Touring difficulties, Ray Illingworth and Geoff Boycott, and Chris Lewis

Reading a piece by Derek Pringle about Michael Yardy this morning, it reminded me of an interview I did last year with Andrew Wingfield-Digby, former chaplain to the England cricket team. An excerpt appeared in February’s Wisden Cricketer, but it was a wide-ranging chat and a lot of interesting stuff ended up on the cutting room floor.

This was the paragraph in Pringle’s piece that got me thinking.

Handed a smouldering short straw, when team management rather shamefully declined to be interviewed about the matter, Ravi Bopara, after sympathising with his departure, said that: “It is reassuring knowing that someone is there if you do need to open up to someone.” Trouble is there wasn’t, at least not here, Mark Bawden, England’s psychologist, ony being present during the Ashes tour.

That pastoral role was one filled on and off by Wingfield-Digby between 1990 and 2000. Here are the quotes from Wingers that may or may not relate to the experiences suffered by Yardy and Marcus Trescothick before him. There’s also some stuff on Ray Illingworth and Devon Malcolm that has a strange parallel to the Geoff Boycott/ Michael Yardy quotes, and some interesting reminiscences on Chris Lewis.

On sports psychologists

They (cricket teams) do have sports psychologists but sports psychologists are more geared towards their performance than their lifestyle. If your self-worth is entirely wrapped up in how many runs you get or how many goals you’ve scored then you make other self-destructive decisions.

There is a real place for what the army would call, a good Padre. Why do they have Padre in Afghanistan and Iraq or wherever? They must think they have some role to play with people under pressure in the front line and sports people are under pressure in the front line, they have all sorts of temptations, opportunities, and pressures. The army really do value a good Padre.

On Marcus Trescothick

I have no idea whether someone in my role could’ve made a difference, I don’t even know if in his life there is anybody in that role. I wonder if that avenue was explored sufficiently in terms of pastoral care for him, or was he exposed to the brutality of the changing room, the terrible loneliness of touring in a team when you’re miserable. The place you’re most lonely is in a crowd and if you’re in a team and you’re miserable, it’s desperate.

On touring

I’ve often worried about home advantage in all sorts of professional sport, why is home advantage so great? I know you have the crowd with you and all that but I can’t believe that makes much difference really. I’m sure it’s to do with your well-being as a person and how you feel about yourself. You’re sleeping in your own bed, with your own wife, you’re not in a hotel, and you’re in familiar circumstances, you’re more at ease with yourself compared to if you’re on the other side of the world, not behaving very well, being dragged down by your teammates.

A different topic but a startlingly similar premise to the comments on Yardy by Geoff Boycott, a Yorkshireman from a similar generation.

On the way Ray Illingworth treated Devon Malcolm

Raymond was a great cricketer, great captain, absolutely fascinating on the game but really he just knew about cricket, that was his entire life. I didn’t get the impression that he thought much or knew much or cared much about things outside cricket really – he enjoyed his golf and he had his house in Spain but he was entirely a cricket creature. He grew up in the 50s in the Yorkshire team, I think he was just a victim of that society. I don’t think there was much malice in it at all really, it’s unacceptable now but it was a different world then. It was deeply offensive to Devon but I think it would have really surprised Raymond that it was deeply offensive to him; I don’t think it would have crossed his mind; it’s just the way things were. Of course he should’ve known better but he didn’t know better.

And lastly, just because it’s very interesting

On Chris Lewis

I’m very sad at what’s happened to him, I’m amazed really. He was an astonishing talent. I remember saying that to Mike Atherton who captained him and got frustrated with him. Athers would say don’t use that word, if he can’t do it, he hasn’t got it. Athers believed you can only measure talent if you look at mental attitude as well, and Chris tended always to have a reason why he could not quite get to 100%, through injury or something going on. For Athers you should give 100% whatever the cause, whatever the situation, half-fit you should give 100%. Athers said, “He’s (Lewis) got a sublime cover drive, better than me but if you can’t actually do it repeatedly when it matters, you haven’t really got talent.”

I haven’t seen Chris in 11 years. I would love to see him. He’s an immensely likable chap; I remember my wife and I had dinner with him and his girlfriend in the West Indies in Antigua, just the four of us, and we had a really nice evening together – he was charming and articulate and delightful. He professed Christian faith so he was extremely warm towards me; I regard him as one that I failed with completely despite having an opportunity, I just failed to be of any help to him.

I’d be really surprised if his heart was not in the right place, I think he was just in a proper muddle, probably, that was the impression I got then, I have no idea now. He was never really happy as an England cricketer, he always felt apart and he had this self-destructive urge. I don’t think a cricket changing room; any changing room is the most sympathetic place for a person who is carrying personal problems. With the banter, it tends to brutally expose weaknesses. I think for someone like Chris Lewis it was very difficult at time, he was a very sensitive chap, he was a bit of a model, wearing a hair net, in the West Indies getting sunstroke, the banter would have been ferocious.

I watched him get an absolutely phenomenal hundred in Madras in the second innings of that losing Test match; he just looked a world-beater and I remember Athers saying well of course he made a hundred, it doesn’t matter, we were losing the game so there was no pressure.


4 thoughts on “Touring difficulties, Ray Illingworth and Geoff Boycott, and Chris Lewis

  1. Thanks for this Sam – I recall the interview and these quotes are well worthy of publication, so it’s good to have them here.

    “They (cricket teams) do have sports psychologists but sports psychologists are more geared towards their performance than their lifestyle. If your self-worth is entirely wrapped up in how many runs you get or how many goals you’ve scored then you make other self-destructive decisions.” The case against Usman Afzaal or Vinod Kambli or the young Swanny and almost any footballer, is the opposite – their self-worth was / is not measured by their performance – and the “too much too young” is trotted out for their difficulties (indeed, Chris Lewis had it thrown at him too, with the naked model shots etc).

    The quotes on Tresco and touring both give very negative views of the concept of “the team”, yet cricketers and cyclists experience their most destructive episodes when the team environment disappears and they are on their own. There are few more successful structures than the team, in business, in the military, in life. Teams rescue far more than they lose.

    “I don’t think a cricket changing room; any changing room is the most sympathetic place for a person who is carrying personal problems.” Is there any evidence for this? As a man of faith, A W-D doesn’t need it – which I respect, it’s his choice – but what would he suggest (apart from a church)? A factory floor? A corporate HQ? The pub? My point is not that a cricket dressing room is ideal, but that it may be no worse nor no better than anywhere else.

    Of course, A W-D is not building a case here, but he does talk with the certainty that faith brings – for non-believers, that always jars.

  2. I thought of that interview when I saw the Boycott comments. I don’t have it with me, but didn’t A W-D mention a talk by Boycott after retiring, in which he said that he’s scored more than a hundred hundreds, all great, but now there was nothing?

    For Boycott, your cricketing performance is all there is, so Yardy’s depression must be the result of his (relative) inadequacies on the field, and is a wholly justified response to them. An attitude that is both crazily reductive and probably quite typical of top-level sportsmen (and competitors in other fields).

  3. Joe, you’re right, Boycs did say that. Couldn’t reprint from Twc piece but an insight into a scarily one dimensional mind.

    Tooting, yes agreed. To ve fair to wingers he qualified all his statements as purely his view, he’d hate to be seen to be trying to be definitive.

    • Everything I’ve read about A W-D (over the years, he’s had quite a few mentions in the cricket press) suggests he’s a very decent bloke, so that doesn’t surprise me. My point is that his view is coloured as much by his background and worldview as is Boycott’s – each misguided in their own way, each willing to start without evidence and fit Yardy into their preconceived ideas. Of course Boycott is egregious and A W-D is not, but they have much in common.

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