Stewie, Athers, Crofty and Hicky fail to stir imagination

Geoff Boycott's team-mates knew him principally as 'Boycs', not to mention a few other things unrepeatable here
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The confessional talk-show host Jerry Springer recently told an interviewer - me, as it happens - that he is trying to get his head around the rules and language of cricket. I did what I could do to help, but really the concept of cricket is just too bizarre for Americans, even an American whose show the other week featured midget members of the Ku-Klux-Klan.

The confessional talk-show host Jerry Springer recently told an interviewer - me, as it happens - that he is trying to get his head around the rules and language of cricket. I did what I could do to help, but really the concept of cricket is just too bizarre for Americans, even an American whose show the other week featured midget members of the Ku-Klux-Klan.

On reflection, perhaps I should have set cricket in a context familiar to him. Before the third Test match got underway on Thursday, for instance, the England and Wales Cricket Board honoured the Test centurion Michael Atherton (Springer-style caption: "Mike pleased to receive the cut glass but wonders where these guys in blazers were during the dirt-in-the-pocket affair."). Come to think of it, cricket can be pretty bewildering even for an Englishman steeped in the traditions of the game.

Take sponsorship. It is hard enough in football to keep track of who sponsors what. Even the most dedicated football fans struggle to remember exactly what silverware it was that their team lifted a few years ago. Was it the Milk Cup, the Coca-Cola Cup, the Worthington Cup, or the I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Cup? But cricket is even more confusing.

I arrived at Old Trafford last Thursday morning just in time to see a parachutist dropping on to the outfield trailing a huge banner bearing the legend 'Philishave,' narrowly missing a large patch of grass on which was painted 'Cornhill Insurance'. However, the Cornhill deal is coming to a close. Next year the grass might be painted 'Rentokill' or 'Cadbury's Creme Eggs.'

Then the umpires marched out, their white coats emblazoned with the words 'Happy Shopper'. What a hoot. Not least because I can't think of anybody who looks less like a happy shopper than Peter Willey. If anything, Umpire Willey looks like a man who has queued at aisle number 14 for nearly 20 minutes only for Marjorie behind the till to point out that his debit card expired three days earlier. As my colleague Derek Pringle pointed out, he was probably happier when the umpires were sponsored by the National Grid, when his coat at least featured a macho bolt of electricity.

Derek Pringle, incidentally, has a nickname in the press box which is a witty corruption of his actual name. His nickname, as far as I can make out, is "Pringle". This, by the standards of cricketing nicknames, is by no means unoriginal. The men of the moment, Atherton and the peerless Stewart - whose hundred in his 100th Test match goes down as my favourite sporting moment of the summer so far - are 'Athers' and 'Stewie' to their teammates. Robert Croft is 'Crofty'. Graeme Hick is 'Hicky'.

It was ever thus. Geoff Boycott's team-mates knew him principally as 'Boycs', not to mention a few other things unrepeatable here. And Graham Gooch was known almost universally as Goochy. Perhaps the fashion label Gucci should have signed him to promote their wares, but then perhaps not. Actually, Pringle - if I might be permitted to refer to him so familiarly - told me that his Essex colleague Gooch was also known as 'Zap', after the droopy Viva Zapata-style moustache. This shows mental elasticity almost unprecedented in cricketing circles. Almost, but not quite. David Gower was nicknamed 'Lubo' after his favourite steak bar in Adelaide. Nasser Hussain gets called 'Beaky,' apparently in homage to his considerable nose. Darren Gough's nickname is 'Dazzler', and the heroic Marcus Trescothick's is 'Banger' on account of his love for sausages. It will ever be thus. In the England Under-15 team there is a 6ft 5in fast bowler from Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire, called David Stiff.

Naturally, he rejoices in the nickname 'Stiffy', and helped England to reach Saturday's semi-final of the Under-15 world challenge, which they lost to Pakistan. Apparently, they progressed with three enormous fluffy dogs as mascots, won on the coconut shy at Windsor funfair. The lads have been staying at nearby Eton College and each evening toddled down to the fair. By all accounts the owner of the coconut shy didn't realise that he was taking on the England junior cricket team and was amazed when they wiped him out of fluffy dogs.

Stiffy's teammates, incidentally, include a deadly pair of spinners named James Beaumont and Dan Broadbent (respectively nicknamed 'Beaumont' and 'Broadbent'). And young Beaumont - a pupil at Ian Ramsey C of E School in Stockton-on-Tees - is enough to make the heart sing with optimism for the future of English sport. Not only is he an excellent off-spinner and stylish batsman, he has also had trials for the England Under-15 football team and is coveted by several league clubs. Then there's Alastair Cook from Bedford School (known as 'Cookie' or, on occasion, 'Cookie Monster'). He is a promising opening batsman and wicketkeeper. A Stewie in the making, perhaps?

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