The brotherhood of cricket, as we know, transcends race, creed, class and nationality. It can also be a big help when it comes to dealing with the law, as this East–er parable demonstrates. My distinguished Times colleague Phil Webster, besides being a doyen of political writers, is also a ferocious cricketer and a man once described as the meanest captain who had ever pulled on a pair of whites. Phil at this time — about 20 years ago — led a press team loosely affiliated to a long–defunct magazine. As is the way with these things, the team had acquired an opening bowler, a large and imposing figure from Jamaica called, let’s say, Courtney, who had little to do with journalism, more with the building trade.
Now Courtney’s size belied his geniality, most of the time anyway. One day he was on his way home and inadvertently seems to have cut up a van full of white guys. They then forced him to stop and advanced on his car. Courtney took the view that their intentions were not entirely friendly (this was not long after the Stephen Lawrence murder) and got out of the car holding a crowbar that he happened to have with him. Vigorous views were exchanged, as were blows, and soon sirens sounded and police and ambulances rolled up. Courtney, who was unscathed, was charged with causing actual bodily harm and a court date was set.
This is where Phil comes in. He was called as a character witness, and dutifully made the journey to court.
‘How do you know the defendant?’ asked the magistrate. ‘Well, your honour, I captain a cricket team and Courtney is my opening bowler.’
‘Really?’ said the magistrate, clearly interested. ‘And is he an aggressive bowler?’
‘Far from it, your honour. If anything I would like him to be more aggressive. If you follow cricket, your honour…’ ‘I do, certainly,’ said the bench. Webster continued, growing in confidence, ‘Well, if anything I would compare him to Devon Malcolm, who is rated by many as the best in the country, but whose bowling often lacks the necessary bite and fizz.’
‘You’re here as a character witness for the defendant, Mr Webster. How did you feel when you heard the details of the case?’
‘Well, your honour, I was astonished. I thought it would be quite a bonus if I ever saw any of that aggression on the cricket field, because I never have.’ Which was all true, of course. Because although he loved a long run-up, Courtney’s bowling rarely troubled any half-decent batsman.
‘I see. Thank you.’
Courtney got off.
Tubby or not tubby, that is the question. Never mind young Jordan Spieth and the future of golf, let’s hear it for the fat and old, and what a great time they had at the Masters. Miguel Ángel Jiménez, all rioja and cigars, was right in contention. Fred Couples at 54 was playing his 30th Masters and always there until his final back nine. Was ever a swing more languid, and more deserving of a gorgeous blonde girlfriend to admire it? (There have already been countless gorgeous wives and girlfriends.) Keen observers will also have enjoyed Kevin Stadler doing pretty well. The son of Masters winner Craig, he is known as the ‘Smallrus’. His dad was the ‘Walrus’, of course. Kevin used to caddy for his dad, and there wasn’t much room for anyone else on the greens. I hope they are all keeping an eye over the Atlantic on darts maestro Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor, who since Christmas has shed loads of weight and can barely win a match.
I never like pointing out typos, but enjoyed this in the Telegraph. If Spieth had won the Masters it would have been, apparently, a ‘seismic generational shit’.
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Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.
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