Host Darryl Woods discusses the show’s origins, changing lives in Oxfordshire and the former England captain who let his mask slip…
They say never meet your heroes. But for Darryl Woods he’s doing it, albeit virtually, every week on his chat show, The Masked Cricketer, and raising thousands of pounds for charity along the way.
A man used to wearing a lot of hats – he coaches Oxfordshire U18s, plays for the county’s over 50s side and chairs a couple of cricket committees – Darryl, like many of us, found himself with a lot of time on his hands in 2020.
Keen to do something to keep the local community engaged, last April he decided to launch The Masked Cricketer – a light-hearted chat show featuring local players in disguise.
Fast forward 12 months and the show has grown beyond recognition, attracting high-profile guests from around the globe and generating over £3,000 for The Lord’s Taverners, the UK’s leading youth cricket and disability sports charity.
And it all started thanks to lockdown, his wife Sarah and a reality TV show.
“We [Darryl and his wife Sarah] were sat in the garden in the nice weather and I said to my wife ‘would you fancy me coaching you and we’ll film it?'” Darryl explained. “She’s never played cricket before in her life! We went from close catching off a Crazy Catch to bowling to even playing the ramp shot – she really enjoyed it! We did 10-minute videos on Facebook day by day and it grew over a period of time.
“Then I began wondering ‘what else can we do?’ My wife is a reseller, and she was on a YouTube programme called ‘The Masked Reseller’ which got me thinking why can’t I do this with cricketers? I’d seen The Masked Singer and how brilliantly bad it was and thought I could do something similar with cricket – mask somebody up, ask them yes or no questions and then do a Q&A. It was all a bit of a laugh.”
Launched with modest ambitions, the show’s first guest was Oxfordshire U18 captain George Tait, with Darryl (later joined by co-host Kieren Bushnell) asking the questions and encouraging viewers to donate to his Just Giving page in support of The Lord’s Taverners and local charity, Oxfordshire Mind. However, everything changed when Mervyn Ramsay from The Lord’s Taverners made contact.
“We went from our U18 captain George Tait to the end of the series with [David] Gower, [Mike] Gatting and [Andy] Caddick,” laughed Darryl. “It was very surreal, very strange.
“We started with George, then [England U19’s] Ben Charlesworth and Linsey Smith from the England T20 team. We were keeping it local but also raising the ante each time. I knew Gloucestershire’s Jack Brooks would come on and it was our most watched show. We’d gone from 200 people to 5,000!
“Then The Lord’s Tavs came along and said they liked what we were doing and wanted to help. I said if you can get me Gower and Gatting, then no problem! It was very much tongue in cheek, and I didn’t think it would happen, but then it did.
“It was a surreal moment interviewing David Gower. It was bizarre, someone of that stature on something born out of having a bit of fun in lockdown when there was nothing else to do.”
Sir Alastair Cook, Jonathan Agnew, Test Match Special’s Daniel Norcross, Aussie bowler Merv Hughes… cricket personalities have been queuing up to don masks and appear on the show, and Darryl has enjoyed every minute of it.
“It’s really hard [to pick a favourite] because they’ve all been good in their own way,” mused Darryl. “We had Katherine Brunt and Nat Sciver on together and they had an argument on screen which was hysterical. In a nice way, no malice, but very funny!
“Ryan Sidebottom, he was very amusing, and him, Hoggy [Matthew Hoggard] and Allan Lamb has amazing masks on. With Aggers [Jonathan Agnew] my sister-in-law said it was like being at the bottom of her garden with a glass of wine listening to TMS. You’d ask him a question and then sit back and listen for 25 minutes!
“After [Aggers] we had the greatest English batsman Alastair Cook and then Charlotte Edwards did it in Australia when she was in quarantine. She wanted to carry on for hours because she was bored looking at four walls.
“It is great fun; I’m having a ball and I’ve enjoyed every single interview. Everyone who’s been on says they really enjoyed it too, we’ve had some lovely messages.”
But, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.
“We messed up when I forgot to tell local cricketer Max Mannering not to put his name on his screen,” he continued. “Usually I tell them to put ‘Masked Cricketer’ but I forgot and people were guessing his name inside 10 seconds!
“[Another time] Alastair Cook answered the first question with his voice – he says I didn’t tell him not to – and his voice is quite distinctive, so people guessed him quite quickly.
“And I made a mistake when I interviewed Matthew Hoggard, I asked him about his batting average and that was the wrong question… He got me right back and said ‘well, what’s your Test average?’ He was very good fun.”
However, despite the highs (and comical lows) of interviewing cricketing celebrities, for Darryl the greatest rewards have come off air.
“The biggest thing for me was when we did our charity game at Oxford Downs CC on August 31,” he said. “We got Gower and Gatting umpiring, Chris Tarrant turned up to watch his son Toby play, Gordon Kennedy was playing and Lloyd Scott, the guy who did the Three Peaks in his deep sea diving suit.
“It was an amazing game and the Masked Cricketers managed to win [against The Lord’s Taverners] off the penultimate ball. We even managed, due to Covid, to get 250 people watching and raised over £2,000 through programme sales, a raffle and refreshments.
“The biggest story though was the story of Crew, who’s got cerebral palsy. When he was a baby, they said he wasn’t going to walk or talk, and he’s defied it all – he’s running round like a goodun’. He was there watching his cousin George Tait, who captained the Masked Cricketers, and by the end of the day he had the appetite and wanted to play cricket. That’s got to be the biggest highlight.
“There’s other things like that. There was a wheelchair-bound lad called Alistair who was doing a virtual bike ride from his house in Oxford to Lord’s, about 66 miles. I happened to be invited to play for the Tavs in a game where Matthew Hoggard, Andy Caddick, and others were playing, and I managed to get them to do a video message for him. The video of him watching those, he’s in tears and laughing.
“That would never have happened without our little show, or without lockdown.”
Looking to the future, Darryl has plans to raise even more money and awareness for The Lord’s Taverners, starting with another cricket match and a daring stunt to take the show to new heights.
“The Lord’s Tavs want to get their own back so we’re having a sequel match, fingers crossed, on 31 May at Oxford Downs CC,” Darryl said. “Charlotte Edwards has said she’ll skipper the Masked Cricketers, Ryan Sidebottom and Simon Jones said they’ll play in it, and Daniel Norcross will play and commentate. Even Hoggy might be there with his BBQ! That’s the plan, anyway. If we have to cancel, then we’ll rearrange for later in the year.
“Before the first charity match, I also said if we got passed 1,000 members on Facebook, I’d jump out of a plane because it’s one of my worst fears and we achieved that quite quickly,” he continued nervously. “I’ve not been able to do it yet, but I will.
“Aggers said he’d be there… to pass me a cheque, not to catch me! He even told me an airfield to do it at in Leicestershire. I don’t know why I said it, but it will raise some more funds!”
And as for the future of the show, he has a few names on his bucket list.
“I know Kieren would definitely say Bumble, he’s his idol,” Darryl said. “There’s a couple for me. Boycott or Botham because they were people I admired when I was watching cricket in the 70s and 80s. And Alan Knott, I still think he’s the best ‘keeper we ever had! We have a running joke about not wanting Ricky Ponting on, but he would be brilliant. All these other people have so why not Ricky?
“All I’ll say is we’ve got a great one lined up for the last episode of the series on April 1. It’s a real classic and we’re looking forward to it!”
Click here to watch The Masked Cricketer.
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