The Way I See It: Why does England favour the honest toiler over the maverick? When will the spirit of Nastase infect the selectors of our national teams?

I have wasted years watching England ignore the dissenter in favour of the Stakhanovite

Hollywood parcels mavericks as anti-heroes, nonconformists who wander out of left field chewing a cheroot and trailing a sense of mystery and danger. Messages are blurred. The norms and values that govern ordinary lives struggle to classify this new presence. He just doesn’t fit the white-collar slot.

As the plot unfolds, something pure emerges in the way he cleans up the societal mess, a primal force, maybe, exposing abuses of power, deceits, untruths. And then he is gone, back to the margins. The beneficiaries are grateful but don’t feel wholly comfortable with methods that nibble away at their anxieties, threatening their world view.

Sport has its mavericks, too, characters who operate outside convention. And all too often the authorities don’t know what to do with them. So Jos Buttler is excluded from the England Test squad and Ross Barkley is given a gentle rebuke by an England manager who chooses to highlight what he didn’t do very well against Ecuador instead of championing those dancing feet.

Buttler’s violent plunder with the bat, his irreverence and audacity, have been among the few reasons to tune in post Ashes surrender. Chris Jordan and Ravi Bopara deserve mention, but it was Buttler who made dark artistes of Sri Lanka. It took a feral Mankad to deny him in the final one-day rubber. And then along came the straight bats at the ECB to saw him off with mutterings about gloves and technique.

Buttler was exiled to the counties to learn how to behave properly behind the stumps and Barkley was made to stay behind after class to write out 100 times: “I must not dribble on the halfway line.”

I have wasted too many years watching England ignore the dissenter in favour of the Stakhanovite. Attachment to a round, oval or seamed ball with a red-rose tattooed on the heart has been largely a joyless experience. Even when England won the rugby World Cup in 2003 it was done largely by pre-determined patterns hammered out by Jonny and Johnno. At least under Stuart Lancaster there are signs that he understands the needs of the soul as well as the scoreboard.

History has tossed us the odd exception to the obedient toiler, when the talents concerned have been just too great to ignore, Beefy Botham and Gazza would be two. But too many gifted individuals have met with exclusion from the group. There is, perhaps, in the English psyche a fear of elements that can’t be controlled. The iron discipline and sense of order and service that underpin nationhood and that built an empire are manifest in the management ethos of those picking national teams today.

Maybe I was born too distanced from the ruling class to buy into the Establishment ideal. I was always moved by the outsider in sport. George Best was an early and obvious love. Another was Ilie Nastase, who happened across my landscape as the pre-teen hormones were raging. 

I recall little of the detail from the 1972 Wimbledon final but I remember vividly how I felt. Nastase held me transfixed, his shock of shoulder-length, jet-black hair, his gossamer touch at the net, his devilment, his inscrutable dark eyes locked on his opponent from the baseline. Every shot was pregnant with possibility, every movement a drama.

The bloke opposite, Stan Smith, was all out in front of you. Tall, athletic, blond, American. He served. He volleyed. He ran, stretched, smashed, retrieved, and over five sets that day prevailed. But the next day his was not the face downloaded in my imagination, nor was his the name I took on to the tennis court at Copster Hill Park (yes, they had public courts in those days), where Wimbledon would be played out anew against Steven Anthony Armstrong, my best friend and main rival in the battle for hegemony across the school sports cannon. 

“Army” was Smith all over, magnificently, universally competent; top of the class, captain of the football and cricket teams. His fair hair was parted straight down the middle and his Tom Cruise teeth lined up in a perfect row. You would never see him out after the watershed.

In complexion and attitude I was Nastase II. My sister reckons we had a Romany gypsy in the family, great uncle Ruben. His ethnicity remains unproven but at the time I allowed it to draw me still closer to the Byronic Romanian. Winning was not worth the bother unless it came with an ace, a drop-volley or a backhand smash.

Army and I moved up to the grammar school together, a milieu to which he was perfectly suited. We drifted apart post-puberty, his unerring attachment to straight lines incompatible with my preference for caprice.

Here we are too many years later and I’m still waiting for the spirit of Nastase to wash over those holding bats and kicking balls for England. Maybe in the weeks ahead circumstance might force new dandies upon us.

There might even be a movie in it.

i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower