England September 15, 2012

Getting Freddie a new hobby

But will it be enough to shut him up? Probably not

Sometimes when watching the news you can become a little pessimistic about the future of the human race. Coming up with new ways to be angry with one another seems to be the only thing we're any good at. That, and selling stuff.

And then you read a story that restores your faith in humanity. Take a bow homo sapiens. We've just invented an automatic bat-seasoning machine.

I haven't seen it in action but I imagine it to be an enormous puffing fairground contraption, featuring a cricket ball on a string whizzing around at the speed of Steyn, smashing repeatedly into a whirring carousel of virgin willow, to the tune of a steam-powered pipe organ version of Soul Limbo. Who wouldn't want to watch that? They should bring it along to liven up the tea interval at Test matches.

And I hope the people who brought us the automatic bat-seasoning machine are not going to stop there. How about an automatic glove-wearing-in device? We all know what it's like to pull on a pair of shiny new batting gloves that are more dazzling than Tom Cruise's teeth and so creaky you feel like an abominable snowman with arthritis when you try to grip the bat.

So how to get that "worn all summer and left to fester in cricket bag over the winter" look? First, the gloves could be hung from a clothes line moving slowly through a greenhouse designed to accurately recreate the climate of the Amazon rainforest. Then the dripping mitts could be dunked (and readers who have just had their breakfast might want to skip ahead a couple of paragraphs) in a vat of sweat.

The standard service would involve ordinary sweat, perhaps the excretions of nervous politicians or Wall Street traders, but for an extra fee, you could have your mitts marinated in Trott-juice or even (for platinum customers only) dunked in Tendulkar-essence. Your new gloves would arrive just as you like them: grubby, flexible and with their own unique unholy stench, so you don't have to break them in.

And while we're in the mood for cricket technology, what about a device to find new hobbies for Andrew Flintoff? All he has to do is punch a big red button and a random outdoor activity will be announced by a computer programmed to sound like David Lloyd.

"Ho ho, you'll love this one Fred. Today you're goin' kayaking backwards up the Nile whilst learning to play the bagpipes!"


"Morning Fred. Get yer gravity boots on son, you're off to play moon badminton!"

Flintoff, from what I can tell, is an extrovert, an unfortunate, but largely harmless species who need continual stimulation otherwise they become bored (in this respect, they are very much like puppies.) Freddie has plenty of money and plenty of free time, so sure, why not go naked hang-gliding or volcano abseiling or freestyle lumberjacking. It's a big planet and there's plenty of excitement to be had on it.

But I'm not sure it's excitement that Freddie wants.

"Mom, mom, look at me!" cries the child who's just mastered the tricky art of hanging upside down from a tree. But if no one's looking, it's not quite the same. So Freddie can't just take up boxing. He has to be filmed taking up boxing, for a two-part documentary.

"I have a long road ahead and a lot of work in front of me. The stakes are high."

They aren't that high though really, are they? Win or lose, you'll still get a documentary out of it. And, to be honest, why would I want to watch Freddie boxing badly when I could turn over and watch proper boxers boxing properly? Equally, why would I want to listen to Andrew Strauss' views on the European Single Currency or watch Michael Vaughan dance? Take the "cricket" out of "famous cricketer" and what have you got left?

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England