So many have bored me or irritated me over the years.(Apologies for this - if you are disinterested feel free to skip or berate me but it is the off-season and we are not signing anybody and the Ashes are going to be a disaster)
When I was growing up in Yorkshire in the late 70's and early 80's, like every other kid, I used to love the West Indies. They filled my family's Rediffusion black and white TV with brilliant carnival cricket. This love affair I was soon taking to the school playing field. When I was batting I wanted to be the imperious Vivian Richards; with a ball in hand it was Malcolm Marshall. Bat fast. Bowl fast. That was cricket. While this was obviously simplistic and unrealistic, I make no apologies for my 8 year old self. No football fan ever dreamt of being Phil Neville, and no birdwatcher ever held court bragging about seeing a hedge sparrow. Everybody desires the spectacular. In truth, nobody dreams of the ordinary - and if you look in a picture dictionary under the word 'ordinary' there staring back is a slightly pompous, overweight cricketer: Derek Pringle.
To give further context to my grievance, 1986 was perhaps the nadir for followers of English cricket (and boy we have had a few). The three tests against India were deeply chastening. I think I elected to sit behind the sofa and watch through my fingers. With the mighty and dangerous Guy the Gorilla banned for tooting on a Tooting Trumpet in came Derek the Docile. The Indians made us look like fools and, for me, Pringle became the epitome of all that was wrong with the world (despite Bothamesque figures of 3/47 in an innings in the second test I quietly confess). Somehow I decided that he was the reason for unemployment, acne and my failure to lose my virginity. Seeing him trundle in to bowl was a constant cause of despair. He was worse than an interrupted wet dream. His batting was not even as good as that.
In truth, deadly dull Derek was like a pound-shop Botham. He was the Christmas gift you never wanted because you knew there was something far better. While your friends were getting Raleigh Grifters you were getting a roller skate with a missing wheel. When, a year or so later, he was in competition with David Capel rather than the injured Botham, it was like being offered the choice between a weekend in a tent in Grimsby during February or two days in a cardboard box in Bolton during October. There was no answer that didn't feel like being sold a maggot sandwich and being told it was caviar. If the West Indies had been the fantasy, this was the bitter reality. Of course his averages might suggest different BUT I genuinely believed that Pringle was the worst cricketer to play at any level. There have been hundreds of average, ordinary cricketers to fail spectacularly for England since, but none that inspired in me such unreasoned incandescent rage. I have sympathy for the Blakeys, Igglesdens, Iranis that I never found for Pringle. Somehow he had found his way into my subconscious as the sum of all ills. He became a metaphor for the possibility that life may end up as more of a whimper than a bang.
And like the proverbial bad penny he just kept coming back. He did a stupid warm up that delighted the commentators (I can feel the bile rising at the recollection), but this was only ever the foreplay for utter disappointment. I willed him to fail and mostly I was left happy. He injured himself writing a letter (an urban myth I happily chose to believe) and I rejoiced with a salsa around the kitchen. He probably had good games which I refused to notice. He retired and I tried to throw a street party.
In researching this, I notice Wikipedia says that 'Pringle's first class batting average exactly matched his first class bowling average, indicating that he cancelled himself out perfectly'. Well exactly. He wouldn't have got in the team as a batsman or a bowler and as an all-rounder he only just covered his faults. It was like he never troubled a game of cricket.
This piece may have been better concluded with a fulsome apology and recognition that I have been unbelievably harsh. Maybe I could admit to a growing admiration for medium paced dobblers and an appreciation of the workmanlike batsman with no flair who look more out of place than an MCC blazer on a zebra. But it isn't going to happen. While you could argue with me using logic, facts and statistics, I stopped listening when I was 12 years old. I knew my enemy. I knew that if all cricketers were like him that I would rather watch wallpaper.
He might be a great journalist but I will never know. I wouldn't read a word for a footballer's wage. This is possibly my problem rather than his. I should probably ask your forgiveness and his but I am singularly unrepentant. Derek Pringle ruined my childhood. And now my life is once again in tatters, I wake from fevered nightmares of him wobbling in to bowl with the blankets sweat-soaked and tied in knots around my limbs.
This is the way the world ends...
Top of my list of horrors - the talented but arrogant Surrey team that Adam Holliake captained.
Dull dogs - Colin Dredge; most Derbyshire players of the 1960’s.
England pet hates - I had an irrational dislike of Colin Cowdrey.
Overseas - arrogant Captains (eg Kohli, Ponting) and corrupt ones (eg Cronje, Butt)
Yorkshire - hard pressed to name anyone.
I suspect a lot of people might not be charitably disposed to Ben Stokes at the moment. I’m not his greatest fan but I hope he has the opportunity to redeem himself and to be remembered for his cricket rather than his left hook. Other cricketers have endured disgrace only to be redeemed subsequently - Tufnell and his father-in-law; Ponting and the booze; Freddie and the pedalo; Botham and the bed springs. Maybe the same will be true of Stokes.
It’s easy for lots of we older posters to forget that our cricketing heroes are extremely young men and are doing their growing up in the public eye. I’m thankful that my mistakes weren’t the common currency of the Mail Online and theTwittersphere.