Brian Viner: Walking the walk is secret weapon of all-time greats

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The Independent Online

It is almost 10 years since I started weekly interviews of illustrious sporting figures in these pages, and I am often asked to name my favourite interviewees. The old-timers, is the usual answer. On the whole they have more time, better stories, and greater generosity of spirit. I refer to people such as Sir Bobby Robson, Sir Tom Finney, Sir Stirling Moss, Sir Peter O'Sullevan, Arnold Palmer, Richie Benaud and Cliff Morgan. An hour or more in the company of men like that feels far more like a privilege than a job.

Moreover, the old-timers offer a beguiling connection with history. At a golf club in Sussex seven years ago I interviewed the 85-year-old 1951 Open champion Max Faulkner, who recalled being outscored by the 1902 Open champion Sandy Herd – 67 to 71 – when he was 17, and Herd 73. "I was outdriving him by 100 yards, and I'd hit my niblick into the green while he'd hit his spoon, but it was my putt first every ruddy time."

A few weeks ago, again at a golf club (if dewy-eyed nostalgia has a home, it is surely a golf club bar), I passed a similarly enthralling afternoon teasing memories out of 81-year-old Tom Graveney, who took me with him back to a sepia-tinted era as he described watching Wally Hammond's innings of 147 for Gloucestershire against Yorkshire in 1946. But more memorable than any shots that Hammond played was his imperious walk to the wicket, which according to Graveney, "was worth the entrance money on its own".

I thought of this yesterday while flicking through Sweet Summers, a wonderful new anthology of the best of J M Kilburn (Great Northern Books, £16.99). Jim Kilburn was the cricket correspondent of the Yorkshire Post from 1934 to 1976. He was 20 years younger than his more renowned counterpart on the Manchester Guardian, Neville Cardus, but his use of language was no less majestic, and it enabled him to construct a whole piece around the walk Graveney described, in this instance at Lord's against Australia in 1938, prior to an innings of 240. "At 20 for two Walter Hammond came out to bat. In no possible way could Royal progress have been more regal than in Hammond's walk to the wicket. It was made at normal pace, without the hurry of anxiety or the deliberation of tactical device. He always walked with grace and confidence and dignity, but this time there was an added quality as clear, to me, as though he had been wearing a purple cloak. It was the assurance of being the right person in the right place at the right time."

It's a marvellous description, and it made me think about sport's great walks. Of course, walking is one of the most prosaic of human activities, something most of us do, the unfit along with the lithe. But some sportsmen and women have walks that distinguish them even from their fellow athletes, walks that somehow make a statement, as Hammond's did, and of those I have admired myself, here are my top three.

1. Sir Viv Richards. One of the immutable laws of cricket writing was that Richards could never be described as walking to the crease; it was always a swagger. And with that swagger, and the faint smile, and the nonchalant chewing, there was enough self-belief to sink a battleship, not to mention the opposition bowling attack.

2. Greg Norman. I was reminded at the Open this year that Norman has a great walk, long and purposeful of stride, straight of back, and in that final round, alongside Padraig Harrington's splay-footed waddle, he looked like a god. It was Harrington who played divine golf, of course, but there has never been a more imposing walk on a golf course than that of Norman in his prime, eating up the yards.

3. Roger Federer. Richards had a disdainful swagger, but Federer's walk is more of a respectful saunter. He may have lost the Centre Court crown, but I have never seen anyone enter the greatest arena in tennis looking more graceful, which is some trick to pull off, as he did this year, in a knitted cardie.

New gambling drama can make Coogan compulsive

Next Tuesday, a brilliant drama called Sunshine begins its three-part run on BBC 1. It stars Steve Coogan as a man with a terminal weakness for betting on the horses, and, as the son of a gambler, I watched a preview of the first episode through my fingers. It is probably best described as a "bittersweet" comedy, but for some of us "agonising" might be a better word. If you know any compulsive gamblers, Sunshine should be compulsive viewing.

By saying that the foundations are finally in place at Liverpool FC, and that little more expenditure is required, Rafa Benitez this week broke the Gérard Houllier principle to which he had hitherto been utterly faithful, that no matter how many hundreds of millions have been spent, the team are still "three or four good players short".

In addition to his two major wins, Greg Norman topped the World Golf Rankings seven times, (1986, '87, '89, '90, '95, '96 and '97), finishing second three times (1988, '93 and '94).

Benitez falls short of Houllier's credo

By saying that the foundations are finally in place at Liverpool FC, and that little more expenditure is required, Rafa Benitez this week broke the Gérard Houllier principle to which he had hitherto been utterly faithful, that no matter how many hundreds of millions have been spent, the team are still "three or four good players short".

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