December 26, 2009

Who needs heroes?

Cricketers as objects of worship

The name is Ton. Ath.Er.Ton © Cricinfo Ltd
Heroes. Everyone has heroes, don’t they? Along with the fictional XI, naming your cricket hero is a staple of cricket chat. For some it is Ian Botham, for others Dennis Lillee, Sachin Tendulkar, or possibly even Gareth Batty (though this might qualify as a fetish rather than hero worship). Small boys crowd the boundary boards in the hope that one of the Morkels will scribble an illegible something on their mini-bat, and grown men go into bookshops and emerge with Alastair Cook’s autobiography (presumably in a plain brown envelope).

But not me. I am ethically opposed to the idea of hero worship in cricket. For a start, the art of manipulating a small leathery object, whilst capable of great heights of refinement, weighs in pretty low on the bravery scale. Keith Miller’s famous quote involving Messerschmitts and arses is always worth an airing. If Miller was to be considered a hero, it should be for the things he did whilst perched in a cockpit, not his feats with a bat in the middle of a green field on a pleasant summer’s evening.

And it isn’t just that professional cricket involves no extremes of danger. This question of heroes goes right to the heart of why we watch cricket and why I have never bought an autobiography. A hero is someone you admire, indeed revere, as a person. When watching cricket, it is not Alastair Cook the man I am interested in. I care not where he went to school, what his first pet was called or whether he prefers low-fat margarine to butter. Without wishing to be rude, I don’t care what he thinks.

I am only interested in him in so far (and for as long) as he bats. On the field, he is playing the role of Alastair Cook, performing in a long tradition of public theatre. How he uses his bat, how he stands at the crease, how he runs, all these things taken together form the Alastair Cook of the mind’s eye. VVS Laxman may have some interesting things to say on global warming, but to be honest, I’m only really interested in his wrists and their neurological wiring. To say VVS Laxman is my hero would be a little like saying Hamlet is my hero.

And if you hit Ricky Ponting with a bouncer, does he not bleed? To idolise a man because you like the way he plays the pull shot is rather creepy. Ricky gets nervous, goes to the toilet, doesn’t remember where he left his car keys, snores, picks his nose from time to time and may even watch The X Factor. He is as human as the rest of us, so to revere him as a hero is unfair, particularly since it usually involves some disappointment or effigy burning later on, when he shows some human frailty. Personally I would never be so unkind to someone as to call them my hero.

Of course, I am a hypocrite of the first order and I can therefore break my own rules. Please take off your irony spectacles and unplug your sarcasm detector. This is not a joke. For someone who watched his first Test match in 1986 and spent much of the next 20 years hiding behind the sofa whenever England took the field, there are three little syllables that produce instant equilibrium. Ath.Er.Ton. It is a sound as comforting as a hot, sugary cup of tea or a steaming slice of fruit cake. Whenever I heard that sound crackling from the radio, I knew everything would be all right.

Sir Michael (it’s only a matter of time) shrugged off his colossal misfortune in becoming England captain at precisely the worst point in the country’s cricket history. Without mentioning his crippling back pain, he dug his inept colleagues out of a hole again and again and again. He didn’t chuck it all in, he didn’t whinge and he didn’t stop doing what he did. He was the only constant in a decade of chaos. And he just happens to be one of the few ex-cricketers whose words are worth reading. So if I had a hero, which of course I don’t, it would be Athers.

And I would be remiss not to mention the real heroes. Who are they? The people who read this blog. I’m talking about all those brave, misguided souls who, having scoured everything else there is to read on Cricinfo, including the adverts, finally click, more in hope than expectation, to reach this page. I’m talking about you, dear reader. Those of you have clicked once, give yourself a hug. Those who have clicked twice, your medal is in the post. More regular readers should probably increase their medication.

But whoever you are, whatever you’re doing, I’d like to wish you all a Merry Christmas.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on December 30, 2009, 17:36 GMT

    Dude, u r bloody hillarious... a modern day Wodehouse in cricket writing.

  • testli5504537 on December 29, 2009, 12:00 GMT

    There was a time when Javed Miandad was my hero.I admired his tenacity.Who could ever forget that last ball six in Sharjah,or all those double hundreds and all those great innings under pressure ? But once Miandad retired and started to talk about Cricket on the media,I was sorely disappointed in my hero.He is not all that pleasant a character.

  • testli5504537 on December 29, 2009, 2:27 GMT

    I think this is genius. No cricket player can be a hero, because they are human. But if there was a candidate for hero-dom then it should be Athers. Massive player.

  • testli5504537 on December 28, 2009, 18:32 GMT

    It would be remiss to ignore Paul Clarke's comment that Athers had it easy because he was an opening batsman. Isn't it odd that openers usually average lowest among the top six (we might have to exclude today's rediculously flat pitches)? Facing up to a fresh Walsh, Ambrose or Bishop would be no walk in the park. #'s 3-5 are indebted to the opener who taked the shine off the ball and was charged with the not-too-simple task of setting up a decent foundation. And just so you know Paul, as an opener myself i can tell you that the new ball does pace(though maybe not quite as late). The opener's job is easy? Try it for half a season!

  • testli5504537 on December 28, 2009, 15:11 GMT

    Atherton has but one peer as a cricket writer, i.e. Gideon Haigh. He has none as a Sky commentator.

    However, whilst I do regard him as a very fine cricketer, I think his reputation far exceeds his achievements. The reason why could probably be summed up in one word: Johannesburg.

    Elsewhere we have a man bagged 19 times by McGrath, who scored the majority of his hundreds against the most ordinary sides of the 1990s. As another poster says, Graham Thorpe was more reliable. I'm sure his average is badly affected by the fact that he had to face FOUR different new-ball attacks that must all rank amongst the ten most fearsome in the history of Test cricket *(Aus, WI, Pak and SA). For that reason I tend to ignore it when assessing his relative greatness.

    Certainly not as retrospectively over-rated as Mike Gatting, but far from being the one great English batsman of the 1990s either.

  • testli5504537 on December 27, 2009, 23:52 GMT

    @Anonymous ref Ricky comments. Yes he does,that's precisely the point the writer is making. As for the article though ..I like Athers a lot, but I think you have rose coloured specs. Athers did dig England out of a hole, but only 3 or 4 times ever. His batting average is only marginally better than Graeme Hick's. Ather's had the massive advantage of facing the new ball, which, in the 90's was not the problem. The 40 over old reverse swinging ball was the problem - which nobody outside a select few in Pakistan and New Zealand seemed to know anything about (Chris Pringle..ahem). Ather's is a great commentator, and was a good captain. He is more incisive in his comments than Gower (and Gower's not bad) and doesn't go on and on like Nasser "In My time with Duncan Fletcher...yaaaaawn". So he is a great bloke, good writer, good broadcaster. I hope he gets a knighthood (or at least an OBE) but Englands Saviour in the 90's? That is going to take a bit more proof for me.

  • testli5504537 on December 27, 2009, 19:23 GMT

    Brilliantly written

  • testli5504537 on December 27, 2009, 17:37 GMT

    Even though Sachin is my hero, strangely enough, i impersonated Michael Atherton...he was my inner coach. Wish you were there in the middle for a few more years. All the best to you, Sir!

  • testli5504537 on December 27, 2009, 16:09 GMT

    Nice one (on Athers). He's a gentleman too, and knows in his blood how the game should be played, witness his article in the Times the other day about electronic vs. human umpiring. And thanks to all ye at the team for producing these informed and informative, as well as constantly cheerful and often funny, commentaries. I do not know how you do it, typing in 'no run, better ball, on a length just outside off, but deceived him into coming out to it, not exactly dancing, and as it moves late off the seam Prior has to reach wide for the take', &c. on every ball.

    My Scottish pupils love it when I am glued to Cricinfo during lessons, because they know they can get away with murder the while. Happy Hogmagandy then, next week.

  • testli5504537 on December 27, 2009, 14:59 GMT

    Dear sir, Cricket or any other sport demands high level of skill and energy.If you face cricket ball at fastest speed,One would know why there is heroes in sport.

    mr Chandu

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