June 12, 2007

The naming-after game

Cricket has some handsome, concrete ways of making sure this happens, naming parts of grounds after its greatest exponents

Michael Vaughan with the Wisden Trophy after England's series win against West Indies in 2004 © Getty Images
When players get their first international call-up, they tell the media, "It's every player's dream." But every player has another dream, less often expressed: to be remembered. And cricket has some handsome, concrete ways of making sure this happens, naming parts of grounds after its greatest exponents. So let's play the name game: is your favourite ex-player a stand, an end, a trophy, or a pair of gates?

A Trophy
John Wisden is a trophy, sort of. The cup that England retained at Old Trafford yesterday, by sealing the series against West Indies, is called the Wisden Trophy, although it brings to mind the Almanack as much as the tiny fast bowler who founded it.

Frank Worrell, West Indies' pioneering captain of the early 1960s, is a trophy - the one West Indies play Australia for, which at times has been cricket's unofficial world title fight. Lately, it has been a mismatch between the kings of the cricket world and the team ranked a humbling eighth. The trophy has two other claims to fame: it was designed by an ex-Test cricketer, the fast bowler turned jeweller Ernie McCormick, and the design incorporates a ball used in the Tied Test.

Viv Richards, a youthful 55, is a trophy too. West Indies and South Africa play for the Sir Vivian Richards Trophy, which is great, but a bit of a mouthful. Knighthoods just get in the way when it comes to naming things. The Viv Trophy started in 2000-01 and West Indies, alas, have never won it.

Half a trophy
The fashion in trophies is to name them after one great player from each side. Australia and India play Tests for the Border-Gavaskar Trophy. If the Sir Viv was called the Richards Trophy, it could have been a tribute to Barry too, and less of a mouthful into the bargain.

These days Test cricket is 45 different contests, and most of them don't have a name, which means there are plenty of opportunities. Will England and Zimbabwe one day play for the Flower-Flintoff Trophy?

One seventh of a trophy
Australia and New Zealand play an annual series of three one-day internationals for the Chappell-Hadlee Trophy. The stardom that such a name demands comes from three players: Ian Chappell, his brother Greg, and Sir Richard Hadlee. But both have other close relatives, who are also presumed included: Hadlee's father Walter, his brothers Dayle and Barry, and the Chappells' brother Trevor. Now Trevor is widely remembered for only one thing: his underhand attempt (masterminded by Greg) to guarantee victory in a 1981 one-dayer by bowling underarm, against New Zealand. So the villain of the piece has ended up having the trophy partly named after him. This may explain why, when the series was last played, in February, the gods decided to give New Zealand a 3-0 win.

A stand
Richard Hadlee is also a stand at Christchurch, as he should be having bowled New Zealand to a famous victory over West Indies there in 1986-87. Ian Botham is a stand at Taunton, where he grew up, walked out, and eventually made his peace. In fact the naming of the stand was part of the making of the peace, as Botham returned for the official opening.

Alec Bedser is a stand at The Oval. Denis Compton and Bill Edrich are stands at Lord's, a pair of twins flanking the media centre: a nice tribute which would be even nicer if the stands were not the worst on the ground - drab, grey and featureless. The top decks are fine places to watch, facing the pavilion from mid-on and mid-off, but the lower tiers are dank, dark and dungeon-like. This is because Gubby Allen ruled that the stands should stay low, so there would still be a view of the nursery-end trees from the pavilion. If the members are that into trees, they will find thousands of them in Regents Park, about half a mile away. Allen should have been lambasted for this snobbish, blinkered decision; instead, they named a stand after him too.

An end
It is part of cricket's charm that every ground has a pair of ends, each with a name. Let's hear it for the High Court End at Eden Gardens, Calcutta. But in some cases, the names are as boring as hell. Who wants to take the new ball from the Airport End, as bowlers do at Darwin, or the GMDC End, as they do at Ahmedabad? There are many Members' Ends, and they are all dull. There should be rules for ends: no stands, no streets unless they are colourful like Vulture Street at the Gabba, no mere settling for the Pavilion End and the City End.

Some of the dreary ones ought to be renamed after players, and those players should be the bowlers who ran in from the end in question. Old Trafford led the way with the Brian Statham End. The new Kensington Oval, Bridgetown, has perfected the idea. Malcolm Marshall is one end there, and Joel Garner is the other: the neatest possible tribute to the fact that for a few years in the Eighties, two of the world's best fast bowlers were opening the bowling together for a small island. Even Viv didn't make many against those two.

A room
Almost anyone can be a room. John Major is one, at The Oval. At some English grounds, if you are looking for the press box, you pass so many rooms named after people, you keep expecting to find an Uncle Tom Cobleigh Room. There seems to be an unwritten rule that one room at every ground has to be named after David Gower. He is surely worth more - a stand at Grace Road, Leicester, perhaps, strategically placed for a square cut at one end and a pull at the other.

A pair of gates
When a player ends up as a set of gates, he really knows he has arrived. It happened to WG Grace at Lord's, to JC White at Taunton, to Victor Richardson at Adelaide, and most recently, to Alec Stewart at The Oval. Batsman, captain, keeper, meeter and greeter, Alec had done everything else at Surrey, so when they built the spectacular new OCS Stand, they turned him into a pair of gates.

An area of seating
When they honoured Alec, Surrey also paid tribute to many of their other players, in a manoeuvre that was heartfelt, well-intentioned, but not all that flattering. The likes of Martin Bicknell, Mark Butcher and Graham Thorpe became patches of seating in the new stand. It's a good idea in principle, but it's not that easy to follow, and you don't hear people using the names much. The day is still awaited when the old ground resounds to a bloke yelling into a mobile, "I'm in Bicknell, G26! No, not Darren - Martin! Just along from Butcher! No, not Mark - Alan..."

Tim de Lisle is a former editor of Wisden. His website is http://www.timdelisle.com