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The Ten: Impersonations – From Flintoff’s Elvis Presley to Cook’s Bob Willis

by Wisden Staff 6 minute read

Ain’t nothing like the real thing, sang Marvin Gaye. Try telling this lot, who make up for some of the best impersonations on and off the cricket field.

First published in 2016

10. Balls up at the Beeb

Former Pakistan wicketkeeper Nadeem Abbasi was understandably miffed when it emerged that an imposter had appeared on the BBC on numerous occasions pretending to be him. Nadeem Alam of Huddersfield had shared his views on Pakistani cricket on BBC World NewsBBC Asian Network and Radio 5 live despite his experience of the game amounting to a few games for his local club. Alam, who also admitted to posing as a squash player to blag free equipment, said: “I like to think I have been talking good cricket.” Abbasi, who played three Tests in 1989, took it all in his stride, saying: “If I ever find Nadeem Alam, I will punch him in the face for damaging my country’s reputation.”

9. William ‘Mr Gilbert’ Grace

The 2005 Ashes has no shortage of oft-retold quirks and side-stories. But who remembers comedian Greg Davies’ appearance as WG Grace in Channel 4’s ads for the series that magical summer? Dressed in full Victorian cricketer garb – standing at 6ft 8in with fulsome beard and bulging belly to boot – Davies (who later became famous as Mr Gilbert in The Inbetweeners) spent the ads barking instructions and exhortations in the imagined mode of ‘The Doctor’. He was even contracted by Channel 4 to make public appearances in the crowd at the five Tests – as well as other major sporting events like Wimbledon – boisterously shouting ‘Come on England’ at a variety of inopportune moments.

8. Fibber in the heat

“Miles Jupp? Who the f***’s that?” So the Rev actor, Radio 4 News Quiz host and stand-up comedian was ‘welcomed’ by one member of the established press pack during England’s 2006 tour of India. Cricket-fanatic Jupp – having finished his starring role as Archie the Inventor in the stage version of Balamory and at that time still relatively unknown – had blagged his way onto the tour by bluffing The Western Mail and BBC Radio Scotland that he was a bona fide journalist, despite having no idea what he was doing. Jupp retold his experiences – he had little real work to do, but did spend time propping up the bar with David Gower – in a book and one-man show, Fibber in the Heat. Later – now very much a fan, having given up on the journo impression – he appeared on Celebrity Mastermind and chose ‘The life and career of Michael Atherton’ as his specialist subject, eventually going on to win.

7. Fred sings the King

Having taken Elvis Presley to his heart as a youth working in a record shop, Andrew Flintoff’s been an impersonator ever since, happy to offer a rendition whenever prompted. And he was last winter, whilst playing for the Brisbane Heat in the Big Bash League. Fielding at long-leg, Fred belted out In The Ghetto to millions of viewers over the player-mic in between balls.

6. Copying his long run

Goochie and Chef share it all – Essex, runs, battin’, runs, Essex. They’re simple men, they’re bloody good players and they can both do a passable impression of Bob Willis bowling – Gooch on many an occasion, Cook in the summer of 2014 to take his sole Test wicket. It would be uncharitable to say it’s their only form of expression but we have it on good authority that so impressed was Cook by Gooch’s impression of Bob that he insisted on playing the curly-haired seamer in his Year 4 nativity, so he could “do the run-up”. A long run, a fixed stare and a pumping right arm later, and Bethlehem didn’t know what had hit it.

5. Whatcha talkin’ about, Willis?

Joe Root took the mimicry of Bob Willis a step further after England sealed their 2015 Ashes win at Trent Bridge, donning a mask with a sizeable schnoz and sending up the former paceman in a dressing-room interview with Ian Ward. Consummate pro he may be, but even Ward couldn’t keep a straight face as ‘Willis’ gave England’s bowlers 4/10 for yet another lacklustre display. The real Bob, surprisingly enough, was left unimpressed, noting that Root’s impression was closer to Brian Clough.

4. The Swann and only

Graeme Swann is pretty good at impressions and he’s done a lot of them. Being a less than sharp colleague of his can’t always have been the most fun because you can be sure you’d have been the target of some joshing. His Pietersen, for example, is really very impressive – as evidenced in the summer of 2015 on Willow Talk, a show on the Australian radio station Triple M. He’s variously tried his hand at grumpy Jimmy, little Rooteh, daft Bressy and Jonathan Trott – and they’re all worth a listen. Destined for the world of entertainment, he was.

3. Bremner takes a stand

Satirist Rory Bremner has been sending up politicians and celebrities for years, most notably on Channel 4’s hit comedy sketch show Bremner, Bird and Fortune, and cricket’s never been far from his gaze. A fanatic of the game, Bremner’s 1995 video release Creased Up saw him over-dubbing the voices of Gooch, Gower and Benaud to rib-tickling effect and he was the natural choice to front up the ECB’s ‘Stand Up For T20’ campaign in 2012, nailing Bumble and Boycott to a tee and helping flog some tickets in the process.

2. A real Vaughan in the side

This was a lovely idea. Goldsborough second XI made headlines in 2006 after they were dismissed for 5: 10 of their 11 batsmen went for ducks (their No.11 got a nice 0 not out). So, a year later, in stepped NatWest to reward their notoriety with something positive. Michael Vaughan was parachuted into the side for the game against Dishforth CC, disguised as ‘Gary Watson’ – complete with prosthetics, a wig and padding. Gary, or the “long-haired lover from Liverpool” as one confused Goldsborough fan termed the mystery man, came in at 17-3 and was soon impressing everyone with his obviously brilliant strokeplay. Unfortunately he nicked off for 28 and departed with the score on 48-5. Still… nice idea.

1. Silly Billy

Perhaps the most famous of the cricket impressionists, Billy Birmingham – aka the 12th Man – made quite a name for himself with his takes on the Channel Nine comms team, most notably Richie Benaud. He riffs, amongst other things, on the great man’s love of beige or off-white jackets, his pronunciation of the word ‘two’, the size of Bill Lawry’s nose and the questionably fertile area of foreigners’ names. His CDs had their time, and Billy remains Australia’s biggest-selling artist of all time – pipping Kylie, Olivia Newton-John and Men at Work to top spot.

First published in 2016

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