January 17, 2008

They also played cricket

Cricinfo looks at 11 other cricketers - notable and not-so-notable - who have tried their luck in front of the cameras

A host of international cricketers - from Brett Lee to Sajid Mahmood - were last month signed up for the forthcoming Bollywood film "Victory". Rarely have so many cricketers taken to the screen at the same time, but it's by no means unique. Here, Cricinfo looks at 11 other cricketers - notable and not-so-notable - who have tried their luck in front of the cameras



C Aubrey Smith chats to Sussex's James Langridge © The Cricketer

C Aubrey Smith
Arguably English cricket's most famous Hollywood export, C Aubrey Smith was a stalwart of the pre-war silver screen, starring in such diverse productions as Tarzan the Ape Man (1932) and Little Lord Fauntleroy (1937). In 1944 he was knighted for "services to Anglo-American amity" - an accolade that understandably overlooked his proud achievements on the cricket field, a career that included a 100% record as England captain. At Port Elizabeth in March 1889, he took 5 for 19 in the first innings to set up an eight-wicket victory, with his remarkable angled bowling approach that earned him the nickname "Round the corner". It was his only international appearance. His 16-year career was spent at Sussex, where he took the bulk of his 346 first-class wickets, and in 1932 he founded the Hollywood Cricket Club, where the likes of David Niven and Ronald Colman were regular players.

Salim Durani
Born in Afghanistan in 1934, Durani entertained crowds the world over with the wild unpredictability of his strokeplay, and with his tall brooding good looks he was an irresistible proposition for ambitious Bollywood producers. In 1973, he became the first Indian cricketer to dip his toe into the film industry, when he was paid Rs 80,000 for a role as a playboy industrialist in BR Isharra's film, Charitra. The film bombed and his own performance was nothing to write home about, but his leading lady rather caught the eye. Parveen Babi spent the next decade as one of Bollywood's top heroines, a regular co-star to the legendary Amitabh Bachchan.

Sam Mendes
His film career has outshone his cricket career, but Mendes - also known as Mr Kate Winslet - is equally passionate about both. Before concentrating on theatre direction, Mendes taught cricket at Summer Fields Prep School in Oxford, having himself been a prodigious allrounder during his days at the nearby Magdalen College School, making 1153 runs at 46 and taking 83 wickets at under 16 in the course of two seasons in 1983 and 1984. His cricketing highlight, however, came in 1997, when he helped his club side, Shipton-under-Wychwood CC, to the Village Championship final at Lord's. He played the decisive innings of the semi-final against Milstead, smacking 48 off 26 balls, but in the final itself he made just 8 as Caldy, of the Wirral, took the glory. Three years later, however, the glory belonged exclusively to Mendes. His debut film, American Beauty, picked up five Oscars, including best director.

Derek Pringle
In 1981, Pringle was a little-known allrounder at Cambridge University - his England debut would come the following season. By the time that happened, however, he was used to performing for the cameras, thanks to his bit-part role in Hugh Hudson's Oscar-sweeping film, Chariots of Fire. Set at Cambridge in the build-up to the 1924 Olympics, Pringle's role was that of the vice-captain of the University Athletics team - the clincher in his audition was that he already owned his own light-blue blazer. It was not a speaking part, but his single take lasted about two minutes, in which time he was asked to ad-lib about world long-jump records and similar track-and-field-related banter. For his efforts he earned £10 and a free haircut, but his one regret is that he didn't pick up his cast photo at the end of the shoot. "I didn't think it would amount to anything," he told Cricinfo. "I should have had more faith."

Ian Botham
There was a fair old rumpus in 2006 when Daniel Craig was unveiled as the new James Bond. That is nothing, however, compared to the outcry that might have occurred had a certain Ian Terrance Botham auditioned for the role during his break from international action in 1985-86. "Ian Botham has the looks, the build and the accent to be the next James Bond," gushed the small-time Hollywood producer, Menachem Golam, with whom Botham's agent, Tim Hudson, arranged a meeting. "At least, he's better looking than Tom Selleck." In the end, the idea fell through when Botham realised that six months of acting lessons might conflict a touch with his day job - the tour of West Indies was due to get underway in three weeks' time. Either way, he didn't seem entirely sold by a life in Hollywood. "The whole place seemed to be full of hustlers and bullshitters," he wrote in his autobiography. "That was not a combination that had ever appealed to me."

Kapil Dev
Hollywood may not have appealed to one legendary 80s allrounder, but on the other side of the world, Bollywood held no fears for another of his breed. In February 2004, Botham's old rival, Kapil Dev, was persuaded in take up a role in Aryan, the tale of a former boxer who becomes a TV sports presenter. "We need Bollywood to make films on sportsmen so that youngsters in our country are encouraged to play sports," said Kapil, whose role was not the most challenging imaginable - he played himself being interviewed. The reviews, sadly, were not kind. "Rocky gone miserably wrong," was the verdict of Indiaglitz.com.



Hollywood-era Ian Botham: 'better looking than Tom Selleck' © Getty Images

Len Hutton
Anthony Asquith's 1953 film, The Final Test, was ahead of its time in terms of shameless bandwagon-jumping. England had just regained the Ashes after an interval of 19 years, and several of the heroes of that series - including Denis Compton, Alec Bedser, Godfrey Evans and Jim Laker - were all given prominent parts in this tale of an ageing great, played by Jack Warner, gearing up for one final tilt at the enemy. The director was mixed in his opinions of the cricketers' acting abilities - Compton and Evans were naturals, Bedser and Laker were not - but none of them had as much screen time as their captain, Hutton, whose name appears among the lead credits. He deals with his lines impressively, though you wouldn't recognise him as a Yorkshireman. England's first professional captain had clearly been taking elocution lessons.

Sandeep Patil
As one of the most charismatic heroes of India's 1983 World Cup triumph, Patil was bound to be first in line for the stardom that followed, and sure enough, in 1985 he was cast in the lead role of Kabhi Ajnabi Thay opposite the alluring Poonam Dhillon, but alongside the legendary Debashree Roy, with whom he was linked at the time. Though he did not let himself down, his thunder was completely stolen by another of his World Cup team-mates, the wicketkeeper Syed Kirmani, who excelled in the role of a karate-chopping villain who undergoes a change of heart. "In our original script, Kirmani was not included," wrote Patil in his autobiography. "He came in only because he was keen to perform some kind of role. We literally had to find him a place in the movie. The [fight] scene between Kiri and me got tremendous publicity."

Boris Karloff
Arguably the greatest icon of the horror-film genre, Boris Karloff was - in reality - a character far removed from his Frankenstein persona. Born an unassuming William Henry Pratt in Camberwell in November 1887, Karloff was a gentle soul who played for Enfield Cricket Club in North London before emigrating to Canada in 1909. The club's pavilion still has a picture of him hanging on the wall. Another, grander, pavilion recently acquired his picture as well. In 2004, to celebrate Sussex's maiden Championship title, a picture of their former captain, Aubrey Smith, was put on display in the Long Room at Lord's. Crouched behind the stumps was none other than Karloff.

Vinod Kambli
Kambli was Sachin Tendulkar's childhood friend and batting partner, and he too had a path to greatness mapped out when, in 1993, he struck four centuries in his first seven Tests, including consecutive double-hundreds against England and Zimbabwe. As schoolboys in Bombay, the pair had once compiled a world-record unbeaten 664, but thereafter their personalities diverged. Tendulkar could cope with the fame and adulation, Kambli could not - his love of "bling" was far better suited to a career in showbusiness than sport. And so, in 2002, he embarked on a second career as a Bollywood actor. His maiden role was in the gangster movie, Annarth, but the reviews were not kind. "Kambli danced with elan but ran as poorly on screen as on the playing field," said The Times of India. "Kambli may want to spend some money on acting lessons before appearing in a film again," wrote planetbollywood.com.

Mark Greatbatch
In the alphabetical births and deaths section of Wisden, Mark Greatbatch is just four living names down the page from the legendary WG Grace. That, along his comfortable full figure, might explain how he came to be cast as the good doctor in a TV appearance that, to the best of our knowledge, never saw the light of day. The project might also have been binned for logistical reasons - as a left-hander, each of Greatbatch's scenes had to be shown in reverse to guard against an unfortunate revision of history.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

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