Two autobiographies by well-known international bowlers have been making the news recently. One of them is by an Englishman whose career has undergone a startling renaissance from under-achieving pain in the arse to the giddy heights of Ashes winner, captain of his country, and number-one ranked bowler in the world, while still managing to be a pain in the arse; the other provides the answer to the perennial question: “What’s pissing off Indian cricket fans this week?” As regards the latter, I am looking at you, Shoaib Akhtar.
As with most answers to this question, it inevitably involves Sachin Tendulkar, and once again it seems to be a thing of little consequence that has the faithful dusting off the pitchforks and kindling the flaming torches. Shoaib’s autobiography, Controversially Yours, seems to have the Sachinistas in a tizzy because in it he mentions that during Pakistan’s 2007 series in India, The Little Master, suffering from tennis elbow and subjected to a stream of short balls, may have treated Shoaib’s bowling with some trepidation.
Less Pavlovian than knee-jerk, the reaction in the Indian press and on the Internet was perhaps depressingly predictable. Sachin Tendulkar, backing away from a delivery? Scared of fast bowling? How dare you. The outrage. Etc.
Put it this way, if a fast bowler does not regard the batsman in his sights as anything other than a mortal, flesh-and blood-obstacle between himself and a wicket which must be removed, then he should probably consider a career in landscape gardening. Great bowlers do not give a flying proverbial for reputations. “Sachin may be your god, but he is not mine,” Shoaib quite reasonably proffered in response to the hoo-ha. Quite so.
One does wonder how Sachin feels about all of this, but if I were him the tendency of millions of fans to take massive umbrage on my behalf over some imagined slight would scare the bejesus out of me; I’d probably never leave the house.
Another “tell all” has also made the news this week. Graeme Swann, like Shoaib a bit of a “character” (tolerable on the field when taking wickets; during an extended rain break in the dressing room perhaps not so much), has spilled the beans on life in the England camp and his career at Notts and Northants. In his book The Breaks Are Off, out this week, he informs us that KP was a shit captain, Kepler Wessels was a twat, and that he has no idea why Darren Gough tried to rearrange his face in the hotel toilets in Johannesburg during England’s South Africa tour of 1999-2000.
The extracts I’ve read are all entertaining stuff, but it’s an anecdote about Samit Patel that has proved the most startling.
During the ill-fated and best-forgotten Stanford series in the Caribbean in 2009, several members of the England team came down with a stomach bug, the kind of malady that ends up finding expression “from both ends” as Swanny helpfully explains. Patel claimed to be among the afflicted, and this was accepted until he was spotted exiting the hotel shop with an armful of “two dozen Bounty bars”, saying it was the only food he could keep down.
It’s easy to poke fun at Samit’s complicated and well-documented relationship with food, but this suggests to me a problem slightly more serious than a propensity for nicking an extra samosa from the hotel buffet of an evening. It suggests that Samit is a binge-eater and the various failed attempts to get him into shape now make a bit more sense – how else can one explain the otherwise baffling ineffectiveness of playing for one’s country as an incentive?
The most unfortunate result of this revelation is that Samit could well go on to score a Test match double hundred, take 20 wickets, captain his country, save a small child from a burning building and physically transform himself into a slab of muscle and sinew capable of taking on a cyborg assassin from the future like Sarah Connor in Terminator 2, and I’ll still always picture him with two dozen Bounty bars.
I hope they were at least of the dark chocolate variety; I can barely even manage one of the bastards.
Swann also documents a run-in he had with Patel at Notts back in 2008, accusing him of undermining him behind his back at a time when both men were vying for an England place, so I think it’s fair to say that this is one rift that’s not going to be mended any time soon.
Someday, it will surely be possible – as a sociological experiment and not just for the laughs – to put Graeme Swann and Shoaib Akhtar in a room together in some remote government laboratory in the Mojave desert and see which of them comes out alive. Just call me the cricket equivalent of Philip Zimbardo…