Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Chris Lewis

It's hard to have much sympathy for Chris Lewis. he was, after all, found guilty of smuggling several kilos worth of Grade A shit into the country – a move as stupid as it is reprehensible.

But Chris Lewis was my favourite cricketer when younger. A swashbuckling, and frustratingly mercurial, talent he could be equally destructive with bat and ball and was probably the greatest England fielder of his generation.

So many cricketers fail to become that which they may have otherwise been, and Lewis was no different. I'd guess that this is because cricket is as much about confidence, frame-of-mind, toughness, touch and rhythm as raw talent.

If those stars are not in alignment, a cricketer is likely to be found lacking much of the time at the highest level. Couple that to a personality the country's cricket writers singularly failed to pin down when the coke story first broke, and you have a recipe for a troubled and unfulfilled talent on your hands.

Punctured tyres, Playgirl spreads, a career change to become a preacher, match-throwing allegations, an unlikely late-in-the-day recall to Surrey as a 20/20 specialist. All of them conspired to lend Lewis an aura of a difficult and slightly unhinged character, in a sport filled with unhinged characters.

None of this, however, goes towards explaining how he ended up trying to carry a bag of cocaine into the country.

I'd guess that the same fate that befalls the Gazzas, Alis, Stone Cold Steve Austins, Kirk Stevens' and Jocky Wilsons of this world.

The pressures of living a normal life – away from the routine, the money, the glamour, the attention, the camaraderie, the discipline – can be tough for sportsmen, as it often is for actors and musicians who fade from the spotlight.

But where arty types can always struggle on gamely, the frailties of the body end careers decisively and suddenly, exposing further frailties of the mind and character.

Footballers used to open pubs, boxers opened gyms, cricketers became umpires. But not everyone gets lucky. Some fall through the cracks.

This is particularly, and peculiarly true of cricketers, and the number of cricketers who have taken their own lives is a bizarre phenomenon.

Perhaps morose characters are drawn to cricket, perhaps cricket makes people morose. But cricketers – even internationals like Lewis – earn far less than most other national sportsmen.

That your professional life can be over before you hit 40, your best years gone and money blown on fast cars and high times must be a galling prospect, and one that many sportsmen and cricketers especially must face.

Perhaps the unlikely comeback or the choice to gamble it all to remain in touching distance of that high life are too attractive. Maybe in that context Lewis' actions make more sense.

To have little to fall back on, little to look forward to, little comfort beyond memories must be unimaginably harsh. If the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, then it must be fearful to be burned out before middle age.


  1. Heard Martin Corry talking about his impending retirement with Brian Moore and Matt Dawson on Five Live last night. He was talking about having lived half his life according to one strict regime of training and playing. You could hear the fear in his voice as he talked about what he might do next. The situation is made worse by the fact that guys like Dawson, Moore and Guscott get well paid for a job that is effectively a doss. It's even more of a doss in cricket because so much of it takes place on sun-kissed shores. An old mate of mine once had the softest job in journalism. He was cricket corrresondent of the Independent on Sunday. "I knew it couldn't last," he said and it didn't.

  2. National cricket correspondent must be the ultimate aim for any lazy journo or ex-cricketer. Presumably the reason the airwaves are filled with lazy journos and ex cricketers these days.


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