Essays, reflections and more

What do cricketers' autographs tell us about them?

Can those hurried scrawls reveal the private workings of a professional player's mind?

Nicholas Hogg

July 2, 2014

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Glenn McGrath obliges autograph seekers at Leicester after the second day of the Leicestershire-Australians match, July 16, 2005
Does every single Glenn McGrath autograph look exactly the same? © Getty Images
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In the summer of 1988, aged 13 and armed with my leather-bound Leicestershire County Cricket Club autograph book, I stalked the pavilion steps at Grace Road. Aesthetes never delighted in our East Midlands venue. The cafeteria was shaped like an Anderson shelter with moss-blighted corrugated roofing, and the hotchpotch arrangement of plastic seating and rotting benches seemed more like furniture borrowed from the neighbours for a garden party - the kind of barbecue stacked high with burgers from Aldi and Farm Foods.

But we had David Gower to beautify the turf, along with a host of visiting county stars and even the touring West Indies team. And because my step-father preferred to have me out of the house during the summer holidays, he borrowed the LCCC memberships on loan from the Working Men's Club. With my friend Matt Cartwright - a school mate who'd bowl for hours against the factory walls, who'd score endless games of Test Match on his kitchen table, or trudge across town in search of signatures - we'd tour a network of unreliable bus services across Leicester in search of cricketer's names.

The journey's reward was entry to the Grace Road members area. Simply by waving the maroon cards at security we could unjustifiably sit with the doddering old boys in blazers rather than the Tupperware army in the cheap seats. The view from behind the bowler's arm was the best in the ground, a vantage point from where I once watched Jonathan Agnew york Chris Broad with a sublime slower ball, but by far the best part of mixing with the members was access to the players.

Either outside the dressing-room door, or by the gate onto the outfield, book opened and pen clutched, jostling other boys with books and pens if the prospective autographee was a Test player, we readied to pounce.

I remember Viv Richards striding out for Somerset in a John Player League game, working on a piece of gum as he took his long, signature you-can-wait-for-me-I'm-the-King walk to the crease. I'd wager that every Leicestershire fan in the ground wanted to see him swat a couple of sixes. But he didn't, and that long slow walk was now coming back towards us, the boys with the books and the pens. I don't think I had the guts, gall or stupidity to step forward and hassle the King with my Biro. What I do remember is the silence of the crowd, the collective disappointment. Then just before the gate Viv spat out his gum and whacked it against the sightscreen with his bat. A lone drunk called out, "That's the best shot you've played all day." The crowd laughed, and Viv did too. And I wasn't crass enough to lunge forward and demand his signature.

 
 
A rising signature implies a problem-solving character, and a personality that is generally optimistic
 

Do I wish I had? An autograph is a one-off moment, the singular mark of a hero to take home and cherish. It's a sprinkle of stardust to a cricket-loving teenager, even an adult. Yet thumbing through the names in my little green book I can't actually recall the moment any of them signed, just the ones who didn't. I blame Matt Cartwright for missing Agnew.

Matt and I were meticulous about grouping players from the same team on the same page, and Agnew, sweating as I recall, perhaps jogging between interviews - or possibly chasing Phillip DeFreitas - dashed off his name on the wrong page. Agnew had made a clumsy error, but he didn't appreciate overhearing Matt call him a, "F****** twat." He was holding my book, aghast, the pen hovering. "I beg your pardon" was followed by a lecture on bad language and the handing back of a blank page.

"Whose the f****** twat, now," I might have said - not to Agnew, he was long gone, forever striding away like an angry stork, but to Matt, who at least had the moniker, even though Agnew had signed himself over to the Yorkshire squad.

A shame, and not because Agnew was an autograph I'd treasure and gaze at nearly 30 years later, but because he'd have left a scrawl I could analyse with my new-found graphology skills.

****

According to Hubert Desenclos, author of Understanding Graphology, handwriting is "formed by a lifetime of conscious and unconscious movements" that can reveal a great deal about a person's character. Laymen, psychics, therapists and writers such as Goethe, Balzac, Edgar Allen Poe and Sir Walter Scott have speculated on the correlation between penmanship and our inner selves.

"Bunkum," I hear you say. "A poppycock pseudo-science."

Not in France, where there are considerably more graphologists than cricket grounds. A conservative estimate gauges that at least 50% of companies use a form of handwriting analysis in their recruiting process.

Can that hurried scrawl in a teenage autograph-hunter's book reveal the private workings of a professional cricketer?

In 1895, a professor of psychophysiology, Wilhelm Preyer, decreed that "handwriting features which tend to appear together express a certain psychological trait". Curiously, the following assertion from the non-cricketing Wilhelm could also refer to a batsman or a bowler: "The hand is only an instrument between the brain and the pen."


David Gower flicks behind square on his way to 68, Prime Minister's XI v England XI, Canberra, December 23, 1986
David Gower: graceful and flowing, even with his pen © Getty Images
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Or perhaps the ball, or the bat. Before we ridicule the graphologists we should acknowledge the cricketologist in all of us, the armchair pundit who assassinates character by watching how a batsman cover-drives or late cuts, whether he ducks the rearing bouncer or hooks it out of the ground - we all judge the man by the shots he plays or the deliveries he sends down.

Preceding the application of my amateur graphology skills to the collected autographs, I shall first list the players. This way you can make equally amateur and barely educated guesses about whom the graphological interpretation refers to.

In order as they appear in my book: Martyn Moxon, Phil Carrick, Kevin Shaw, Phillip Whitticase, David Gower, Tim Boon, James Whittaker, Les Taylor, Chris Penn, Winston Benjamin, Eldine Baptiste, Clive Rice, Bruce French, Chris Broad, Chris Lewis, Allan Lamb, Simon Brown, Mark Robinson, David Capel, David Ripley, Duncan Wild, Nick Cook, Robin Boyd-Moss, Wayne Larkins, Roger Harper, Richie Richardson, Malcolm Marshall, Gus Logie, and Keith Arthurton.

A list including county workhorses, Test stars, and quite possibly a physio wearing a team tracksuit - five of whom have been "analysed" by a technique employing Jungian and Freudian psychology, as well as the bias of a cricket fan with considerable hindsight on their playing careers.

Player 1
Using the "rough analysis" method of Desenclos on an "undersized signature with a hesitating, over restrained movement" one infers that this cricketer displays timidity and anxiousness, and is a player who feels their expression is "controlled or blocked", thus reserving them to social introversion.

Player 2
According to Patricia Marne, author of Learn to Interpret Handwriting - The Key to Understanding Friends and Enemies, huge capitals for both first and surnames "betray poor taste and materialism. Status is everything, the writer (cricketer) will pursue a personal niche within the social framework of the group (team) society or environment (club)... so they can take control."

Player 3
This player uses a double paraph - underscore - which Marne interprets as selfishness, and a cricketer "looking for recognition they feel is due, but whatever talent they have may not be as extensive as they think".

Player 4
Using the more advanced Desenclos system, a chart developed while he was lecturing at the Paris Societe de Grapholgie, the upstrokes, downstrokes, and the position of "I"-dots and "t"-bars along with loop sizes - "o's" and "e's", for example - along with letter slants and spacing reveal an ambitious cricketer with an ability for self-expression and sublimation, but one who also demonstrates "tension with purposefulness - compensating for some inner dissatisfaction." The writing shows a "sensitiveness integrated into mental activity," and this signature's "elegant form, balanced spacing and proportion have more value because spontaneously produced".

Player 5
Their rising signature implies a problem-solving character, and a personality that is generally optimistic, "in control and ambitious". Yet the illegibility hints at a player who lacks confidence and avoids conflict. This particular system of graphology also declared that Jack Nicholson was "assertive" and that Victoria Beckham cared more about her public self than her private one.

****

So, let's see how you fared. If you get five out of five I suggest you change your job and move to France and become a graphologist - though before you snap up that ch√Ęteau for the price of a Peckham bedsit you should bear in mind that the only cricket they play is "French".


Malcolm Marshall in action, April 10, 1991
Would a graphologist have gauged Malcolm Marshall's disposition from his signature? Ben Radford / © Getty Images
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Player 1: Chris Lewis
Timid and anxious? A player who feels their expression is "controlled or blocked"? Although I recall Derek Pringle complaining that Lewis would strut around their shared hotel room naked, I'm inclined to agree with the handwriting analysis of this troubled player. Lewis, who was once upon a time my coach at Leicestershire, and is now residing in prison after his conviction for smuggling cocaine, never realised his full potential as the gifted cricketer he was.

Player 2: Clive Rice
"Status is everything" for Clive Rice - according to his signature. The forthright skipper of South Africa during the rebel tours, and captain of successful Transvaal and Notts teams in the '80s, the combative Rice now spends his time berating Cricket South Africa. Earlier this year he asked CSA to stay clear of his funeral, and he regularly launches criticism in the direction of governing bodies. A person "who will pursue a personal niche" is a startlingly accurate result.

Player 3: Nick Cook
First, let's take a look at left-arm spinner Cook's England stats: 15 Tests with 52 wickets at an average of 32.48, and three ODIs with 5 wickets at 19. A career fully realised? Or a cricketer who felt undervalued by the selectors, a player who according to his handwriting was "looking for recognition they feel is due". Although we should bear in mind that was his signature in 1988, 20 years before Northants recruited Cook to successfully develop the spinning talents of Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann - two grateful students he has received public recognition from.

Player 4: David Gower
Perhaps the giveaway line was the "elegant form" of the signature. It's befitting of the graceful Gower that his flowing autograph should reveal his batting style, an ease of penmanship that seems to glide his name out into the covers. Yet this is also an autograph that hints at man "compensating for some inner dissatisfaction". I'd argue here that the dissatisfaction is from his fans, those of us who watched and wished he'd have jogged around the ground with Gooch a few more times, or honed his prodigious gifts in the occasional net.

Player 5: Malcolm Marshall
Lacking confidence? One of the greatest fast bowlers the game has ever seen lacking confidence? Not sure the graphologist would come to the same conclusion if they'd watched Marshall knock over England at Old Trafford in 1988, bagging 7 for 22 in a series in which he finished with 35 wickets at just over 12 runs a piece. Although we should give credit to the analysis noting that this person was "in control and ambitious". Swinging the ball both ways at 90mph requires masterly control, and a bowler who believed he was good enough to usurp one of the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" certainly had ambition.

Do these dashed-off names reveal the inner workings of a professional cricketer? Or do we concur with psychologist Laurent Begue from the University of Grenoble who sputters that "it's all a load of rubbish", comparing graphologists to mind-reading tricksters who rely on "vague-sounding generalities" that can be applicable to almost anyone?

Rice, Cook and Gower's signatures fit the profiling to a degree, but this experiment might well have been polluted by the amateur graphologist not wanting to denigrate his heroes. Chris Lewis was a much-loved coach with my Leicestershire team-mates, and Malcolm Marshall is my bowling god. Quick, intelligent and aggressive when fire was needed. A man who took 376 Test wickets and regularly makes all-time world XIs as the fast-bowling spearhead. Revered before and after his early death from cancer aged only 41, his coffin was carried by five West Indian captains, and he was humble enough to sign his name in my little green book.

Nicholas Hogg is a co-founder of the Authors Cricket Club. His first novel, Show Me the Sky, was nominated for the IMPAC literary award. @nicholas_hogg

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Posted by   on (July 2, 2014, 18:17 GMT)

Really enjoyed this. I hope you have more signatures that you can use to turn it into a little series.

Posted by   on (July 2, 2014, 7:59 GMT)

A beautifully crafted eassay

Posted by DilipanMA on (July 2, 2014, 6:06 GMT)

As a writer, One of the best article i have read it recent times... I see formations of Captain Beefdom in this article..Beautifully articulated Nic :)

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Nicholas Hogg Nicholas Hogg is vice-captain of the Authors Cricket Club. His debut novel, Show Me the Sky, was nominated for the IMPAC literary award, and his third novel, TOKYO, will be published summer 2015. A Leicestershire CCC youth player, he claims once to have trapped Chris Broad plumb lbw in a match at Grace Road - not that the umpire agreed with him. @nicholas_hogg

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