“I always thought it would be better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody.”
– The Talented Mr. Ripley
In the film based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel, Tom Ripley, a young man down on his luck and making a meagre living as a men’s room attendant in Manhattan, manages to con his way into a hedonistic, moneyed European lifestyle through the expediency of a borrowed dinner jacket, a case of mistaken identity, and a talent for three things: lying, pretending to be somebody else, and forging signatures.
As his lies grow ever more convoluted, his desperation to maintain the world he has inveigled himself into and the identity he has built for himself rises accordingly. Morality becomes blurred, murder becomes a means and everything becomes subservient to maintaining the illusion. In this, he is successful. While there are a few instances where his luck and ingenuity almost desert him, he is never caught.
Adrian Shankar’s luck seems to have run out for good last week, when the Worcestershire batsman had his contract terminated because of doubts surrounding the documents he presented to the club upon signing with them.
While many inconsistencies have emerged regarding his background, with questions being asked about certain dubious achievements – junior tennis prodigy, member of the Arsenal youth academy, prolific run-scorer in a Sri Lankan T20 tournament over the winter which conveniently no-one can find any records for – it is the mystery surrounding his age that seems to have landed him in hot water, and which has now led Worcestershire to contact the police.
Shankar, studying Law at Queen’s College, Cambridge, first played for the university cricket club in 2002, and captained it in 2003 and 2004. His figures were modest, with a score of 143 against Oxford being the only time he ever made more than 40, and marked him out as being of no exceptional ability.
On his profile page on the university’s website, his year of birth is given as 1982. However, when he signed for Worcestershire in May of this year, he presented the club with a photocopy of his passport which gave his year of birth as 1985, and 26 was the age duly mentioned in the club’s press release announcing their new star acquisition.
Shankar is supposed to have come to the club’s attention over the winter, where he is purported to have played in the Sri Lankan Mercantile League T20 tournament in which he was leading run-scorer and averaged over 52. According to Shankar’s Twitter feed, now deleted, he does seem to have been abroad this winter, and the league in question does seem have existed, and matches do seem to have been played.
However, it was a breakaway tournament unsanctioned by the Sri Lankan cricket board, and with players unpaid and legal proceedings ongoing, the league’s website has been taken down, conveniently making it impossible to check Shankar’s scores or whether he even participated in the tournament at all.
Shankar is not the first cricketer to lie about his age. Basil d’Oliveira also pretended to be three years younger when he signed for Worcestershire back in 1964, to help sway the England selectors. In the subcontinent, the practice of fudging a cricketer’s age is allegedly rife.
But what has made this particular episode rather more serious is that the ECB awards incentives to counties fielding young England-qualified players and Shankar, by giving his age as 26, seems to have slipped in under the threshold. It is perhaps concern at possible accusation of complicity in this that has prompted Worcestershire to report the matter to West Mercia Police.
And thus has ended a ten-year cricket career, in which he has played 2nd XI cricket for Middlesex, Lancashire and Worcestershire along with his early appearances for Bedfordshire School and Cambridge University, and with the odd game of club and Minor County cricket along the way. It is a path he now seems to have been helped along with the aid of untruths, unverifiable achievements and spurious testimonials. The latter includes a glowing quote from Cambridge coach Chris Scott in the Lancashire press release in which he is supposed to have called Shankar the best batsman seen in the Cambridge side since John Crawley – Lancashire removed the quote when Scott called them to protest he had said no such thing.
One does wonder why Shankar was ever made Cambridge captain at all, especially given Scott’s recent damning assessment that the bowling he faced during his innings of 143 was “unbelievably bad” (amusingly, the bowling attack contained future England and current Middlesex player, Jamie Dalrymple).
I would be lying if I said there was a part of me that doesn’t admire Shankar’s chutzpah. His record as a cricketer is average, sure, but one could point at more than a few players of underwhelming ability currently treading water in the county system; the difference being of course that they may not have used subterfuge to get there.
Would Shankar’s lies have been more excusable if he had been more talented? D’Oliveira’s dissembling about his age seems a very small thing in the light of the great significance of what he went on to achieve. If Shankar had somehow bloomed as a batsman and scored several hundreds for Worcestershire before his lies caught up with him, would we have found it easier to forgive him?
A young man – though not quite so young as we were led to believe – of average ability, but of above-average intelligence, it seems that in the end Adrian Shankar seems not to have been smart enough.
We all of us have dreams. Plainly some of us will go to greater lengths than others to achieve them.