Cricketing Computer Games: Test Match Special - First Test, Day One - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Cricketing Computer Games: Test Match Special - First Test, Day One

Chris Morley looks at the history of cricketing computer games.

As we digest the ongoing Boxing Day Test match against South Africa, and look back on a year which saw England win the Cricket World Cup, thanks to a famous super over victory against New Zealand, as well as vice-captain & batsman Ben Stokes getting his hands on the Sports Personality Of The Year award for his part in the on-field heroics, has there ever been a better time to take cover at the pavilion end & consider the often overlooked history of the virtual answer to this most English of sports, containing as it does lunch, drinks & tea breaks as part of a day's play? Whichever one of those you happen to be having at the moment, feel free to peruse!

Fittingly enough we begin with a look at player-endorsed efforts, Graham Gooch's Test Cricket  released for the BBC Micro, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum & Amstrad among others in 1985.

Dedicated Spectrum magazine CRASH would acclaim it as,
"The best cricket simulation yet on the spectrum!"
Hollow praise perhaps as it was the only one available at the time!

Two modes of play aim to give the curious virtual batsman the chance to experience top class cricket without having to squeeze into whites. Arcade letting the player control the action & move around the crease, while Simulation allows for selection of tactics by the player but the actual batting & fielding is controlled by the computer itself.

Conversely, the Your Sinclair magazine would criticise the game for unrealistic run rates & the lack of ability to adjust fielding settings!

The man who endorsed it enjoyed an incredibly successful real-life playing career, finishing in 2000 as the second highest run scorer for his country & the most prolific across first class & limited overs matches for club Essex, and England as a right handed batsman & medium bowler.

Within two years of the release of that first effort, developers Audiogenic would return to the field of play with Graham Gooch's All Star Cricket exclusively for the Commodore & boasting better graphics.

It coincided with a worrying slump in form for Gooch, having asked to be excused from an England tour of Australia and then not securing a place in the squad for a Test series against Pakistan. Having returned to favour he would then play a part in what is popularly known as the Summer Of Four Captains, shorthand for a disastrous run against a touring West Indies team in 1988, during which, as you may have guessed, four different captains were used across the five Test matches! Cricketing Bible Wisden later said of the whole sorry mess that,
"The morale and reputation of English cricket has seldom been as severely bruised as it was during the 1988 Cornhill Insurance Test series against West Indies".
Wisden itself was founded in 1864 by John Wisden, a year after retiring following spells as a right handed batsman & right arm underarm bowler for Sussex, Kent & Middlesex, as well as being part of the first England team to tour Canada & the United States. One of his team-mates, Heathfield Harman Stephenson, had a part in the origins of the phrase “hat-trick”! After taking three wickets from three consecutive balls bowled, a collection was held among the crowd at Hyde Park in Sheffield for a match between the All-England Eleven for whom he was playing against Hallam in 1858 & he was presented with a hat for achieving the feat! He'd also later go on to captain the first England team to travel to Australia, around twenty years prior to the first Ashes series.

Back to Gooch we now go, though. The third & final game to bear his name- a hat trick, if you will- was Graham Gooch World Class Cricket for the Amiga & PC, which offered a choice of one day international or Test matches to be played. By now you could choose to fast, spin or swing bowl, with a full range of batting averages & other statistics available should you fancy virtually stepping into the scoring shoes of the late Test Match Special statistician Bill Frindall aka the Bearded Wonder, or his modern day successors Andrew Samson & Andy Zaltzman.

With the advent of the Mega Drive, Audiogenic then moved on to develop Brian Lara Cricket alongside Codemasters, with the endorsement of the West Indian left handed batsman & right arm leg break bowler who had recently managed to break records for the highest individual score in first class cricket among others for Warwickshire against Durham in snaffling himself 501 not out. Codemasters then bought out Audiogenic following the release of Brian Lara Cricket 96.

The '99 version for the original Playstation & PC featured commentary by the Test Match Special pairing of Geoffrey Boycott & Jonathan Agnew, with the game released under the title of Shane Warne Cricket in Australia.

From one favourite son of the Baggy Green to another, arguably the greatest the country ever produced.

Tru Blu Productions would release the first in the Don Bradman Cricket series for PC, Xbox 360 & Playstation 3 in 2014, “The Don” featuring on the cover posthumously, having passed away on February 25, 2001.

With a batting average of 99.94 its small wonder he's often heralded as one of the greatest ever players of the game. The News Chronicle of London went so far as to suggest that...
"As long as Australia has Bradman, she will be invincible. It is almost time to request a legal limit on the number of runs Bradman should be allowed to make."
And fittingly enough it's to a contest in which he was regularly allowed to terrorise England that we'll be turning to in our second innings, when we look at the Ashes Cricket series. A tantalising prelude to this year's Twenty20 World Cup if ever there was one!

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