A cricket film

Published : Sep 20, 2003 00:00 IST

Wondrous Oblivion is, for all the title suggests a sentimental story, a cricket film. It will cost four million pounds sterling by the time it hits the screens and, in the way of such films, it uses the game as a symbol for the racial tensions in Britain in the 1960s.


SEPTEMBER 1: Wondrous Oblivion is, for all the title suggests a sentimental story, a cricket film. It will cost four million pounds sterling by the time it hits the screens and, in the way of such films, it uses the game as a symbol for the racial tensions in Britain in the 1960s. Still, it is a welcome addition to the small number of mentions cricket receives from the cinema industry. You may remember The Final Test in which Len Hutton plays himself, rather woodenly if my memory is correct, and brief excerpts in The Lady Vanishes when Basil Rathbone phones home to ask for the score from the Test match with the immortal words: "You can't be in England and not know the Test score." The producers of this new film clearly know the score. Rather than get the great cricketers to play themselves, they use actors to play the parts of Gary Sobers and Frank Worrell and also call up Phil Simmons to coach the actors. W. G. Grace is in the film too although it will spoil his surprise entrance to tell just how, 90 years after his death, he reaches out to cinema audiences.

September 2: One of the difficulties for Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, is that, having kept so much in the background, he can never put his own case now that other cricket people are springing out of the woodwork to attack him. So I will act as his defence lawyer. The Oval game is his 50th in charge of England and his figures are better than any of the five coaches since Micky Stewart takes over in 1986. Just in case you forget Stewart is succeeded by Keith Fletcher, Ray Illingworth takes charge when Fletcher is sacked and David Lloyd is coach until the end of the 1999 World Cup. Since his arrival in September 1999, Duncan Fletcher wins almost 37 per cent of his matches: the full figures for 49 Tests before The Oval Test are 18 wins, 18 losses, 13 draws. In England's previous 50 games they win only 12 with 19 defeats and 19 draws, which results in 24 per cent victories. So Fletcher has nothing to be ashamed of even though the likes of John Bracewell, now leaving Gloucestershire to take charge of New Zealand, say he does a poor job. Perhaps, like Napoleon, Bracewell believes "never praise your enemies." He will be in charge of New Zealand when they tackle England next summer. It will be the right occasion to see who is able to back his words with deeds.

September 3: It is the Alec Stewart week as he makes his final appearance in a Test at The Oval. Of course his career is full of oddities, anomalies and contradictions but how is this for a coincidence. When Stewart makes his debut for Surrey against Gloucestershire at Chelmsford in 1981 aged 18 he is out in both innings to one David Graveney, then a slow left arm bowler, now chairman of selectors and in part responsible for allowing Stewart to complete his well-rehearsed finale on his home ground.

September 4: Meet a cricketer, or a former player and he will talk nothing but his daily fitness routine so I am impressed to see umpire Simon Taufel, 32, running round the pitch after play. Umpires need fitness and particularly concentration and Taufel is one of the best so his regime obviously helps. Later this evening I run into umpire Venkat and ask him about his way of keeping trim. "I get up at six o'clock each morning and go for a walk lasting 50 minutes. Then I go back to the hotel and do 40 minutes of yoga." So is there no need for him to follow the Taufel pattern of after-play running? "I think I am as fit as he is," says Venkat with a typical cheeky grin. "I invite him to my room and show him the yoga positions I use. I am sorry to say that he cannot begin to get near."

September 5: Jack Bannister, once a Warwickshire fast bowler, then a radio commentator, TV pundit and newspaper cricket writer and 20 years ago, one of the first men to take up the tiny Tandy computer — which is then the friend of all travelling reporters — is known to be lucky. But, how about this for a piece of good fortune? Jack parks his car across the road from The Oval so that he can make his early morning comments for talkSPORT, the radio station that also boasts Geoff Boycott among its experts, and is making his way to the ground when a car pulls up near him. The window is wound down and an arm comes out. "Here you are," says a voice from somewhere inside the car. "It's a ticket for today's game. I don't want it. You can have it." Jack protests that he does not need a ticket, but the ticket holder will not listen to excuses and thrusts a 15-pound sterling ticket into his hand. Jack crosses the road bemused at this turn of events when he hears a voice asking: "Got any spare tickets, mate?" It is a ticket tout who turns out to be ready to pay the face value for Jack's newly acquired ticket. Jack realises that is his lucky day but as he walks off he hears the tout shout: "Hey, wait a minute. This isn't an old age pensioner's ticket, is it?" Jack, who has been receiving his pension for several years, assures him that it is not. "The world's luckiest pensioner though, that is sure," he grins.

September 6: One of the reasons for the success of the South African side is the meticulous planning that goes into every part of their day so it is no surprise to see them in a supermarket buying a snack just after practice. But there is more to this shopping expedition than walking up to the shelves and picking off your fancy. As each man arrives at the check-out to pay for the food, it is scrutinised by one of the management to ensure that it is the right and proper sustenance for an international athlete. Judging from the comments it appears that only a tuna and sweetcorn sandwich passes the food test.

September 7: Not everyone in the world thinks that Steve Harmison is the greatest all-round cricketer or even the finest of all fast bowlers but there is one man who can find no fault in the tall Durham quick. His greatest admirer is one Ian Botham who rarely completes a commentary stint with Sky Sport without praising Harmison's ability, saying that he ought to be opening the bowling and even that his batting is far better than the captain, the selectors and the general public think. I have it on good authority that Harmison is embarrassed by these paeans of praise but they continue unabated. Botham's other regular theme concerns Andrew Caddick who gets wickets more cheaply in the second innings than in the first. So when the Sky scorer discovers that Harmison takes his wickets more cheaply in the first innings than in the second, he leaves the information lying next to Botham's seat certain that it will form a major part of the great man's next stint. Sadly, for reasons known only to Botham, these statistics are ignored. Richie Benaud, another TV great, has a more balanced view of life. When I drop in on the Channel 4 party to mark the end of the summer Benaud tells me that he plans to continue working for at least another two years both for Channel 4 in this country and Channel 9 in Australia. "I have been encouraged by Channel 9 to believe that I will be offered another contract when my present deal runs out," he tells me. Why does he carry on, aged 72, with a lovely home in France ready for his retirement and a few dollars in the bank. (I hear his last contract with Channel 9 was for a million Australian dollars spread over four years; enough to provide him with a glass of wine or two and perhaps even a slice of bread each day). So I can only come to one conclusion. Benaud loves his work too much to give it up.

September 8: End of the Test series with a victory to England; end of the diary for a while. In many ways this summer has been England's worst. Bad selections, bad decisions on the spur of the moment, and inevitably, bad results. In my opinion all those in charge have a fair run; it is time for new faces.

David Graveney wants to continue as chairman of selectors; Rod Marsh must take over. Duncan Fletcher may go on but in the background Tom Moody, who recently signs a new contract with Worcestershire, is waiting for the nod to be the new England coach.

Brave action is needed. And soon.

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