Saying the wrong thing at the wrong time

Published : Aug 14, 2004 00:00 IST

The Duke of Edinburgh, a man with a reputation for thinking 17th century as well as saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and probably to the wrong person, joins the Queen at Lord's where both teams are presented to her.


JULY 26. The Duke of Edinburgh, a man with a reputation for thinking 17th century as well as saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and probably to the wrong person, joins the Queen at Lord's where both teams are presented to her. He plays for the Taverners as quite a decent off-spinner at one time so you may think he understands something about the game, if not life. Instead he strides down the line of England cricketers until he comes to one of the training staff. "Keeping busy? Many injuries?" he asks. "Just Mark Butcher — he's got whiplash after a car accident." The Duke is puzzled. "What do you mean by whiplash?"

"Well, he was bashed by another car and he's got whiplash."

"I have no idea what you are talking about."

"He's got whiplash — a neck injury." "Neck injury eh? Why on earth didn't you say so in the first place." Further down the line the Duke sees the lady who is the team massage expert. "I bet they are lining up to be on your table," says the man who misses out on political correctness and a deal else in modern living. It is a good job the Duke does not ask for a massage. This same lady gives one player a very painful few minutes after he makes derogatory remarks about the duties of women.

July 27. I read the many e-mails from the England and Wales Cricket Board about their treatment of Andrew Flintoff's ankle spur and how their medical team are getting it right and calling the criticism of it is "ill-informed". Each time I recall the old phrase about protesting too much. Here is a big — indeed very big — special player who continues to perform with an injury which is being treated with cortisone injections which offer no cure for a condition which another fast bowler — the Aussie Glenn McGrath — needed an operation. I make no criticism of the way Flintoff has been treated by the medical people but I remember another lad from the same Lancashire stable who gets the wrong treatment — indeed no treatment at all until it is too late — and is now reduced to bowling two overs at a time for Rochdale in the Lancashire League. Different condition, different treatment; but I have the hope that Flintoff is not going to suffer Jon Henderson's fate. If he does I will be too sad to say anything; much less I told you so.

July 28. Viv Richards sometimes talks in a confusing way, often referring to "a particular individual" and generally twisting the English language around to make his point. But tonight he speaks straight from the heart about the one-time greatness of West Indies and his roots at a dinner when he is named as one of the five great Caribbean players of all time. In the last sentence of his speech he turns towards the West Indies team table and points dramatically.

"Just you guys remember where you are coming from," he booms.

"OK?" And off he strides. Later in the week he holds an audience outside their dressing room in front of a huge crowd of people and picks out two "particular individuals" to criticise their batting technique with a frankness that astounds the listeners. For instance: "You" — pointing — "what are you doing standing outside your crease?" At the week-end he adds that he has doubts about Brian Lara's ability to inspire the side. While I don't disagree with ex-chairman Richards' general remarks, there is another problem. Some of the West Indies players are raw, some are not good enough and the rest are being dragged down. As often happens with bad sides, all the luck is running against them too. The only escape, I'm afraid, is a long slog at the coal face like the one England suffer for the past 15 years.

July 29. England send the potentially powerful fast bowler Simon Jones, their reverse swing specialist, back to Glamorgan to bowl a few more overs since, in the words of David Graveney, the chairman of selectors "he looks in need of a gallop as the horse racing people say at Lord's." Good idea, seeing that there is an agreement among the counties to put players in their side, even if the game is started, if they are not wanted by England. Annoyingly, Glamorgan refuse to play Jones. Their match is against Hampshire, rivals for promotion to Division I, the pitch is likely to take spin — Hampshire have Shane Warne in their side — and they become a tight-knit unit since Jones leaves to be primarily an England man. It is easy to see their point of view and it is no use pretending that everything in county cricket must give way to England needs even if Tests and one-day internationals bring in a million pounds a year for each county. If county cricket is to be the breeding ground for Test players it must also have its own dignity and its own purpose. Glamorgan's unusual stand — almost universally damned — is bound to cause problems, not least because Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, is their coach before he joins England and David Morgan, their vice chairman, is chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board. I am glad to see what may be the end of this daft way of conducting cricket because it makes life difficult for scorers and statisticians who cannot fit a dozen players into databases designed for teams of 11 and get very irate when they are forced to shoehorn in No.12.

July 30. If Steve Harmison goes through a dip in form recently it is not surprising. While he is playing in the Lord's Test against West Indies he hears that his uncle Kevin is seriously injured after what the papers call an horrific accident in the aluminium smelting plant where he works. Kevin is trying to free some machinery when he slips through the crust on top of the molten metal and has to be rushed to hospital.

"It is lucky there are trained first aid staff around because that molten metal can be 1000 degrees. Kevin is obviously in great pain."

For a while Kevin is fighting for his life with the backing of Steve — the best known member of a closely knit family — who makes sure he is kept informed of his progress throughout the Test.

July 31. Fifteen years ago a great man of Pakistan cricket advises me to buy canal side property in Birmingham. Of course, I take no notice but now I understand why. The city is alive with new building, the canal side has houses, pubs and restaurants but still manages to be quiet even in the middle of the great industrial metropolis. The whole place smells of progress, the working man looks prosperous and the design makes for easy living. Why then is Edgbaston such an out-of-date arena in clear need of a coat of paint as well as a wash and brush up?

August 1. I will never understand cricketers if I live to be a thousand years of age. Matthew Hoggard, the thinking man's quick bowler, is asked what is his favourite pitch. I guess that the interviewer expects an answer about one with swing, or a rough surface or variable bounce. Not at all. "I like a flat deck — there's no pressure to take wickets," says the ultra professional Hoggard. It reminds me of a conversation with Eddie Hemmings, the off-spinner of ten years ago. I explain an over Vic Marks bowls to Lance Cairns. "Astonishing — two huge sixes and then Cairns is out off the last ball." Hemmings laughs.

"One for 12. I wish I'm hit for two sixes and take a wicket in every over I bowl." I also have trouble understanding the England strategy at times. Malcolm Ashton, a great friend of this column since he is a lovely guy who enjoys telling a tale or two, is the expert at the computer in the England dressing room as he records every ball, how the batsman plays it and where it goes. It is a job for someone dedicated to the task.

At the end of last summer Malcolm hears that his contract will not be renewed but throughout the winter and early this summer he tries to persuade the England and Wales Cricket Board that he will do the job better than an assistant coach who is designated to take over. Now he receives the final rebuff and has to start looking for another job which, aged 54, will not be easy.

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