Why do you love cricket

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Why do you love cricket?

I love the social mix. At one end of the scale you have the kids from the comprehensives, at the other you have Matthew Fleming, Eton College, Royal Green Jackets, Kent, England. There is also a massive age span of interest in the game: boys and girls of eight, elderly men and women of 80, all hooked on cricket.

Are you a Kent man?

Yes, I spent many happy hours at Canterbury watching Graham Cowdrey before his retirement a few months ago. Graham is my best friend and one of the greatest things in my life is having an opportunity to spend time with Colin Cowdrey. How difficult for Chris and Graham to follow Colin. One Aussie wag in the crowd yelled at Graham: 'Oi, Cowboy, you were no good and your father was no good either!' I still recall looking for a boundary four I thought had flown to third man, only to see Colin pull the ball out of his pocket at first slip. Incredible sleight of hand.

That impression you do of Colin Cowdrey brings the house down.

I wouldn't say that but I did have the honour of dining with Colin at Angmering on the night he got his Lordship. The phone never stopped ringing. Each time Colin returned from taking a call, he'd say: 'Another piss-taker, another piss-taker.' Then he'd change the subject and say, 'wasn't it lovely what they did for Peter O'Sullevan?'. Colin always deflects the subject to talk about someone else.

But you must have talked cricket with Colin?

Yes, occasionally. He blinds me with science when he talks about Wally Hammond's studious study of each delivery. He also has a theory that our kids don't get too many cricket bats at Christmas because Yuletide falls in the close season. The Aussie and South African children get a better deal and therefore have an advantage in gaining an early love of the great game.

Have you played much cricket yourself?

Yes, badly, and I've still got the bruises to prove it. New Zealand's Chris Cairns broke my right hand four years ago. There was me writhing in agony; there was Allan Lamb saying: 'You had your bloody hands too low, China. I don't know what you thought you were doing.' Next ball I was dismissed. It was the first time in my life I went back to the dressing-room and threw some furniture around.

Have you faced any other good bowlers?

One D.K. Lillee. I was playing for Old England against Old Australia at Sir Paul Getty's ground. Mike Denness batted four, and when I walked to the wicket at number five to face Dennis, Bill Tidy shouted: 'Don't worry Rory, the worst that can happen is that you will be totally humiliated.'

And were you?

Yes. But I'm blaming the pitch. I thought I was doing well against Lillee, eye on the ball, offering full face of the bat. Then he bounced me and I hooked magnificently to the fine-leg boundary. But when I looked for the ball, Dennis yelled: 'Other f-----g way mate!' It had flown to third man off the edge.

A rare failure?

Hardly. I never scored a 50 at school and I'm no Warnie with the ball. I give an impression of showing some Geoffrey Boycott obduracy with the bat, but get fed up with non-playing captains yelling: 'It's getting dark Rory.' I'm very much of the Brian Close school. When he captained the Yorkshire Academy, he told the youngsters to keep batting. Closey, deciding to declare with the score well over 300, said: 'Let's see the bastards chase that.'

So you have some respect for Yorkshiremen?

Michael Parkinson is one of a number of great people associated with cricket. The irony of Geoffrey Boycott is that there is a man who spent most of his life not giving a damn what people thought of him, who now has to go round looking for character references. Whenever I see Boycott, he says: 'You've got the accent wrong, you can't doo meee.' If only he could find some humility and contrition at times. But I don't like seeing Geoffrey struggle. I hope he can recover the respect his talents merit. The game is the poorer without people with strong views.

Public life can often be difficult to handle.

Boycott and Will Carling, a good friend of mine, have both had a rough time. Fame can be difficult to handle. It often magnifies difficulties in your life. When I went through a divorce, that was a very painful and unhappy time. You never properly recover from those problems.

Are you happy with the England cricket media?

Attacking England has become a national sport and driven the team into a siege mentality. any failure is magnified, any success questioned, and the players' confidence is shattered. Players mixed more freely with the media in the Gower-Botham-Lamb era but let's not pretend England were any more successful then. There's only so much kicking players can take.

I thought it sickening when one national put a black border round a page with the words emblazoned RIP England cricket. And Ray Illingworth, that great leader of men, should have had at least three years out of the front line before he started slagging off his successors.

Does the English domestic game require overhaul?

Of course it does. There's far too much one-day cricket. The counties have to balance their desire to make a profit against the need to protect the image, profile and influence of the game. There is still so much about English cricket that is parochial. Until the counties bite the bullet and agree we need a winning team, things will continue to be difficult. Lord MacLaurin needs to be given the same support from the counties that he gets from the players. I get the impression from the England team that his Lordship is very popular.

Any sympathy for the West Indies players' pay and conditions dispute?

The West Indies Cricket board is very strapped for cash at a time when the game is awash with money elsewhere in the world. This is a recipe for confrontation. Sponsorship is the solution. There is a humility among cricketers which makes them protect the game rather than allow themselves to damage it. President Mandela could make an appeal by letter to Brian Lara because cricket is more than a game.

Some big name beneficiaries have received your support.

Yes, I've supported between 25-30 cricketers, including Mike Atherton, Alec Stewart, John Emburey, Courtney Walsh and Allan Lamb. The benefit events that have meant most to me have been those for players like Raj Maru, Steve Watkin, and Kevin Evans. Kevin is not a Richard Hadlee, Clive Rice, Derek Randall or Chris Lewis. The son of a Notts miner, Kevin made his debut for Notts in 1984 and has worked damned hard for the county for more than 10 years. It was a privilege to help him.

In Channel 4's Rory Bremner - Who Else? you did a wonderful impression of Clare Short. Would she be your choice to be the first woman member of MCC?

No! But I can see Helen Mirren walking through the Grace Gates. Do you know, MCC have just started selling lacy nighties bearing an MCC logo? Unfortunately, they still haven't decided what they will do for women members! Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie did a wonderful job to win that argument. It means cricket will continue to be played there and Lord's will not be shunned and left behind by the rest of the world. Some of the women I know have a better knowledge of the game than some men. They are a civilising influence. But Clare Short is too busy getting her Nicaraguas in a twist to join. I did an all-male dinner once and sent my fee to a women's cricket cause.

Is Lord's a favourite venue?

Yes, even though I turned up the day after Gooch got his 333. But I do remember Kapil Dev hitting Eddie Hemmings for four straight sixes.

How about your World XI?

I haven't picked one since school. Alec Stewart would be my batsman/wicket-keeper. It would have to contain Sachin Tendulkar, a genius, the best bat in the world. Brian Lara, with that huge backlift, is more flamboyant.

No place for R. Bremner?

In my dreams. I often wonder why Lambie, Gower and Robin Smith play cricket with people like me. It can't be much fun for Robin to go home and tell his wife he was caught by Bob Holness off the bowling of Roger de Courcey or that fat git from Eastenders. Just imagine Atherton getting the one straight ball Ronnie Corbett bowls in his life.

Your best moment on the field?

Without doubt scoring 72 and taking 6-34 with my 'Warnies' for Channel 4 against the Lords and Commons XI. It included John Redwood's wicket with a donkey drop. It's the only occasion on a cricket ground I've seen everyone appeal, both teams, the crowd, and both umpires.

One question worrying some people. Will you trivialise cricket if you join the Channel 4 commentary team next summer?

I love the game too much for that to happen. I'll leave the technical stuff to Richie Benaud and concentrate on the game's characters. Test match cricket will be safe in Channel 4's hands.

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