About ten years ago at the Gabba, I watched a ghost walk into bat. It was Vivian Richards, and he was unmistakable, still taking an eternity to reach the crease, nothing more than a cap on his head, those middleweight's shoulders rolling as he sauntered out under the late-season sun.
The resemblance ended there. This wasn't the Viv Richards of memory or dreams, it was Viv as he approached 50, a long-retired cricketer playing with his friends in a charity match. He still looked the same, still moved in the same way, but it had been a long time, and he could barely hit the ball off the square.
There was a sigh as he got out, but it was a sigh of relief almost, because no-one wants to watch their gods become mortal with age, and anyway, Goochie was blasting away at the other end and it was a terrific afternoon. The match offered something that only those sort of matches used to be able to do.
Not any more. One of the less remarked upon aspects of T20 cricket has been the rise of these simulcrums. There was one on the field yesterday by the name of Andrew Symonds. It looked like Symonds from a distance, but when the camera honed in, the face was lined and weathered, the waist had thickened, the hamstrings had tightened. It moved like Symonds used to move, only more stiffly, more slowly. There was another one on the other side, too, a version of Justin Kemp that just seemed to have staggered, unshaven and pawky, out of the nearest pub.
It's pretty obvious why Symonds wants to play for the Mumbai Indians [a team name that is increasingly loaded with sardonic humour], and why Shane Warne and Matthew Hayden want to play in the Big Bash. But why do the teams want them?
It's a strange and telling phenomenon. The thought that any of those players could, for example, appear in next year's T20 World Cup is so distant as to be laughable. Even Australia aren't that desperate. It's pretty unlikely that a stretched county side would lay out their hard-earned on them when young and hungry muscle is available on the cheap. But the IPL and its little me-too the Big Bash don't run entirely on excellence; performance is not their sole criteria. They need to keep the tills ringing with a little bit of showbiz too, so the appearance of the undead cricketer in their elasticated kit serves its purpose. You wouldn't have wanted to watch King Viv doing it though...
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