Why every nice girl loves a cricketer
As England's Ashes team welcome the arrival down under of their LBWs (that's Lovers, Belles and Wives), Harriet Walker considers the mysterious appeal of the men in white
Wednesday 15 December 2010
Forget footballers and their predilections for prostitutes and powder rooms; kiss goodbye to the cauliflower ears and chunky-faced brayers that attend every rugby match; the new sporting heartbreaker is the cricketer, much to the surprise of, well, just about everyone, really.
The management of the England cricket squad in Australia have been downplaying the arrival in Perth this week of a flurry of lovely wives and girlfriends (and children), who had been banned from the tour for the first two Test matches. But eyewitnesses Down Under say that there has been a distinct lightening of team spirits since their arrival – and point out that the levels of glamour in evidence would be the envy of many a gathering of footballing WAGs.
England's cricketing WAGs – henceforward known, tentatively, as LBWs, or Lovers, Belles and Wives – made brief headlines last year in South Africa, where their visible presence at a seven-star hotel in Cape Town was alleged to have contributed to a humiliating defeat there. Hence the attempts to keep their profile lower this time.
But with news breaking over the weekend that Liz Hurley had separated from her husband, millionaire Arun Nayer, after pictures of her kissing Australian cricket star Shane Warne came to light, it's hard to avoid the observation that it's no longer just the footballers who have all the luck with the ladies.
But wherefore the allure of the cricketer? A game that lasts for days and weeks at a time, full of dodgy hats and noses the colour of iced gems, is hardly the adrenalin- and booze-soaked seduction fest that is football or the rugged display of machismo you get in rugby, after all.
There isn't even any brutish contact, just some running back and forth between two sets of sticks. And all those funny little fans marking off the scores with their tiny pencils...
Well, the mere mention of a tiny pencil in any romantic scenario is enough to put you off.
But they must have something going for them, because the bad boys of the gentleman's game have made more than enough slip-ups in their time. Shane Warne, for example, is no stranger to tabloid exposés after extra-marital flings with a British nurse in 2000, a stripper in 2003 and two (yes, two) models in 2006 – a pattern that helped him to lose his Australian vice-captaincy.
Warne aside, there's Kevin "Cheatersen" Pietersen, Ian "Botty" Botham and countless others, all of whom have been caught out for a sticky wicket or inappropriate use of the middle stump. Pietersen is now married to Jessica Taylor, formerly of reality TV show runners-up Liberty X, with whom he had a son last May (this is as close as cricket gets to Posh and Becks) but is known to have had a prior dalliance with Big Brother beauty Vanessa Nimmo, who he dumped by text.
Botham, meanwhile, managed to wriggle free of claims during the mid-Eighties that he and Miss Barbados had broken a bed during a bout of drug-fuelled sex on an England tour of the West Indies. But when Australian waitress Kylie Verrells revealed emails that referred to the all-rounder's "mighty Beef sword", the game was up and Botham issued a public apology to his wife and children.
So what is it that draws women to these (generally) quiet Casanovas?
There's the diligence and consistent application that the game so relies on, as well as the fact that all athletes inevitably have a bit of that alpha male swagger to them.
But the real answer lies in the missing link at the heart of cricket's current celebrity Venn: Hugh Grant. He's Hurley's ex-boyfriend and more recently used to date heiress Jemima Khan, who was in turn married to Pakistan cricketer, Imran. Grant, a huge fan of the game and former youth player, embodies its spirit and some of its finest attributes: someone educated, but a bit dirty, with a nice posh voice and a slow-paced existence somewhere deep in the English countryside. Voila.
The elegant, loping gait of a tall, lean man as he jogs across a sunlit arbour next to a country pub to a smattering of polite applause; the suntan set off to perfection by his whites; the garden party atmosphere, the tea-breaks, the antebellum dignity of cricket – this is why there's nothing like a good innings to get the heart racing.
That and the fact that cricketers are often away for three months at a time.
Bowled over: A brief history of cricket's LBWs
* Cricketers have been bowling maidens over ever since Florence Morphy followed England captain Ivo Bligh on the 1882 tour of Australia (the first ever attempt to "bring home the ashes" of English cricket).
* Many of cricket's most celebrated stars have had reputations as playboys, from Denis Compton to Colin Cowdrey, while the former Pakistan captain Imran Khan's short-lived marriage to Jemima Khan was a firm favourite with the gossip magazines.
* Stuart Broad, sidelined from the current series by injury, had a five-year relationship with actress Kacey Barnfield which attracted endless headlines about them being "cricket's Posh and Becks".
* Other famous WAGs of the current squad include James Anderson's other half, the model Daniella Lloyd, currently in the UK, where she has just given birth to their second child, and Kevin Pietersen's wife, the model Jessica Taylor. But followers of KP on Twitter will have noticed that he has seemed more interested in the imminent arrival of their young son, Dylan. "Today is the day... My boy is here!!!" he tweeted, when his loved ones arrived.
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