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The Ten: Hoaxes and imposters

by Ed Kemp and Aaron Rowles 15 minute read

Ed Kemp and Aaron Rowles pen down some of cricket’s hoaxes and imposters, the ten cases of silliness and subterfuge.

First published in 2015

10. Major Coup

Immediately after the Second World War, Surrey needed to appoint a new captain and chose Major Leo Bennett, a successful club cricketer in the local area. Soon after the decision was made, a fellow Bennett, Major Nigel Harvie, came down to The Oval to renew his membership. So the story goes, the club chairman presumed this Bennett the other, and the wrong man was offered the job. But far from correct the error, Major Nigel happily took the reins. A batting average of 16 and a worst-ever Surrey finish of 11th saw Wisden record that “want of knowledge on the field presented an unconquerable hindrance to the satisfactory accomplishment of the Major’s arduous duties… which prejudiced the general work of the side.” Bennett was relieved of his “arduous duties” at the end of the 1946 season, his audacious mark in history made.

9. Adrian Sham-Kar

A few years ago county blagger Adrian Shankar rewrote his CV to create a fictitious alter-ego: one who was younger, and better at cricket. Lancashire and Worcestershire were both duped by his birth-date and run-scoring claims before he and his fake documentation were rumbled in 2011, two weeks into a new two-year deal at New Road. He turned out to be three years older than he stated and his claims about first-class run-scoring in Sri Lanka were proved pure hokum. (He hadn’t played football for Arsenal’s academy or national-level tennis, either). He’d actually averaged 19 in just a handful of first-class games before finally being outed and sacked.

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8. Power to the people

During the fourth Ashes Test in 2001, renowned prankster Karl Power (he of Man Utd’s Champions League photobomb) strolled to the wicket confusing fans and players alike. Power was hiding in the changing room before the game. One of his friends was meant to call him, at the fall of a wicket, and then Power would stride to the crease, hopefully to face Shane Warne. Unfortunately for him, he got a different call, and went out onto the pitch anyway, in full batting gear, even though Nasser Hussain was already in the middle. He got another call, lifted his helmet, and walked off again to applause from an amused crowd.

7. A ‘spot’ of bother

Mazher Mahmood – the infamous ‘Fake Sheikh’ of the erstwhile News of the World was the undercover journalist to expose Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir in the spot-fixing scandal in 2010. Mahmood, posing as an Indian businessman interested in setting up a cricket tournament for betting purposes, secretly filmed conversations with the players’ agents in a London hotel. After the trio were caught out, and subsequently banned, they told the court that they’d had reservations as to the legitimacy of the Sheik. Should’ve trusted that gut feeling, boys.

6. Blog-doo

In the second IPL season in 2009, an anonymous blog about the Kolkata Knight Riders – called Fake IPL Player – hit the headlines for its criticism of teammates, coaches and even the franchise owners. On its busiest day, the controversial site – which was believed to be the work of a disgruntled fringe player – gained over 150,000 visitors and is estimated to have received around 37,000 hours of exposure, as well as causing a cross-platform media frenzy in India. Eighteen months later though, unheard-of Bangalorean marketing specialist Anupam Mukerji revealed himself as the blog’s true author, admitting that he had “never met a cricketer in his life”.

5. Hospital pass

With coach Bob Simpson in hospital after an operation on the 1995 West Indies tour, Australian opener Michael Slater thought he would get into the heavily sedated coach’s good books by visiting him in hospital. But Simpson, sluggish of mind due to the medication, mistook Slater for his teammate Justin Langer. Slater encouraged Langer to visit, thinking that he’d now get the credit he deserved. But Simpson, who grew more compos mentis every day, simply thanked Langer for a second trip that went way beyond the call of duty. Come The Oval in 2001, Langer would happily nick Slater’s spot at the top of the Aussie order, too. Some people…

4. Out of the Ken

Team selection has never been easy. Ahead of the 1890 Australian tour of England, Australian selectors chose the Tasmanian Ken Burn as the back-up wicketkeeper to the legendary Jack Blackham. A letter was dispatched inviting Burn to join the touring party. It was only after the group had set sail from Adelaide that a fairly substantial blunder was uncovered: this supposed reserve stumper – though a competent batsman and occasional seamer – had never donned the gauntlets in anger. Somewhere, along the creaking lines of 19th century communication, someone had got the wrong Burn. Ken’s performances were perfectly respectable, but poor old Blackham was without cover behind the sticks for the whole trip.

3. On the hunt for RL Hunte

Errol Hunte, West Indian wicketkeeper of the 1930s, played three Tests. But when you scurry off to check that fact in a contemporary edition of Wisden, it will appear that he only played two. ‘Why are you lying to me, AOC?’ you will surely yelp. Well, it’s actually the mustard-jacketed Almanack that has the matter wrong. During one of Errol’s three games a mistaken scorer wrote his first name as the initials ‘RL’ in the book. It took a full 40 years for the mistake to be rectified, and the fictional one-Test wonder – the imposter RL Hunte – was deprived of his first and only Test cap. It was reassigned to Errol, who was rightly awarded his third.

2. The unfortunate Mr Smith

In 1933 the Essex leg-spinner Peter Smith was in a Chelmsford cinema, when a message flashed up on the screen telling him to report to his county immediately. Outside, his excited father produced a telegram from the Essex secretary, who later confirmed the news on the phone: Smith had been chosen for the next day’s Test. He dashed to The Oval on an early train the next morning. Having made his way to the changing room, Smith asked the captain if he had made the final XI. Bob Wyatt, standing in as skipper for the injured Douglas Jardine, told Smith he had no knowledge of his selection in the first place. The telegram had been a fake. “The poor fellow,” Wyatt later wrote. “He had been made the victim of a cruel hoax.” Too cruel, if you ask us.

1. The club that wasn’t there

The hoax to beat all others. Post-war ad-man Les Williamson, a north Londoner with a vivid imagination – and a small group of his pals – invented an entire cricket club: the St Pancras Spartans. Every week of the 1951 and ’52 seasons, the eccentric tricksters sent in detailed fictitious match reports which were devotedly published in the local paper. As well as tall tales of on-field goings-on, there were news stories, like the retirement of the club’s long-serving groundsman who, in a “happy ceremony” was presented with a miniature silver lawn mower and roller. Beautifully barmy, this scarcely believable and long-running hoax turns out on closer inspection to be 100 per cent for real – with the published fake reports to prove it.

First published in 2015

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