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Best and Worst: Cricketers on screen – From an ‘UnIndian’ Brett Lee to Flintoff in everything

Flintoff (Cricketers on screen)
Phil Walker by Phil Walker 3 minute read

From stellar cameos to stodgy cash-ins, Phil Walker brings on the best and worst cricketers on screen – the finest and not-so-finest small-screen crossovers in issue 1 of the Wisden Cricket Monthly.

THE BEST

Fred Trueman in The Indoor League (1972-77)

Huddled round vats of stout and shove-ha’penny boards, “Britain’s best saloon-bar sports stars” double up with Fiery Fred’s pipe, beer and proto-hipster cardigans to transform a Leeds working men’s club into the very epicentre of Seventies Britain.

Len Hutton in The Final Test (1953)

Pure method was Hutton; even those clipped estuary vowels, honed to bury the last evidence of provincial Pudsey, so much the better for carrying out one’s official duties as England captain – which indeed he was when this celluloid classic was made. Starring Jack Warner as Sam Palmer, a fading old champion with one last rearguard in him, it’s Sir Leonard’s hammy turn as himself that really steals the show, although the line of the film goes to Palmer’s pal: “My dear boy, you can’t expect me to talk about literature when there’s a Test match on. My brain doesn’t function properly.”

Graham Napier in The Great Fish-Off (2015)

Napes and japes abound in this fish-tastic exploration of male drift on the banks of an East Anglian oxbow as rod-grappling Essex archetypes Dean Macey and our Graham sort their tiddlers from their great whites.

Brett Lee in UnIndian (2016)

Determinedly reductive Crocodile Dundee update in which Lee plays ‘Will’, a necessarily-ripped Sydneysider searching for love – or at least ways to “pick up an Indian chick”. With the beautiful Meera in town and our hero smitten, bucketfuls of comforting clichés and borderline stereotypes come forth, scattered like paintballs in a musical interlude. “But he’s not even a doctor!” squeals Meera’s mum; no matter: he used to bowl wheels. Many a post-career cricketer has stumbled on the boards; few have stomped all over them in the lead role of a feature film. We salute you.

Andrew Flintoff in everything (2005-)

The Clooney of cricket-TV stardom, lugging his colossal likeability all over the subs-only airwaves, frying fish, cracking jokes, eating grubs, doing Elvis, throwing punches, hosting ninjas and most recently acting, in a gentle one-off TV short called Pacino and Bert. Expect the spin-off, Keysy and Fred, to premiere live from a provincial out-ground some time next year.

THE WORST

Shane Warne in Warnie (2010-2011)

Mercifully short-lived TV vehicle optimistically billed as ‘cricket-flavoured chat’ but not – and this was rammed home – totally cricket-oriented, and starring Merv Hughes, Billy Birmingham, Darren Gough, Kerry Packer’s son and a journalist called Alicia; TV execs blamed English dominance during that winter’s Ashes for the show’s swift axing.

Kevin Pietersen and Unmukt Chand in the Brylcreem ad (2013)

A sub-genre all its own, ‘The IPL Advert’ has forced Ben Stokes to dance like a bear at market; somehow persuaded the long-suffering Chris Gayle to pose for a flustered beauty holding a very large bottle of pop; David Warner to leave his bat in Chennai and beg Yuvraj Singh to call a courier; and then this, right here: Kevin Pietersen and Unmukt Chand duking it out to win the heart of a cheerleader by hitting a cricket ball at a bin. It sounds quite innocent; it’s not.

Ian Botham in Open To Question (1986)

A TV stalwart who once spread his gargantuan appetites across everything from wheat-based cereals to tribal sporting quiz shows, but this is his peak: Beefy’s magnificent, mullet-to-the-floor tour de farce at the height of his ‘Beefy Goes To Hollywood’ period. The man who hooked Lillee for six with his eyes closed flails at this audience of Scottish adolescents, swinging wildly at nappy-changing, drug-taking and deer-hunting (“I only take out what’s got to be taken out”) before finally nicking off and heading for the Green Room.

David Warner in the OLED ad (2016)

In which our goggle-eyed hero stares firstly at and then through the Australian viewer Kabaddi-ing OLED OLED OLED until the paycheque drops and he can collapse back into his leather man-couch watching “cartoons with the kids”.

First published in issue 1 of the Wisden Cricket Monthly

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