Cricketing Heroes – Not Just for One-Day
“John Lennon? Dreadful man.”
They say it’s never wise to meet your heroes. Put anyone up on a pedestal and you are only setting yourself up to be disappointed when confronted with a more prosaic, human reality.
And the higher the plinth, they might warn, the further the potential fall. I am still scarred from hearing my university lecturer describe his unfortunate encounter with the most iconic band member in musical history. Still, as he then went on to tell us with apparent certainty the whereabouts of Lord Lucan, perhaps we had got to that stage of the evening where beer was beginning to play a more significant role in the conversation.
But, thankfully, and in the clear light of day, there are exceptions.
As a writer – okay, and as a card-carrying cricket geek – I like to get to games early. I like to have a wander around the ground, breathe in the atmosphere as the crowd begins to grow. I like to watch the warm-ups, have a chat with my fellow tragics – as my wife might put it – and get a sense of the day ahead. And exchange a few words with the players, too.
I can think of no other group of sportsmen more accessible and yet more patient, friendly and willing to oblige their supporters than professional cricketers. It may be a cliché, but in more years of following cricket than I care to remember I genuinely cannot recall an impatient word to a fan, an autograph refused or, in more recent times, a selfie left untaken.
And that extends to some of the biggest names in the game. When Kumar Sangakkara turned out for Durham a couple of seasons ago, for example, before, during and after the match he signed, posed and shook hands with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of admirers, each wanting their moment with the great man, their own special memory to take away. It must have been wearing, but none were left disappointed.
I have a special memory too. In 2013 Ricky Ponting signed to play a few games for Surrey before jetting off to play in the inaugural Caribbean Premier League. A last chance to witness one of the all-time greats playing on British soil, I told my son, and we duly got our tickets for a Friday night T20 encounter with Sussex.
Also playing at the Oval that night was Glenn Maxwell, fresh from his million dollar, title-winning stint in the Indian Premier League with the Mumbai Indians.
“Mumbai fan?” he asked my son as he offered up his mini-bat for a signature.
“Yes,” said Douglas.
“Hold on then, I have something you might like.”
With that, he disappeared up the steps to the dressing room only to re-emerge with his IPL match shirt, fully signed by the championship winning squad. Sachin, Ponting, Malinga, a veritable Who’s Who of international cricket.
“Just one more to go,” he said as he added his signature to the bottom. “And there you go. Look after it!”
That shirt now hangs on Douglas’s bedroom wall, and Glenn Maxwell – and every team he plays for – has gained a fan for life. And so, if it hadn’t before, has cricket.
Last week Durham’s squad, having wrapped up victory over Lancashire in Southport on the hottest day of the year, were to be seen playing on the outfield with local youngsters after the game. It was a truly wonderful thing, all the more so because it was so unexpected, so unnecessary. Durham, the away side after all, owed nothing to anybody. Ben Stokes, Paul Collingwood et al had finished their day. They had entertained, claimed a close, hard-fought, tiring victory, and yet they chose to stay behind for a beer, a laugh and a knockabout. They won fans for life that day, too.
As we worry over attendances, particularly in the county game, and listen to that criticism of the ECB’s apparent lack of connection with the wider public, we must remember that one of the greatest assets of our game is the players themselves. Durham’s actions, like Maxwell’s, Sangakkara’s and all the others, are a statement of where we are and should always aspire to remain as a sport. As the lack of free-to-air cricket continues to bite, grabbing then keeping the attention of a new audience is ever more vital in the face of unremittingly stiff competition from elsewhere.
How cricket continues to be presented in our schools is crucial, as is the role of clubs in their communities big and small. But it is the excitement of meeting heroes that really clears the pathway to a young cricket fan’s heart. Especially when they truly justify their place on that pedestal.