From politicians to pop poets to gambling addicts, we take a look at cricket’s most surprising supporters.
10) Martin McGuinness
Never has a man nor a name so embodied the Irish Republic, yet the Sinn Fein stalwart and deputy first minister has made no secret of his love of England’s national sport. It helps when you can brag about Kevin O’Brien’s exploits against England in the last World Cup (McGuiness lauded the allrounder as a national hero), but in truth he fell in love with the game in the late 60s and publically hailed England’s 2005 Ashes victory.
9) Christian Vieri
The Italian footballing legend is a usually quiet man but there was not a moment’s hesitation when, in a press conference, he was asked which player he idolised as a boy. “Allan Border,” he said. “Allan who?” replied the press corps. “Who did he play for?” “Australia,” said Vieri. “At cricket.” They were none the wiser. Vieri grew up in Sydney and from what Border himself says, Vieri could have made a fine Test cricketer if his Italian father Roberto had not decided to move the family home to Bologna after a decade in Australia.
8) Roger Federer
If a bomb had gone off at Wimbledon on Saturday June 25, 2011, not only would the whole of south-west London have been treated to a shower of over-priced strawberries and cream, but roughly 90 per cent of the world’s sporting talent would have also been obliterated in one cruel explosion. Following another routine win at SW19, Roger Federer met up with Sachin Tendulkar – who had been watching Federer’s match with his wife – to indulge in the sort of mutual back-slapping that would be interminable if they both weren’t such bloody nice blokes. Later, on Twitter, Tendulkar wrote that Federer was a “humble guy” who knew a lot about cricket.
7) The Taliban
The Taliban aren’t exactly known for yo-yoing , but having rejected cricket out of hand a few years ago, it appears that Afghanistan’s increasingly impressive performances have swayed Mohammed Omar and his mates. During a Q&A posted on their official website, one user asked for the Taliban’s stance on cricket. The response was as close to a ringing endorsement as you’ll get from a political group with a slight penchant for Sharia: “We support all those sports that are good for health and have a noble purpose. You and other sports fans should be made aware of that fact that cricket was made official by the Taliban when they were in power.” Ahead of 2012’s historic ODI between Afghanistan and Pakistan, a spokesman for the Taliban also contacted the Afghanistan Cricket Board to wish the team well. How sweet.
6) Kirsten Dunst
It’s not often that a Hollywood glamourpuss rocks up to a May Test match, but that’s what we got in 2007 when Kirsten Dunst (Spiderman; Melancholia etc) found herself watching Paul Collingwood edge his way to a century against the West Indies at Lord’s. Whether it was Colly’s scratchy search for runs or the incessant posturing of her boyfriend, the Razorlight lead poseur Johnny Borrell, she has never been seen at HQ since, and she chucked the cricket-mad Borrell just weeks after seeing Colly turn it on. Coincidence? We’ll let you decide.
5) Dietmar Hamann
A footballer and a German one at that, Hamann developed an unlikely love for cricket during the 2005 Ashes and once turned out for Alderley Edge CC 2nd XI in the Cheshire County Cricket League. In his 2012 autobiography, Hamann confesses to severe alcohol and gambling addictions following his departure from Merseyside in 2006, culminating in a loss of £288,400 while spread betting during an Australia v South Africa Test. “That night I bought Australia for £2,800 at 340 runs. That meant for every run over 340 you win £2,800, but for every run under you lose the same amount,” Hamann explains. “‘Australia collapsed for 237. It is a score I remember well. It cost me £288,400. Every wicket felt like a stab in the heart.”
4) Adolf Hitler
Introduced to the game as a POW during the Great War, the questionable theorist and all-round hoodlum believed he could use cricket to prepare his troops for battle… but not before he’d made a few key adjustments. Handshakes and encouraging taps on the bum weren’t Adolf’s bag, you see, and as for pads, these artificial “bolsters” were just downright unmanly. A bigger and harder ball was also on Hitler’s list of ‘improvements’, which may explain Germany’s impressive record in Olympic shot put. Despite Hitler’s reservations, he challenged the British to a friendly match in 1930, but had soon written the sport off as “insufficiently violent” for German fascists. In case you’re wondering, it was intended as a criticism.
3) Barack Obama
It stands to reason that the world’s only true superhero would like his cricket. It began in 2009 with a few technical tips from Brian Lara during a trip to Trinidad (“I always wanted to meet the Michael Jordan of cricket”), and was cemented in a conversation with Dave Cameron when the two leaders met at the White House. After enduring a basketball game the previous evening, Cameron promised to teach Obama the intricacies of cricket and to take him to a game in England. Obama agreed, before a wag from the British press corps piped up: “Mr President, this is great you’ve agreed to learn about cricket. I notice the prime minister neglected to tell you that a Test match usually takes five days. So it’s going to be a long trip.” But what could be better than the leader of the free world plotting his next move from the Lord’s pavilion? The only drawback we can see would be having to sit next to our Dave for five straight days.
2) Mike Skinner
Mike Skinner, beat-poet doyen of the post-club comedown whose band The Streets illuminated the tower blocks and stairwells of urban Britain in the last decade, was always an unlikely cricket fan, but as a dedicated chronicler of Englishness he always had a soft spot for the game, even once referencing ‘cricket’ in a song called Addicted about the perils of wasting your life in the bookies. So when England finally overcame Australia in the last Ashes series, Skinner was moved to commemorate the moment with his own spoken-word tribute. The day after victory at Sydney nailed a 3-1 win, a short video called An English Corner appeared on The Streets website, featuring Skinner’s dreamlike rendition of a passage from the last-day report from The Guardian’s Mike Selvey. It might just be cricket’s coolest moment.
1) Hugh Cornwell
One of punk’s original gloom merchants, Cornwell has survived various dust-ups, run-ins, set-tos and even a six-week stint at Pentonville to indulge his love of music and cricket. The bile and sneer evident in songs like Peaches and No More Heroes may have been the marks of a natural agitator, but while his mates on the Old Kent Road were tearing down the establishment and sticking pins in each other, Cornwell was cultivating a delicate passion for the game of kings. It all began with his father, who would listen to Test Match Special when Hugh was a boy, and when he learned that Fred Titmus had gone to his school, that was it. A lifetime in love with the game culminated in his own appearance on TMS’s View From the Boundary.