January 27, 2014

Guess who I met today?

Sharing a flight or bumping into them in the press box - it's always fun to meet cricket's rich and famous

Mike Procter
During England's tour of Zimbabwe late in 1996 I sat next to the great allrounder on a plane from Harare to Bulawayo. We were apparently lucky to get going at all, as we'd been told that flight sometimes didn't operate if Mrs Mugabe needed to go shopping. In Switzerland. I hope she got a better on-board meal than we did (a saucer of nuts). But Procky was interesting to talk to, and the short flight was over much too soon. At Bulawayo airport we left through Gate 2 - which was just that, a wooden gate.

Trevor Bailey
Later on that Zimbabwe tour I was staying in the same hotel as a tour group hosted by the legendary Essex and England allrounder. In truth, his charges seemed more in charge than their leader: one pair patiently sighed, "Yes, Trevor, you've told us that three times already", as they got ready for the bus to the match. "Barnacle" might have had good reason to be worried: apparently he once threw all his tour party's documents - including a bundle of passports - into a wastepaper bin before checking out of a hotel.

Glenn McGrath
After Australia polished Bangladesh off in just over three days in Cairns in 2003, the players and press had to find something to do for the next day or two. I sneaked off to the scenic railway that runs through the tropical rainforest up to Kuranda. On the way back, I plonked myself down in my seat, and turned out to be right opposite Australia's opening bowler. We smiled, as he tried valiantly to remember who I was, then avoided embarrassment for the next half hour of the descent by chatting away on our mobile phones. I think Glenn's relatives were slightly less impressed to discover who he was sitting opposite than mine were.

Coward and Howard
Approaching the press box in Sydney one day, I was halted by a couple of heavies as John Howard, Australia's prime minister at the time, yarned away in the corridor with Mike Coward, the impressively deep-voiced cricket writer for the Australian. Any attempt to nip by them, to the enticing array of pies on the table behind, was stopped by the security men until the pair had finished putting the cricket world to rights.

Sarfraz Nawaz
The giant Pakistani pace bowler once inveigled his way into the old Lord's press box for one of the domestic county finals. He filled a spare seat next to me, and engagingly asked about the fielding side's players: "Who's their pro?" Slightly flummoxed, I said, "Well, they all are ..." "No, no," said Sarf, "every county has a West Indian fast bowler, don't they? Who's theirs?"

John Gleeson
The Australian spinner had been a bit of a hero of mine as I grew up, because of the mystery about his finger-flicking bowling action. One day in Sydney I found myself standing alongside him in the loo at the back of the stand. That didn't seem quite the right place to introduce myself, but I was planning a quick review of the 1968 Ashes series over at the washbasins when he suddenly broke wind in impressively loud fashion. I never did ask whether Geoff Boycott could pick him.

David Frith
Many moons ago I boarded a flight to Australia, and spotted the Wisden Cricket Monthly editor in a nearby seat. I'd played cricket against him not long before - but, much more importantly, had just sent him something. "I know you, don't I?" he asked. "Yes," I replied, "I think I may have just won your Christmas quiz." I'd had to finish the tricky thing quickly and send it before flying off. "What's your name? Ah, yes, I think you might have ..." Two years - and two more wins - later, he offered me a job.

Merv Hughes
In the 1990s, in the early days of the internet, not everyone was connected all the time as they seem to be now. Several press boxes, including the one in Melbourne, helpfully provided a couple of wired-up computers at the back. But attempts to get online at the MCG were rather stymied by the huge presence at one of the screens of the recently retired Merv, huffing and puffing as he had in many an Ashes classic. "Merv's a great bloke," hissed a hard-working journalist, "but I wish he wouldn't monopolise the bloody computer playing Super Mario when I've got a deadline in five minutes. Trouble is, he's bigger than me. Hell, he's bigger than everybody!"

Allan Border
At a swanky awards evening in Mumbai, I was rather distracted by the kerfuffle around the chap at the other end of my row, a Mr Tendulkar, and had to be tapped on the shoulder by someone whose ticket said he was supposed to be sitting somewhere in the middle. Closer inspection revealed this to be Border. I knew he was presenting an award later, so suggested he should have my seat near the end - but he wouldn't hear of it, and sat there quietly until it was his turn for the spotlight.

Michael Parkinson
Another welcome visitor to the Sydney press box, Parky - who was always popular Down Under - was explaining that on his first visit he'd not been aware quite how vast Australia was. When the pilot courteously informed the passengers that their plane had just crossed the coast near Darwin and was now over the Australian mainland, Parkinson got up and put his jacket on, to prepare for landing in Sydney: "A stewardess gently told me there was another four hours to go yet, so I could probably sit down."

Charlie Watts
The Rolling Stones drummer was one of the buyers at the massive auction conducted by MCC at Lord's in 1987, their bicentenary year. Possibly distracted by his quiet presence, I waved to a friend at some point - and, in a scene straight out of a sitcom, nearly bought something by mistake. And I'd have been unlucky, as in an auction where 99% of the items were interesting bits of cricket memorabilia, I had managed to bid for a pair of Plum Warner's old tennis shorts. Fortunately, someone else wanted them even more than I did.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2013