Cricket: Last chance for an enigma: Derek Pringle tries to unravel the puzzle of an unfulfilled talent

CHRIS LEWIS is a puzzle. For starters he thinks nothing of spending a fortune on designer clothes (Jean-Paul Gaultier at present) yet he reckons the room service surcharge in Guyana is a rip-off. He reads the Bible in public but Tom Sharpe in private and is addicted to Chinese food and the telephone. He might bowl swing or pace - brilliantly or indifferently - and alternates between batting like a beginner and batting like a genius.

Ray Illingworth, the newly appointed chairman of selectors, has vowed to resurrect the role of the all-rounder; this should have been good news for Lewis, but instead it was Graeme Hick who was mentioned by Illingworth.

Like it or not, Lewis does catch the eye. Whether crossing himself in the name of the Lord before he bowls, or crossing his legs when posing nude for a glossy magazine, he cannot help attracting attention. Perhaps that is the problem: we notice him too often, focus too closely. His eye-catching extremes discourage balanced judgement of his abilities.

In his brief career, Lewis, who is just 26, has attracted applause and exasperation in equal doses - all but his biggest fans have lost patience with him. Each time he looks to have smoothed the way to a glittering Test career, the gold has turned back into lead. He made his Test debut against New Zealand at Edgbaston in 1990 and in 21 Tests he has averaged exactly 25 with the bat, while his 54 wickets weigh in at a fairly hefty 39.92 apiece. As Geoff Boycott once said after a moment of brilliance in the field: 'He's a super fielder is that Chris Lewis. But if he were a proper all-rounder, he would be doing something about those averages. They're back to bloody front.'

On last winter's tour to India and Sri Lanka, only he and Hick returned with enhanced reputations. Then both found themselves dropped from the Ashes series after the second Test at Lord's. Whereas Hick's failing was a technical weakness - to the short ball, as ruthlessly exposed by Merv Hughes - Lewis's was more complex, and his commitment has been questioned.

When Lewis has played well he has been sublime. But, like spotting a leopard in a tree, these unforgettable moments have been rarely glimpsed. When they do happen - the quick-fire dismissals of three of Pakistan's top order for ducks at Lord's in 1992, and his brilliant century against India in Madras last year are examples - the odds tend to be heavily stacked against England during the second innings of a match. Because the game looks lost and the pressure is firmly off, Lewis has nothing to lose, which is the get-out clause his critics reckon he needs in order to deliver. But winning positions have their foundations earlier in the game, a point at which Lewis never seems able to deliver.

The theory was certainly borne out early in his Test career when he let the pressure get to him long before the opposing batsmen could, withdrawing more than once at the 11th hour, the victim of mysterious migraines. He has a history of ailments, but as his tangible afflictions have receded - perhaps because their use as an excuse would eventually preclude him from selection altogether - speculation as to his variability has centred squarely on his character.

Frustration at Lewis is not just limited to the press and the public; privately, many of the players are also upset at his lack of consistency. On tour he is very much his own man. Where the rest of the players form little cliques, needing the familiar reference points to cope with being away, Lewis prefers his own company. He spends most of his spare time listening to music and sleeping in his room, which, because he nearly always eats in - ordering plenty of dishes but finishing few - ends up looking and smelling like a galley kitchen.

His bowling is the cause of most bafflement, and many players reckon he delivered the ball quicker and with more conviction when he represented England Under-19s than he has on this tour.

Cynics believe he craves the limelight of Test cricket, and that publicity stunts such as shaving his head and removing his clothes simply keep him basking in its well-remunerated glow.

Lewis disagrees: 'Posing nude or shaving my head has had no effect on my cricket and were the situation to come round again, there is nothing I would do any differently.'

He does, however, agree that things could perhaps be better. 'I'm a little disappointed in my performance thus far in international cricket, but I wouldn't say I have failed to deliver. People have a right to expect something, but just because you don't live up to their expectations it doesn't necessarily mean you've failed in any way. And I've become a better cricketer over the past year or so.'

With England's prime strike bowler absent for the second Test, Lewis now faces his greatest challenge, and his captain has been unequivocal in setting it. 'It is up to him to fill the hole left by Devon (Malcolm),' Mike Atherton said. 'He has the ability, but it is also up to us to try to get him to do that. You can talk until you are blue in the face, but at the end of the day it's results and performances from the bloke himself that count.'

Lewis was born in Georgetown; as far as England are concerned it may also be the site of his last chance.

(Photograph omitted)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Amis: Taken to task over rash decisions and ill-judged statements
booksThe Zone of Interest just doesn't work, says James Runcie
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Corporate Tax Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL ...

Relationship Manager

£500 - £600 per day: Orgtel: Relationship Manager, London, Banking, Accountant...

Marketing & PR Assistant - NW London

£15 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer

£250 - £300 per day: Orgtel: Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer Berkshir...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home