August 18, 2008

Can bat, can bowl, can't write

All too few top-level players have the writing skills to match. So why are they increasingly making inroads into the cricket media?
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The crossover artist: Atherton is among the few exceptions that prove the rule when it comes to top-level players making the switch to writing © Getty Images

Upon hearing of the bugs squashed on the wallpaper of the hotel opposite his, young kitchen hand George Orwell did not beseech the bugs to write his book for him. Down and Out in Paris and London is no less grisly or educational a read for the lack of bugs' insights. Yet in cricket we see the bugs everywhere, furnishing us with their bug's-eye perspectives, and not just any old bugs but former top-level bugs, and not merely on top of the wallpaper but underneath it too, scrabbling between every available crack and crater, for fear that without them the walls may tumble.

The latest Wisden Cricketers' Almanack is editor Scyld Berry's first. He begins by issuing his readers a challenge: pick an XI out of this year's contributors. It is no idle dare. Berry has 15 former or present Test players on his writing roster. Matthew Engel, Berry's long-serving predecessor, never had more than five. In Tim de Lisle's locum editor's stint of 2003, which is sometimes imagined to have been less a matter of holding the Wisden fort than of shrewdly dismantling the thing log by log, only one old Test trundler was commissioned. Under the not-so-distant editorships of Graeme Wright and John Woodcock there were often none.

"I have tried to make it more of a cricketers' almanack," says Berry, as if this were unquestionably a good thing, as if any cricketer could write so nimbly as Mike Brearley does of the maddening deception that hinges on the angle of Bishan Bedi's cocked wrist, as if any cricketer could sum up the anguish of captaining against Brian Lara the way Mike Atherton can. "You might worry about Adam Gilchrist, say, butchering an attack and smashing a bowler to smithereens," notes Atherton, "but Lara made captains, and bowlers, look silly. If you knew you were going to die, you'd prefer a single bludgeoning blow to the head, or a quick bullet to the brain, rather than death by a thousand ever-so-precise cuts."

Not any top-level cricketer can dash that off, of course, because they're cricket players not champion writers, and few men in history have been both. Of this, Wisden duly reminds us when top-level players other than Atherton and Brearley get writing.

"Getting rid of Pietersen cheaply was a real plus," is a statement of the flipping obvious worthy of striking out no matter how top-level the former player from whose pen it sprung. To mention, in what is intended as an affectionate portrait of a recent retiree, how much the retiree averaged in the first and second innings, how much in the first and second innings combined, how much against India and Sri Lanka and New Zealand, how much at the beginning and end of series, how much in the second and third and fourth Tests too, is to substitute statistics for thinking, former top-level player or not. And to report that a coach was showered with praise, dragged his country's cricket out of the doldrums, then led his men on an Everest-like trek only to fall on his sword, is to make one despair of what George Orwell used to call those moments "when the light catches the speaker's spectacles and turns them into blank discs which seem to have no eyes behind them".

What makes the former top-level player a fine writer is the ability to give non-top-level players some idea of certain situations out in the middle. This does not sound difficult. But nor does writing, first one word, then another, and so on until you're done, perhaps taking a minute at the end to rearrange them into some kind of pleasing order. Who can tell why more former top-level players haven't been able to do it in any kind of happy way. To enquire why is like asking why more prize-winning literary works haven't been the creation of the people in casinos who give you the little polystyrene cups full of coins that you stick into the flashing slot machines.

 
 
In cricket we see the bugs everywhere, furnishing us with their bug's-eye perspectives, and not just any old bugs but former top-level bugs, and not merely on top of the wallpaper but underneath it too, scrabbling between every available crack and crater, for fear that without them the walls may tumble
 

Here's one reason why writing might actually be harder for the former top-level player than for the man or woman doling out the polystyrene cups. To succeed in top-level cricket, I can only begin to imagine, is to ride over the doubts that surely everyone has. Uncertainty means weakness, and weakness brings failure, and too much failure leads to the top-level cricketer getting scrap-heaped. Whereas to write is to know more greys than certainties. Writing can entail long hours of sifting through a hundred possible truths before finally running with the one that you think or hope comes closest. These qualities demanded of the writer usually make him a devoted but hopeless cricketer.

Most writers who choose cricket as their beat tend to play the game at some abysmal park level, where they can ruminate sullenly about the game's intricacies after their own inevitably premature get-out shot, and this gives them the idea that they can deduce something of what goes on in top-level cricket. It is perhaps telling that both Atherton's and Brearley's contributions to Berry's Wisden have a self-mocking charm. Atherton remembers getting rid of first slip one day when Lara was on 291, watching Lara nick the very next delivery through that very same gap, and wondering if he'd done it accidentally or on purpose. Brearley recalls chiding England's batsmen for being mesmerised by Bedi and not using their feet, only to himself get out to Bedi at the next available opportunity - stumped!

Go to any well-stocked library. Only six out of 76 writers to make the cut in Baseball: A Literary Anthology are former top-level players. Three out of 42 is the former top-level players' share in The Picador Book of Golf. The Fireside Book of Tennis contains an end section on technique but scarcely a former top-level players' byline to be seen over the preceding 900 pages. In cricket, alas, fireside is not nearly close enough; pitchside is the place to be. The Longest Game, a cricket-writing collection, includes 19 entries penned by former top-level players (or their ghosts). The Greatest Game, a companion volume on Australian Rules Football, includes four. Wisden's new broom starts to look dusty.

Go outside the library. Look around you. In Australia, the door to the Channel 9 commentary box is marked "Former Top-Level Players Only". In England, former top-level credentials are a prerequisite for the chief cricket correspondent's gig on all four of the big, quality weekday papers. For Wisden to now sail the same way after a century and a half feels just a little bit apocalyptic, like the last lick of paint on the walls of an exclusive club, a widening of the gulf between cricket's audience and performers, a narrowing of the separation of powers, a final handing over of custodianship of the game to former top-level players. Is it time to get worried?

It was a particularly crafty top-level player who once tried to cut down a particularly skilful one by ordering bouncers at his neck and close-in fielders around his toes. Top-level players gained psychological edges over other top-level players by quipping that they'd slept with their wives and fathered their two-headed offspring. Cliques of top-level players made those who read books, or liked to dance, or didn't drink beer, or showed their emotions, feel unwelcome. Top-level players from all over couldn't decide whether or not to tour a country whose cricket administration had been wrecked by a ruinous African kleptocracy, so went anyway. Today's top-level players say they'd choose fast money over Test cricket.

To be a top-level player must be quite something, for as long as that lasts. But once it's over, hitting hard or bowling fast begin to matter less than watching closely, thinking broadly, reading widely, writing freshly, caring deeply.

Christian Ryan is a writer based in Melbourne

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • SSRajan on August 21, 2008, 19:21 GMT

    What an article!! Can't the writer think of something better to write. If you do not like teh articles of those writers, then don't read it.. Simple. Those who like them will read it.

  • RoshanF on August 21, 2008, 5:21 GMT

    Jitterbug, you have missed the forest for the trees. Yes Sangakkara does write well (er, I did read a few articles initially as I had to since the papers are now full of active cricketer 'contributions' and not much else). But so did Hemingway, Ontdaatje etc. - only much better. No I'm not trying to compare Sangakkara with those luminaries - its just to make a point. We do not need sporting articles written just to be "read in high quality language". What we need are articles to present the game with a greater perspective. Active cricketers should not be involved in that art. It should left to the professionals or retired cricketers with writing flair such as Jack Fingleton, Robertson-Glasgow or more recently Peter Roebuck.

    One simple question. Can anybody name an active player in any other major sport who writes articles. Why is it that cricket is subjected to this unwanted trend. Active players should be active alright - BUT ON THE FIELD AND MOST CERTAINLY NOT WITH THE PEN.

  • RSingh1024 on August 20, 2008, 15:07 GMT

    Wow........I actually think that former cricketers make GREAT play by play commentators but i do not believe that all of them should and can be writers. I love hearing the likes of Mikey Holding, David Loyd and Ravi Shastri, and though i do feel that cricket commentary is more than play by play, meaning that it can be "written" in a sense. What i think they were getting at is that they shouldn't write the sports page. Their expertise is needed in terms of relating the status of a game to the fan in cricketing terms. A "regular" sports writer will then take the commentators views and re-package them for another audience. Although David Lloyd wasn't by any means a "GREAT" cricketer doesnt mean he wouldn't or isn't a great commentator of the game. Take for instance the NBA, NFL, and MLB very rarely you have all former "Greats" in the commentary box (with the exception of few). I also do agree that Sangakkarra is one of the better writers from what I have read.

  • laxmanrules on August 20, 2008, 11:15 GMT

    So true. One only needs to go as far as comparing a Sandeep Patil article to a Nirmal Shekhar one. But then, don't cricketers need jobs after their playing days. Eh?---------------------

  • TheDoctor394 on August 20, 2008, 1:06 GMT

    This is interesting. I rarely read sports articles (newspaper, online, or otherwise) from current players, and I think a big reason is I just don't find them interesting. It's similar listening to them being interviewed, where they usually just say the same old cliches that could be recited in one's sleep. I would take issue with people's comments on Michael Atherton's captaincy and, particularly, batting ability though. No, he wasn't a great at either, but to say he couldn't do them at all, especially bat?? I would gladly have taken a portion of his ability during my lamentable couple of years at local church cricket.

  • Clyde on August 19, 2008, 16:20 GMT

    How can you expect people writing about a game to deserve a Nobel Prize for literature? It is much more likely you will find a cricketer (or commentator) writing well about life.

  • tricia99 on August 19, 2008, 13:46 GMT

    You seem to imply that Michael Atherton writes well about cricket. I think he is competent but pedestrian. In no way does he match up to Christopher Martin Jenkins his predecessor as The Times chief cricket correspondent and his columns have the flavour of a history essay about them; instead of following a theme he tries to give every side of the question instad of sweeping us along with a well phrased and thought out idea. Perhaps as a result of this he often seems ungenerous about individual cricketers and to me sounds almost jealous of any success they have had.

    I'm sorry he got this job because there are so many really engaging and talented writers out there contributing to the quality newspapers. They would have been better ambassadors for the sport and interested and entertained us far better. This is because they write well whereas Mr Atherton merely played well once upon a time.

  • Uppi on August 19, 2008, 12:46 GMT

    A lot of people think that is it obvious that an ex cricketer would have a lot of cricket knowledge. That's true in the sense of applied knowledge - knowing what to do when faced with a short rising one outside the off-stump for example. But articulating that knowledge even in private is an entirely different matter. Others may do it much better. Imagine if Sehwag were a commentator.

  • LawrenceH on August 19, 2008, 12:22 GMT

    TheThreeWs' supposedly ironic point contains more truth than intended - Sangakkara has devoted considerable effort to his education outside cricket, and the analytical skills so developed no doubt contribute to his abilities as a writer. Similarly Dhoni While Ryan may overstate the case, there is definitely truth in the argument. We expect cricketers to be good at cricket, why is writing any less of a talent that requires nurturing? The point is that simple talent on the field should not be a guaranteed pathway to future employment as a commentator. KISS is all very well, but applied universally it brutalises culture. We have the Sun or the Mirror with a reading age of 14, or we have the Guardian, Telegraph and other ex-broadsheets for those who prefer more flavour with their food. Some things are simple and at risk of being obscured, but many things are complicated and to 'simplify' is to distort.

  • rajivgower on August 19, 2008, 10:50 GMT

    I agree with "TheThreeWs". Atherton was not that good. Overated player who had 3 good years and 9 awful. He can write, but not bat.

  • SSRajan on August 21, 2008, 19:21 GMT

    What an article!! Can't the writer think of something better to write. If you do not like teh articles of those writers, then don't read it.. Simple. Those who like them will read it.

  • RoshanF on August 21, 2008, 5:21 GMT

    Jitterbug, you have missed the forest for the trees. Yes Sangakkara does write well (er, I did read a few articles initially as I had to since the papers are now full of active cricketer 'contributions' and not much else). But so did Hemingway, Ontdaatje etc. - only much better. No I'm not trying to compare Sangakkara with those luminaries - its just to make a point. We do not need sporting articles written just to be "read in high quality language". What we need are articles to present the game with a greater perspective. Active cricketers should not be involved in that art. It should left to the professionals or retired cricketers with writing flair such as Jack Fingleton, Robertson-Glasgow or more recently Peter Roebuck.

    One simple question. Can anybody name an active player in any other major sport who writes articles. Why is it that cricket is subjected to this unwanted trend. Active players should be active alright - BUT ON THE FIELD AND MOST CERTAINLY NOT WITH THE PEN.

  • RSingh1024 on August 20, 2008, 15:07 GMT

    Wow........I actually think that former cricketers make GREAT play by play commentators but i do not believe that all of them should and can be writers. I love hearing the likes of Mikey Holding, David Loyd and Ravi Shastri, and though i do feel that cricket commentary is more than play by play, meaning that it can be "written" in a sense. What i think they were getting at is that they shouldn't write the sports page. Their expertise is needed in terms of relating the status of a game to the fan in cricketing terms. A "regular" sports writer will then take the commentators views and re-package them for another audience. Although David Lloyd wasn't by any means a "GREAT" cricketer doesnt mean he wouldn't or isn't a great commentator of the game. Take for instance the NBA, NFL, and MLB very rarely you have all former "Greats" in the commentary box (with the exception of few). I also do agree that Sangakkarra is one of the better writers from what I have read.

  • laxmanrules on August 20, 2008, 11:15 GMT

    So true. One only needs to go as far as comparing a Sandeep Patil article to a Nirmal Shekhar one. But then, don't cricketers need jobs after their playing days. Eh?---------------------

  • TheDoctor394 on August 20, 2008, 1:06 GMT

    This is interesting. I rarely read sports articles (newspaper, online, or otherwise) from current players, and I think a big reason is I just don't find them interesting. It's similar listening to them being interviewed, where they usually just say the same old cliches that could be recited in one's sleep. I would take issue with people's comments on Michael Atherton's captaincy and, particularly, batting ability though. No, he wasn't a great at either, but to say he couldn't do them at all, especially bat?? I would gladly have taken a portion of his ability during my lamentable couple of years at local church cricket.

  • Clyde on August 19, 2008, 16:20 GMT

    How can you expect people writing about a game to deserve a Nobel Prize for literature? It is much more likely you will find a cricketer (or commentator) writing well about life.

  • tricia99 on August 19, 2008, 13:46 GMT

    You seem to imply that Michael Atherton writes well about cricket. I think he is competent but pedestrian. In no way does he match up to Christopher Martin Jenkins his predecessor as The Times chief cricket correspondent and his columns have the flavour of a history essay about them; instead of following a theme he tries to give every side of the question instad of sweeping us along with a well phrased and thought out idea. Perhaps as a result of this he often seems ungenerous about individual cricketers and to me sounds almost jealous of any success they have had.

    I'm sorry he got this job because there are so many really engaging and talented writers out there contributing to the quality newspapers. They would have been better ambassadors for the sport and interested and entertained us far better. This is because they write well whereas Mr Atherton merely played well once upon a time.

  • Uppi on August 19, 2008, 12:46 GMT

    A lot of people think that is it obvious that an ex cricketer would have a lot of cricket knowledge. That's true in the sense of applied knowledge - knowing what to do when faced with a short rising one outside the off-stump for example. But articulating that knowledge even in private is an entirely different matter. Others may do it much better. Imagine if Sehwag were a commentator.

  • LawrenceH on August 19, 2008, 12:22 GMT

    TheThreeWs' supposedly ironic point contains more truth than intended - Sangakkara has devoted considerable effort to his education outside cricket, and the analytical skills so developed no doubt contribute to his abilities as a writer. Similarly Dhoni While Ryan may overstate the case, there is definitely truth in the argument. We expect cricketers to be good at cricket, why is writing any less of a talent that requires nurturing? The point is that simple talent on the field should not be a guaranteed pathway to future employment as a commentator. KISS is all very well, but applied universally it brutalises culture. We have the Sun or the Mirror with a reading age of 14, or we have the Guardian, Telegraph and other ex-broadsheets for those who prefer more flavour with their food. Some things are simple and at risk of being obscured, but many things are complicated and to 'simplify' is to distort.

  • rajivgower on August 19, 2008, 10:50 GMT

    I agree with "TheThreeWs". Atherton was not that good. Overated player who had 3 good years and 9 awful. He can write, but not bat.

  • Wicket_Maiden on August 19, 2008, 10:05 GMT

    I agree 100% with Stolzel2! This article is far too tedious and over-written, in-fact the only reason I read to the end is that I kept thinking it would get better, unfortunately it didn't, and i've wasted three minutes.

  • LadyK on August 19, 2008, 9:28 GMT

    A very sound and thoughtful piece. There is a strong feeling about in the world that "Anyone can write." This is as true as that anyone can play cricket. Anyone can do it to some degree, not many can do it well. Not all top level cricketers are hearty philistines; the game does attract a higher proportion of intelligent and articulate players than, say, football; the ability to write as well as Brearley or Atherton is still rare. As for commentators - the greatest commentator of all time - in my not at all humble opinion - was John Arlott. Would he get a chance today? Would Brian Johnston? Some ex-players are very entertaining commentators, but I submit that one can give insights into the game without ever having played at the top level. The listeners and readers, after all, are mostly at the lower levels, or outside the game looking in; an ability to relate to them is also important.

  • abhi2023 on August 19, 2008, 7:01 GMT

    This article is nothing but a ridiculous and stupid argument (made by Ryan) that he should be given more space than Sachin Tendulkar who I doubt has as good linguistic skills as our beloved Ryan. This is utter garbage. If cricinfo keeps giving space to such baseless and shallow articles, I might stop visiting it.

  • Kunal-Talgeri on August 19, 2008, 6:31 GMT

    Thanks Christian, for echoing a growing fondness for Atherton, the writer! A journalism teacher once observed that effective writers inevitably mirror their own personalities in the writing. It seems true of Atherton who was a meticulous batsman, very organised, and seemed to pay a homage to those who had filled the boots of the great openers who preceded him. That, of course, until he'd run into a certain Mr. McGrath.

    It's much the same in his writing today. Meticulous, yes! His writing is loyal to the spirit of wonderful sports journalists before him--the writings suggest he is well read (baseball!!!)... However, there will be a McGrath test here too, when like most journalists, he'll have to take on issues or leave them outside 'off' stump. Here's hoping he takes on issues that are challenging a constantly-commercialising sport, Cheers!

  • Kilat on August 19, 2008, 5:49 GMT

    There's two ingredients to cricket journalism: cricket and journalism. I know it sounds obvious, but it isn't applied a lot. Ex-players obviously have the cricket knowledge, but it doesn't make them great journalists, though some clearly are. Cricket journalism is becoming a closed shop, in some cases no more than a cozy lounge for those ex-players who are unemployable anywhere else.

    Then again, some of what I would consider quality writing is criticised for being elitist. Maybe we need two types of writing, for two different types of fan, by two different different of cricket journalist.

  • TheThreeWs on August 19, 2008, 1:12 GMT

    Well, Atherton can certainly write, but he certainly couldn't bat or captain :-). He has a degree from Cambridge, and that's responsible for his 115 tests and about 50 as captain; while people with as much 'cricketing' talent as Azharuddin and Laxman have played only 99 and 96 respectively.

    The two good cricketer-writers mentioned here are Atherton and Brearley One has a degree from Cambridge, the other from Oxford. Perhaps all cricket writers should get a degree from here before they even think that they can write. I suppose also applies to Sangakkara (who's a lawyer), and Dhoni (who's a dehati from Jharkhand), even though they are the most incisive of writers.

  • a.t.r. on August 19, 2008, 0:03 GMT

    Our noble game has room for the prosaic as well as the poetic, although I admit that the gleaming edge has been taken off many a sporting experience by the inarticulacy of the participating interviewee. Whilst those close to the action can provide valuable insight, I cannot imagine Larwood having being hounded into telling reporters that he was 'putting it in the right areas', that he was 'backing Jard-sy all the way', or even that 'all the boys' would be 'coming to the leg-trap party' in the 2nd innings.

    Thank goodness, therefore, that those one level removed from the dressing room are in a position to more freely comment upon the great game. Whilst the likes of C.L.R. James may not have rattled up numerous first class appearances, I am glad that posterity has not been denied such lines as 'Body-line was not an incident, it was not an accident, it was not a temporary aberration. It was the violence and ferocity of our age expressing itself in cricket.'

  • abhi2023 on August 18, 2008, 20:09 GMT

    Ryan, remember the KISS principle. Complicated is always less communicative. And that is what your article is, complicated and without substance. One of the worst I have ever read on cricinfo.com.

  • lesberry on August 18, 2008, 19:01 GMT

    Worryingly facile article. Ex players will always be of interest to the shallow-minded looking for anecdotes, rather than trus analysis or insight. But amongst ex-cricketers have been some supreme writers...Brearley, Fingleton (one of my all time favourites), Atherton, Benaud to name but a few.

  • FORMULA11 on August 18, 2008, 18:30 GMT

    Its is because weight to few words written by a player who has been there on the field is thousand times better than coloumns of so called writers..

  • universal.rampage on August 18, 2008, 17:55 GMT

    this is the age of reality TV. people want to see things as they are, with no or minimal difference between representation and reality. thats why the queuing up for ex top levelers. communication - written or oral/aural is about different skills. a cricketer (or even a professional pure commentator) may or may not have those skills. often top-level cricketers are pretty poor in even knowing what audiences want to know. they can just go and on about the toil, the struggle, the dedication, involved in the field, the need to be in the zone and the determination to be in the zone -- which is all as boring as a wheel. but then there are others who can transcend this trash talk, and I agree a level of humility or ego (ie, the need to involve one's own self in the talk/writing) is essential for that. the foremost example of an ex-top leveler turning a really awful TV guy is Kapil Dev. But you get all sorts. Boycott, Atherton, Shastri, Holding.

  • Jitterbug on August 18, 2008, 17:29 GMT

    Pretty esoteric and cryptic stuff. Has an arrogant twist to it too. RoshanF, obviously, you have yet to read Sangakkara's thoughtful and well written articles.

  • tbc1 on August 18, 2008, 16:55 GMT

    Not that they could claim to be "greta" players, but Selvey, Pringle and Fraser are ex-test players, and are excellent, obviously intelligent, informed and considered writers. As, for that matter, as the author notes, is Atherton. Perhaps an Oxbridge level education helps?

  • pragmatist on August 18, 2008, 16:02 GMT

    Amazing really that this article doesn't really mention the cricket correspondents of the UK print media. Fraser and Pringle definitely fall into the target category of ex-players who don't necessarily become great writers. Simon Hughes, Mike Atherton, and Ed Smith are the exceptions - each of these have considerable writing talent, and in Atherton's case his analysis and communication skills are exceptional. It really is impossible to generalise. Cricket writing should be a meritocracy based on writing, rather than playing, talents.

  • DinakarAppaji on August 18, 2008, 14:53 GMT

    Well, the article should be focussed instead on writers who can't bat or bowl but make big statements about a specific game. I think the journalist friends need to understand the importatance of listening to someone who has been in the player's shoes at some point of time. That makes the opion more realistic and readers would be more interested in. We certainly don't need expert advice from someone who has never played the game (with exception of my all time favourite Harsha Bhogle - who is outstanding commentator, writer and what not - doesn't matter even if he hadn't played cricket).

    Just to name few - Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri, Imran Khan, Vivian Richards are few names who have done decently well in any form that they are in to and we certainly love to read and listen to them than any one.

  • Stolzel2 on August 18, 2008, 13:34 GMT

    If you write an article criticising the writing skills of other people, you need to write decently yourself. Otherwise you look silly. Mr Ryan's opening paragraph is poor stuff: it's an over-written, tedious, poorly-focused analogy, only there for the author to show off that he has read some English literature. The article would be better without it.

  • pault on August 18, 2008, 13:09 GMT

    Good article, and this is indeed true for commentators as well. I happen to think that Sky Sports are probably the worst for getting former top level players in who are not that interesting to listen to. Clearly there are exceptions, Tufnell and Boycott for example, but for the most part, I would rather have someone with eloquence, than with experience of cricket at the top level. I think this problem affects more sports than cricket however. It seems every sports coverage team these days is packed with former star players of often limited intellect and linguistic skills.

  • Bee1980 on August 18, 2008, 12:52 GMT

    The notion that top-level cricketers will defacto be top-level writers/commentators needs to be challenged, but I think the arguments offered are way-off track. The article implicitly assumes three key things

    1. Because top-level cricketers have to be sure of what they can do,they cannot be good writers. How absurd.

    2. Once top-level players hang up their boots, they care less deeply about what they do. Again, absurd assumption. Players who have striven to be the best in what they do for 15 years could very well be the type that hates to be there just to make up the numbers

    3. Because writers have rarely been good at cricket, they tend to get more time to think about the game. Yeah, this gives them the right to pontificate.

    The author's original contention is spot on. But the arguments stacked in are all absurd. Top-level writing requires one to be good at writing AND to understand the game well. One without the other wont do. Period. Everything else is secondary.

  • snarge on August 18, 2008, 12:04 GMT

    Ryan, I would prefer to read something written by any, absolutely any former player, even if he was totally illiterate, than the inaccurate garbage I have had to read from you in Wisden and Wisden Australia over the last few years.

  • abhi2023 on August 18, 2008, 10:56 GMT

    Its because they can afford to. Because people listen to performs. I would rather listen to a player who has been a top level batsman or bowler than to heed someone who has not been in the top bracket. Why should I? Give me ONE good reason. Why should I listen to someone whose linguistic skills are great but who has never performed on the field? By proving themselves on the field, they earn the respect and people listen to them even when they are not the best writers around, and rightfully so. Its the same reason for which OK-looking-performers get bigger endorsements than great-looking people. Do you see the connection?

  • RoshanF on August 18, 2008, 10:01 GMT

    I agree wholeheartedly with the article though not the first comment on it. Ravi Shastri, in my opinion, is the best of the Asian commentators and a whole lot more 'neutral' than the so called best of the international commentators.

    Back to the article, yes, I too have been wondering for the past few years why do the papers, popular websites etc, get active players to write articles. They just aren't good enough. In Sri Lanka we've got a whole bunch of them 'contributing' and it ain't pretty. I as a rule never read any article written by active players. As the articles says playing and writing do not go hand in hand.

  • Ananth-Natarajan on August 18, 2008, 8:42 GMT

    Nice article. One that can only be written by some one who hasnt been a top-level player :)

    I just tried to list some of the top-level-player-writers whom I dont hate, and here it is: Bob Simpson, Sunil Gavaskar (only because he writes boldly and for the anecdotes). (will add more when I remember...)

  • prashant1 on August 18, 2008, 8:21 GMT

    Had a good laugh at the title! Haven't even read the full article... but the title and Atherton's pic say it all!

  • Davesh_cricket_analyst on August 18, 2008, 6:27 GMT

    Excellent Article. But why limit it to writing ? I think most of the ex-cricketers turned up commentators are also ordinary & in some cases pretty pathetic. Look at Ravi Shastri. He will tell us that for country A to win the match they need to pick early wickets & score some quick runs. I can say this without even watching which 2 countries are playing. After 2 maiden overs he ll say that something is bound to happen. Is it prophecy ? Any lay man can say that after wasting 12 balls the batsman ll try to do something & all this winning fundaes come from a person who single handedly lost India so many ODI matches. Now take Arun Lal. Listening to him makes you wonder whether you are watching cricket channel or a wildlife channel. To hell with cricket his focus remains on birds, squirrels & animals. One must say that except for Sky Sports commentary team, most of the other are very ordinary & irritating.

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  • Davesh_cricket_analyst on August 18, 2008, 6:27 GMT

    Excellent Article. But why limit it to writing ? I think most of the ex-cricketers turned up commentators are also ordinary & in some cases pretty pathetic. Look at Ravi Shastri. He will tell us that for country A to win the match they need to pick early wickets & score some quick runs. I can say this without even watching which 2 countries are playing. After 2 maiden overs he ll say that something is bound to happen. Is it prophecy ? Any lay man can say that after wasting 12 balls the batsman ll try to do something & all this winning fundaes come from a person who single handedly lost India so many ODI matches. Now take Arun Lal. Listening to him makes you wonder whether you are watching cricket channel or a wildlife channel. To hell with cricket his focus remains on birds, squirrels & animals. One must say that except for Sky Sports commentary team, most of the other are very ordinary & irritating.

  • prashant1 on August 18, 2008, 8:21 GMT

    Had a good laugh at the title! Haven't even read the full article... but the title and Atherton's pic say it all!

  • Ananth-Natarajan on August 18, 2008, 8:42 GMT

    Nice article. One that can only be written by some one who hasnt been a top-level player :)

    I just tried to list some of the top-level-player-writers whom I dont hate, and here it is: Bob Simpson, Sunil Gavaskar (only because he writes boldly and for the anecdotes). (will add more when I remember...)

  • RoshanF on August 18, 2008, 10:01 GMT

    I agree wholeheartedly with the article though not the first comment on it. Ravi Shastri, in my opinion, is the best of the Asian commentators and a whole lot more 'neutral' than the so called best of the international commentators.

    Back to the article, yes, I too have been wondering for the past few years why do the papers, popular websites etc, get active players to write articles. They just aren't good enough. In Sri Lanka we've got a whole bunch of them 'contributing' and it ain't pretty. I as a rule never read any article written by active players. As the articles says playing and writing do not go hand in hand.

  • abhi2023 on August 18, 2008, 10:56 GMT

    Its because they can afford to. Because people listen to performs. I would rather listen to a player who has been a top level batsman or bowler than to heed someone who has not been in the top bracket. Why should I? Give me ONE good reason. Why should I listen to someone whose linguistic skills are great but who has never performed on the field? By proving themselves on the field, they earn the respect and people listen to them even when they are not the best writers around, and rightfully so. Its the same reason for which OK-looking-performers get bigger endorsements than great-looking people. Do you see the connection?

  • snarge on August 18, 2008, 12:04 GMT

    Ryan, I would prefer to read something written by any, absolutely any former player, even if he was totally illiterate, than the inaccurate garbage I have had to read from you in Wisden and Wisden Australia over the last few years.

  • Bee1980 on August 18, 2008, 12:52 GMT

    The notion that top-level cricketers will defacto be top-level writers/commentators needs to be challenged, but I think the arguments offered are way-off track. The article implicitly assumes three key things

    1. Because top-level cricketers have to be sure of what they can do,they cannot be good writers. How absurd.

    2. Once top-level players hang up their boots, they care less deeply about what they do. Again, absurd assumption. Players who have striven to be the best in what they do for 15 years could very well be the type that hates to be there just to make up the numbers

    3. Because writers have rarely been good at cricket, they tend to get more time to think about the game. Yeah, this gives them the right to pontificate.

    The author's original contention is spot on. But the arguments stacked in are all absurd. Top-level writing requires one to be good at writing AND to understand the game well. One without the other wont do. Period. Everything else is secondary.

  • pault on August 18, 2008, 13:09 GMT

    Good article, and this is indeed true for commentators as well. I happen to think that Sky Sports are probably the worst for getting former top level players in who are not that interesting to listen to. Clearly there are exceptions, Tufnell and Boycott for example, but for the most part, I would rather have someone with eloquence, than with experience of cricket at the top level. I think this problem affects more sports than cricket however. It seems every sports coverage team these days is packed with former star players of often limited intellect and linguistic skills.

  • Stolzel2 on August 18, 2008, 13:34 GMT

    If you write an article criticising the writing skills of other people, you need to write decently yourself. Otherwise you look silly. Mr Ryan's opening paragraph is poor stuff: it's an over-written, tedious, poorly-focused analogy, only there for the author to show off that he has read some English literature. The article would be better without it.

  • DinakarAppaji on August 18, 2008, 14:53 GMT

    Well, the article should be focussed instead on writers who can't bat or bowl but make big statements about a specific game. I think the journalist friends need to understand the importatance of listening to someone who has been in the player's shoes at some point of time. That makes the opion more realistic and readers would be more interested in. We certainly don't need expert advice from someone who has never played the game (with exception of my all time favourite Harsha Bhogle - who is outstanding commentator, writer and what not - doesn't matter even if he hadn't played cricket).

    Just to name few - Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri, Imran Khan, Vivian Richards are few names who have done decently well in any form that they are in to and we certainly love to read and listen to them than any one.