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When Chris Lewis went down with what journalist Simon Barnes described as "the most idiotic cricket injury of all time"
December 13, 2008
When England named their squad for the 1993-94 tour of the Caribbean, the inclusion of Chris Lewis was given a lukewarm reception by the media. While few doubted his talent, they had also run out of patience with his mental fragility, and the overall impression was that he rarely tried as hard as he could.
"His fast-medium seamers were propelled by an athletic, high action, his batting was full of exquisite onside drives and fierce cuts, and his fielding could be sensational," wrote Lawrence Booth. "But, apart from some excellent bowling in the 1992 World Cup, he rarely delivered when England needed him most."
"CB Fry apart, he certainly looked like the greatest all-round athlete the England team have ever had, being quick, agile, co-ordinated and strong," Former team-mate and room-mate Derek Pringle wrote earlier this week. "But just as his body seemed perfect, his mind often appeared a confused mess and he was remarkably uncertain of himself for a top-level sportsman."
In the Ashes summer of 1993, Lewis was dropped after two Tests in which he had performed poorly, scoring 52 runs and taking 2 for 238. Later in the season he found time to model naked for a women's magazine, leading to more unwelcome news coverage.
His career to that point had been equally frustrating to his supporters. Twenty Tests, 52 wickets at 39 and 771 runs at 25. "By recalling Lewis, England have offered the carrot to one of the game's infuriating enigmas, when the stick might have been more effective," noted Alan Lee in the Times. "He can consider himself the luckiest cricketer in the country."
England captain Michael Atherton defended the selection. "We feel there is a great deal of potential there," he said. "It's up to us to coax that out of him. I've known him a long time and I have no difficulties with the bloke. Neither he nor anybody else should need motivating to play for England. Chris realises that he is running out of chances, but I think that being dropped last summer will motivate him. I feel he has a lot to offer, particularly as an out-and-out fast bowler."
It did not take long for Lewis to give an arsenal of ammunition to his critics.
The squad arrived in Antigua for the start of the tour on January 15, and the next day the Guyana-born Lewis decided that the Caribbean heat warranted a haircut. He enlisted the help of Devon Malcolm as barber and emerged with a completely shaved scalp. Twice-daily shaves ensured that his baldness remained.
That would not have been a problem had Lewis not also decided that he need not wear a hat at any of the net or general practice sessions. So for the best part of a week his newly shorn head was subjected to the beating sun. His approach otherwise was encouraging, and he played an active part in all training sessions.
The first match was against an Antigua XI at the St John's Recreation Ground on January 23, and Lewis was included in the team. But shortly before the start he had to pull out. Given his reputation for suspect unexplained illnesses that led to last-minute withdrawals, few were overly surprised.
It then emerged that Lewis' haircut was to blame. "He shaved his head, went without a hat, and now he's got sunstroke," England's physiotherapist Dave Roberts explained to the press. "I've been telling him all week to wear a hat."
"He should be okay in 24 hours," said a clearly angry tour manager Mike Smith. Keith Fletcher, the coach, was equally livid. "He's gone and had a cue-ball, the prat," he fumed.
The media, however, had a field day, and Lewis hardly helped himself when he told them: "Some people change their hairstyle… I'm just fed up with hair."
"Only mad dogs, Englishmen and opening batsmen go out in the midday sun here," wrote James Busher in the Guardian. "Yesterday the dogs and opening batsmen were perfectly happy, but the Englishman, Lewis, was in the doghouse back in the hotel room."
"While Atherton and Stewart took full advantage of an attack barely rising above club standard, Lewis, whose career has been dogged by such mishaps, was confined to the shade where he stayed for much of last summer," added Lee in the Times. The Daily Express concluded: "The Antigua diagnosis is that Lewis is suffering from sunstroke. I suspect an iron deficiency."
However, the Sun produced the headline that came to haunt Lewis for the remainder of his career, describing him as "the prat without a hat". It continued: "Lewis baldly went where no other cricketer has gone before… and spent two days in bed with sunstroke. Just as you would expect, the ideal covering for an allrounder suffering from sunstroke, as diagnosed by our own doctor, is… a bowler!"
|"Only mad dogs, Englishmen and opening batsmen go out in the midday sun here. Yesterday the dogs and opening batsmen were perfectly happy, but the Englishman, Lewis, was in the doghouse back in the hotel room" The Guardian, on Lewis' shaved-head-induced sunstroke|
Lewis was back for the second tour match, making a decent 65, and went on to play in all five Tests. The results were pretty much as his critics expected. Fourteen wickets at 39.50 and 170 runs at 21.25 - the latter figures only boosted by an unbeaten 75 on a St John's featherbed in the final match, the same game where Brian Lara made his record 375.
"Like every other captain, I fancied my chances of getting the best out of the enigmatic Lewis," Atherton later wrote. "And like every other captain I failed. In the end, you can only lead a player to the well; you can't drink the water for him."
For Lewis, that tour was just about the end. He played seven more Tests and eight ODIs, but after he failed to appear for an ODI at The Oval in 1996, claiming that he had a puncture but neglecting to let anyone know, the selectors' patience was at an end. There were a couple of unrewarding one-day outings in 1998 but that was that. He was three months past his 30th birthday when his international career ended.
Speaking after Lewis' arrest earlier this week, Malcolm recalled that he had been with him in Grenada last month playing a few exhibition matches. "I was the one who cut his hair all those years ago, but I told him to be careful and to wear a hat."
At the moment, sunstroke is the least of Lewis's problems.
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