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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on January 30, 2014, 3:39 GMT

    I once served Steve Waugh a loaf of bread and a couple of date scones, made by my self. One of the shop staff told me Mark waugh was out the front and I rushed out and it was Steve and not one to leave the Australian test capain waiting I sold him his baked goods and he went about his day.

  • John on January 29, 2014, 10:03 GMT

    Sorry, but I think I can cap all of your stories. I have never sat next to a cricketer or anyone else of importance

  • Dummy4 on January 29, 2014, 9:54 GMT

    i met Wasim Akram in a hotel lift in karachi, Ah he was amicable and i got an autograph. The biggest miss was the Pakistan Cricket team, which i missed because of reaching late to my flight, Ah my colleage, a not that much cricket fan, spent half hour with the team in the boarding place.

  • David on January 28, 2014, 2:18 GMT

    Not a cricketer, but I once sat next to legendary Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach on a plane in the US. The only problem was I had no idea who he was - people came up and asked him for autographs and I was desperately trying to read over his shoulder what he was signing. Finally I figured Australian bluntness was the way to go, so I asked him, "Excuse me, who are you?" He seemed quite amused by the fact that I did not know. Had a nice chat with him after that.

  • A on January 28, 2014, 2:06 GMT

    I sat next to Rahul Dravid on a flight from Dubai to Melbourne right before the ICC super series in 2005. At first I acted nonchalant while knowing exactly who he was, the last thing I wanted to do was be an annoying fan. About 30 minutes before we were due to land I started a small conversation with him and he was very polite and happy to converse with me and I got his autograph. Funnily enough Andrew Flintoff was on the same flight and was sitting behind me too.

  • Geoff on January 27, 2014, 20:14 GMT

    Had a brief chat to the NZ all-rounder Bruce Taylor in Upper Hutt about 3 years ago. Went very well. I wasn't sure which of us was the more surprised - me for bumping into one of our most talented players in strange circumstances - or him because someone actually recognised him. Apart from Taylor, the only other international cricketer I can recall seeing in the street in civvies was the Pakistani batsman of the 50s/60s Alimuddin.

  • james on January 27, 2014, 16:42 GMT

    I met Imran Khan once.At that time he was a struggling politician who had not won a single seat in Parliament.I asked him about his party being a one man show and how he expected to do better in politics.He emphatically said that he would continue his struggle.It took him many years but sure enough,in last year's election,his party won a respectable number of seats.

  • Karthik on January 27, 2014, 15:53 GMT

    Merv, the Mario Hunter! Hilarious!

  • LAVIGNE on January 27, 2014, 13:15 GMT

    Well done, Steven. You did manage to put in the name of Mr Tendulkar in your list !