Incorporating entertainment

Published : Jan 20, 2011 00:00 IST

It is good to see that an inventive mind like Graeme Swann's is rarely at rest and that, at the same time, he seems to have found the right balance between fun and friction with his bosses, writes Ted Corbett.

Now here is a thought for the New Year.

How long before a potential Test cricketer, international footballer or star of Rugby goes on trial for his ability to sing, dance or produce a rabbit out of a hat in front of a live audience?

It is not the new reality television but as 2011 takes shape it may be just around the corner.

Maybe this year, certainly not very far into the future as the trend towards sportsmen incorporating entertainment into their repertoire grows more common day by day. We will soon see Darren Gough and Mark Ramprakash winning Strictly Come Dancing as the opening shots in a worldwide trend.

The Kiwi Rugby giants have been performing their haka war dance ahead of international matches for almost a century, the Australians have recently brought their victory song out of its hiding place in their dressing room and now England's cricketers have gone on TV to show off their winning dance, The Sprinkler.

Can it be long before India re-enact scenes from the latest Bollywood movie, or Bangladesh perform their traditional dance, or West Indies bring a set of steel drums to the prize presentation and mark every victory with a specially composed calypso.

England's footballers already come out hand in hand with young mascots — a show biz sight which makes me feel slightly uncomfortable — but perhaps they could extend that act with a couple of conjurer's tricks.

Surely it is not beyond the imagination of jockeys to stage a few rodeo moments after riding a Derby winner.

I suppose it is too much to suggest that a man might be rejected by the selectors because his dancing, or singing, or tricks were not up to standard so long as there were enough dancing batsmen, voice-trained bowlers and rehearsed all-rounders to put on a show that would make-up for — for instance — an early finish or a rain break.

The Welsh, who used to be among the best Rugby players in the world, have always had a reputation as fine singers — the coal fields are full of choirs and their Eisteddfod festival of song attracts huge entries from many countries — but I once ran into a tirade from their snooker champion Ray Reardon, six times world champion, when I suggested that he ought to give the crowd a song at the end of his finals.

“Don't believe all the myths,” he came back at me. “I promise you I would empty the arena in minutes.”

Graeme Swann, the liveliest man in the England dressing room for years, has been praised for the introduction of the dance called The Sprinkler, but Paul Collingwood, another who is not afraid to express himself, is also nominated as one of its authors.

It is just a bit of fun at the moment, a relief from the relentless pressure of plane, hotel, practice and match that makes touring such a difficult time for cricketers.

Good to see that an inventive mind like Swann's is rarely at rest and that, at the same time, he seems to have found the right balance between fun and friction with his bosses.

An over-zealous Swann did not get along with Duncan Fletcher and, after touring South Africa as a young player spent years in the wilderness.

His antics on that trip were too much for Fletcher, a man who in his playing days was fond of a practical joke or three. (I would love to relate his most famous prank but this is a magazine read by shy young cricketers and specially gifted children who might resent the punch line.)

Once Fletcher had gone and Swann had achieved maturity it was time for him to return to the Test side and in the last two years he has become the best off-spinner in sight, a slip catcher of the highest class and a batsman with a destructive streak.

He is the automatic choice as spokesman for the team as he combines a neat way with words, enthusiasm and the ability to sum up the mood in his team. Besides he clearly loves the limelight. So, why not the spotlight?

Swann has learnt that cricket is the home of the most sensitive souls in sport. Mike Brearley, a man with an acute sense of right and wrong, returned to England after winning a series in Australia 4-1 to be told: “What is all this back-slapping and hugging. For heaven's sake get your chaps to cut it out. It is not cricket.”

Jim Laker, who was given no more than half a dozen handshakes after taking 19 wickets at Old Trafford in 1956 demonstrated what the game demanded; but life has changed a lot since those days and now anything goes.

Well, almost anything. Kevin Pietersen has not learnt where the line is drawn. Perhaps he just expresses himself badly, perhaps his brain goes into overdrive when he is being interviewed just as it does when he bats.

His suggestion after the Melbourne success ensured the Ashes remained in England's hands that he had brought it all about by his resignation caused a fair mix of hilarity and anger back home. It was so obviously ludicrous that there was no point in analysis but cricket's rulers thought otherwise in particular because his oddball thoughts on Twitter have also caused trouble.

England's cricketers have greater freedom to speak their minds that at any time in history but if they cannot control their own thoughts they may find censorship descends again.

It might even put an end to all hopes of an all-singing, all-dancing show after every match, every awards ceremony and every press conference. That would be a pity.

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