x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Breaking with tradition

It warmed my heart to note that the England cricket team's media relations office is now apparently run by Americans.

Americans and cricket do not, in general, mix well.

Only this week, Andy Roddick, the tennis player, claimed that cricket could not be called a sport because it is played in "formal pants". Yet as an America football fan (he supports the Nebraska Cornhuskers) Roddick is happy to endorse a sport played in spangled hosiery. Go figure.

I do not relish this frosty relationship and would love to see more Americans involved in cricket, providing they are not Allen Stanford.

So it warmed my heart to note that the England cricket team's media relations office is now apparently run by Americans. Specifically, by the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination of President John F Kennedy. These were the guys behind the theory of the single bullet that passed through JFK's neck, bounced around inside John Connolly, the Governor of Texas, then mysteriously re-appeared on a hospital gurney.

When England's Matt Prior appeared to smash a dressing room window at Lord's this week, after being run-out against Sri Lanka, the team spokesman was quick to offer an explanation: a single glove, thrown by Prior into his kitbag, had bounced off said kitbag and ricocheted into some spare bats resting against a lower windowpane, causing one to fall - upwards - and break the glass in the upper windowpane.

Now, some conspiracy theorists may well prefer the barmy fairy tale that Prior, a human and competitive being who was angry at being run-out by a team-mate, did something impetuous. Well, tough. It was the magic glove, and that is an end to the matter. Well, it was until they backtracked and Prior accepted a misconduct charge.

What a shame. I rather like the idea of living in a world in which our sporting icons can do no wrong; a world in which every aggressive or foolish act by an athlete is rationalised by an explanation which may or may not defy the laws of physics. Imagine what the England cricket team's press office might say about these moments of sporting infamy:

- Eric Cantona's kung-fu kick (1995). The Manchester United talisman, feeling hungry after his sending-off, approached Crystal Palace fans to seek advice on suitable bistros around Selhurst Park.

He then slipped on a damp patch of grass, his leg travelling in an upwards trajectory towards the chest of a Palace fan. He then accidentally punched him. Twice.

- Frank Rijkaard spits in Rudi Voller's hair (1990). Speaking Dutch can be a health hazard at the best of times, what with all that rolling phlegm at the back of the throat. Speak it while breathing heavily due to physical exertion, and some mucus is bound to fly out. Twice.

- Roy Keane snaps Alf-Inge Haaland leg in half (1997). With the Riverdance craze at its peak, proud Irish folk were susceptible to launching into frenzied, foot-stomping jigs at any moment. It was unfortunate, but hardly Keane's fault, that the Norwegian's knee was in the way.

- Ricky Ponting breaks a television at the Cricket World Cup (2011). Look, we've all done it. You come in after being run-out against lowly Zimbabwe, toss your protective box into your kit bag, and it ricochets into a flat-screen TV. Why is that so hard to believe?

Actually, that last one is not even made up.

Sounds like the Warren Commission is also running Cricket Australia. Either that, or we need to make kit bags much less bouncy.


Friendly outcome for Aamer would make a refreshing change

On the subject of media management, Mohammad Aamer’s recent turnout for a village cricket team in England was a stroke of accidental genius.

The Pakistan international, who is serving a five-year ban from all forms of the game for alleged “spot-fixing”, turned out for Addington, a club of just 20 members which plays in the Surrey Cricket League, Division One.

He made no attempt to hide his identity, nor was he paid for the match against St Luke’s, although his team-mates did buy his tea. Well, he had made 60 and took four for nine in seven overs. Not bad for a debutant.

The ICC has launched an investigation into whether Amir breached his ban, just as it did when he played in Rawalpindi in January – although no action was taken on that occasion, as it was a friendly.

Whatever the outcome of this investigation or the pending criminal court case, I am genuinely delighted to hear that Aamer is still playing the game for fun. It reflects well on both the man and the game.

In an era of mammoth Indian Premier League wages and the lingering shadow of corruption, the idea of Aamer kitting up for a plate of sandwiches is a perfect tonic.

It is also a reminder that Aamer will be just 24 when his ban expires: young enough for a great career, particularly if he maintains the skills which thrilled cricket fans.

For this reason, let’s hope the ICC uses its discretion and allows him to play for Addington again, if he chooses. If you disagree, you must be very hard-hearted indeed.

Either that, or you bat for Old Isleworthians & Heston. They face Addington today.