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The secret of England’s cricket success: going the full Alexander?

August 24, 2020

One aspect of getting involved in an all-consuming project is that it’s amazing how all the stuff you thought was important slips away. I’m currently writing what might become a book. I won’t say “I’m writing a book” because words don’t become a book until they actually are a book – in other words, something you can read on a Kindle or something with paper pages that someone else has printed.

I’m currently struggling with a backlog of newspapers that I normally get through on the day they arrive on my doorstep. Not that I’m unaware of the general gist of Belarus, Biden, Johnson in his tent, Trump and his tantrums, the latest ramifications of COVID and so forth. But it’s a temporary joy that they’re taking second place to a labour of love, whether or not that labour ends up as something tangible.

But I have managed to find time for my beloved cricket. England are currently playing Pakistan in the last of a three-match series. For once, at least on the basis of the first two days, Sky’s endlessly resourceful commentators have found it hard to say anything negative about England’s performance, which makes a pleasant change.

When Ian Botham and David Gower, both eminent former England cricketers, were given the boot from the commentary team at the end of last year, I thought they would leave a gap. They haven’t. The current team are as good as, or better than, any group of sports commentators I’ve seen over the last fifty years. Not only are the individual contributions full of knowledge and insight, but the content that fills the gaps between the cricket itself, of which, thanks to the weather, there have been plenty this year, has been compelling and always entertaining.

Michael Holding filmed in the Caribbean, taking about West Indies cricket. Michael Atherton interviewing Imran Khan, Pakistan’s prime minister and former cricket captain, about the return of international cricket in his country years after the terrorist attacks on the Sri Lankan team. Holding and Ebony Rainford-Brent on the impact of racism on their cricket careers. Then there were the coaching sessions, the match analysis, the videos of young cricketers and the contributions of former internationals brought in to represent the visiting team.

And finally, the humour, the banter and the respect that each team member seems to have for the others make watching test cricket on Sky feel like a family experience. Even my wife, who’s not a cricket fan, has been in stitches over the exchanges between Nasser Hussain, Robert Key and David Lloyd.

When Botham was in the team, I always got the impression that the banter had an edge, and that as soon as he left the commentary box he’d be out in the car park looking to deck the smart arse who had just dissed him. Not so now. He can do that in the House of Lords car park from hereon.

One noticeable effect of the bio-secure bubble in which both sides have been locked up during the series is that a number of the England team have been looking somewhat wild and hairy of late. Alice bands have suddenly appeared to keep their unruly manes in check. Not so the Pakistani team, who have been looking well trimmed. Is this because it’s difficult to find someone to cut their hair, whereas the Pakistanis have an in-house barber? Or have the likes of Joe Root, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes decided to model their coiffure on that of Alexander the Great?

This is something that bothers my brother and his wife, who emailed me about it, suggesting that it might be a suitable topic for this blog. He wrote that:

We have an aversion to the use of so-called alice bands in sportsmen with perceived hirsutical excess. Notorious examples are Ronnie O’Sullivan (in times past) and Chris Woakes (currently) and Joe Root (sometimes). We are also not too keen on the head shaving option for those suffering perceived hirsutical lack (e.g. Andrew Strauss and many others). I was wondering if an investigation of hair “styles” among sportsmen (and I mean men) might be an entertaining topic for one of your blog posts.

Well yes, it probably would, except that speaking for myself rather than my male siblings, I would quite like to have the option to vary my hairstyle. Having very little left, all I have is memories of previous incarnations from an age when hairdressers lacked the same imagination as they have today. An age when it was either short or long, with little in between other than the unforgettable mullet.

So I have no problem with cricketers, footballers and so forth enjoying their youthful hair, because by the time they reach my age there’s a good chance they will be bald old gits like me.

I’m certainly not one of the “get yer ‘air cut you ‘orrible little man” school that abounded in my youth. But I do have my own preferences, and they don’t include the weird hybrid favoured by many, which involves a short back and sides, but luxuriant locks on top. A bit too much like Trump without the courage of their convictions for my taste.

If you must be a skinhead, be a skinhead. Then at least people who have unpleasant memories of football terraces in the Seventies can give you a wide berth. Or alternatively, if you must, go the full Hugh Grant. Less threatening but a tad effete for some people. But then again, the 50/50 cut is perhaps a symbol of the ambiguity of the age.

I’m far more concerned about what politicians do with their hair. Boris Johnson may be a gift for cartoonists., but it has long bothered me that baldies never make it to the top. Is that because we baldies lack the killer instinct, or because the voting public don’t trust a male politician unless he has a full head of hair? For a full exploration of this theme, go to a piece I wrote on the subject a while ago, called Why do the baldies always lose unless they’re up against other baldies?

Certainly it would seem that the surest way for Donald Trump to lose the next election would be for someone to persuade him that he would look far more impressive if he went the full baldie, as the picture of his effigy in progress by Madame Tussauds in another post, The real Donald Trump, one scary dude! suggests.

But back to cricket. Perhaps the real reason why the England team, or many of them, have chosen manes like the lions on their sweaters is because of an arcane detail in the COVID-related rules around the current series. Bowlers looking to swing their deliveries look for all sorts of help to make one side of the ball shiny. Normally the two legal methods are spit and sweat, to put it bluntly. Because of COVID, saliva is not allowed, so our bowlers have to rely on sweat. The combined moisture of six or seven hairy guys applied as each passes the ball to the next is surely enough to create a shimmering surface.

If that’s the case, how fascinating that such tiny factors might influence the tonsorial preferences of a generation – of cricketers at least.

From → Books, History, Politics, Sport, UK

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