Brian Viner: How theatre replaced drama of cricket for captain Coney

The Last Word
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The Independent Online

Until fairly recent times, even sportsmen at the pinnacle of their sports had to keep half a mind on what they might do when the reflexes slowed. Before a proliferating media afforded so many opportunities, there was coaching for those who wanted to keep their tracksuits on, and pubs for those who didn't.

But down the years there have also been some marvellously improbable switches of career. Francis Lee made a fortune out of toilet paper (an opportunity doubtless identified at a time when so many bog rolls were chucked on to pitches), while Norman Whiteside, never known for cherishing the feet and shins of the opposition, became a podiatrist.

Neil Webb, who briefly succeeded Whiteside in the Manchester United midfield, became a postman. So, on the island of Mull of all places, did Peter Bonetti. Trevor Whymark, who on a famous night for Ipswich Town in the 1973-74 Uefa Cup scored all four goals in the 4-0 rout of Lazio, ended up driving a lorry for a Suffolk chicken farmer. As far as I know, he still does.

And that's just the footballers. Other sports offer similar examples of interesting job developments, not that it was surprising to see the former England cricket captain Mike Brearley forge a successful career as a psychoanalyst. Captaining Ian Botham, Bob Willis and Derek Randall was nothing if not an exercise in psychoanalysis.

Anyway, the subject of former international cricket captains brings me, oddly enough, to a play called I Found My Horn, which on Monday begins a three-week run at the Tristan Bates Theatre in London, WC2. It is the uplifting story of a man who realises that he has nothing to show for his 40 years except a broken marriage, so resolves to master his old French horn.

The play is written by the journalist Jasper Rees and the actor Jonathan Guy Lewis, and directed by Harry Burton, but if those illustrious men will forgive me, the really intriguing name on the bill is that of the production's lighting designer, Jeremy Coney. That's the Jeremy Coney who skippered New Zealand in 15 Test matches and 25 one-day internationals in the mid-1980s.

Eager to discover how Coney moved from cricket to the theatre, from long leg to break-a-leg if you will, I yesterday managed to get him on the end of a mobile phone. He had been up all night working as a pundit for Sky Sports, following the first day of the second Test between Australia and New Zealand, and was spending all day working out lighting angles, but still sounded impressively chipper.

He explained that when he was a child his Danish mother used to tell him stories, which kindled a passion for narrative. It was one of the reasons he fell in love with cricket – the narrative of every match continues to enthral him – and also why he adores the theatre.

Last year he enrolled at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and emerged as a fully fledged lighting designer. Like captaining a cricket team, he said, it is all about handling pressure as part of a collaborative effort. I told him that I hope not to walk past the Tristan Bates Theatre next week and see a sign saying "Bad light stopped play".

Let's not argue toss over duty to country

A few months ago I chaired a question-and-answer session with my colleague Angus Fraser, and it was all thoroughly convivial except for one bad-tempered spat between Angus and a choleric fellow who rejected the notion, proposed by several England players, that they play altogether too much international cricket these days. "What I would have given to have played cricket for England," was this chap's thesis. "How dare they bloody moan about it."

Anyway, if Angus and this guy – I'll call him Mr Spleen – were to clash again this week, I wouldn't mind being ringside. Mr Spleen's view would, I'm sure, be that the England team should have stuck it out in India, and should do their duty by going back to play in the Test series. But the sensible view on this issue is to have no view. Let the England players weigh their responsibilities to themselves, their families and their country and act accordingly, and whatever they decide, irrespective of England and Wales Cricket Board directives, let none of us sit in judgement.

Stonewall defenders

How splendid, how utterly splendid, that rugby league has become the first major sport to join Stonewall's campaign against homophobia. Stonewall, as readers of this irreproachably liberal newspaper will be aware, is the organisation named after the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, where a police raid in 1969 provoked violent riots, and gave birth to the gay rights movement. Rugby league, by contrast, is a sport played mainly inindustrial regions of the north of England by men of ineffable hardness, not one of whom, at least in the professional ranks, is openly gay. Not yet, anyway. It is a heartwarming alliance.