Sad times for The Times, and for the game of cricket, with the passing within days of each other of William Rees-Mogg and Christopher Martin-Jenkins. Both men represented, besides the potency of the double-barrelled surname, a specific and wholly admirable strand of Englishness. They had unfailing good manners, and though very posh were never snobbish. They would talk to anyone and enjoy it (most of the time anyway). They never looked as if they were trying too hard, though of course both did work very hard throughout their lives.
And by golly they knew their stuff — whether it was Rees-Mogg and his antiquarian books (and Somerset cricket, of course) or CMJ and the finer points of Muralitharan’s bowling figures. They loved the English language and expressed themselves with Orwellian clarity, without any of the vanity that scars a lot of modern writing. Both men were blessed with an uncomplicated and loving family life. And they were decently conservative — suspicious of the new fangled and of anyone promising Jerusalem. The phrase ‘that’s not cricket’ would have meant something to WRM and CMJ, which is why it is a pity neither man was around to comment on events in Melbourne the other day featuring the one and only Shane Warne.
Now, however you choose to describe Warne, the words ‘Aussie’, ‘bloke’, and ‘cricket’ would probably come to mind pretty sharpish. So what on earth was he doing having a hissy fit and throwing the ball underarm to hit Marlon Samuels in a meaningless Big Bash 20-over thrash? Samuels, of course, lost it too, and chucked his bat back at Warne. Pretty dismal stuff and a long way from the spirit of CMJ. As the Aussie sports journo Greg Baum said, this was when the Big Bash came of age: about six and a half.
So what was going on? In that landmined territory at the interface of sport and celebrity, a hazardous zone where only the foolhardy and very rich dare to tread, a couple of long-term engagements have ruled the headlines: Warney and Liz Hurley, and of course Frank Lampard and Christine Bleakley, sorry, television’s Christine Bleakley. But in either case I wouldn’t be saving up for any wedding presents just yet. As Oscar Wilde pointed out, the great problem with long engagements is that they give people the opportunity of finding out each other’s character before marriage.
You’ve got to feel for Shane. There’s Liz in the mud and rain of the Cotswolds, busying herself with her Gloucester Old Spots, trying to tempt her boyfriend back with some Cartier polo or whatnot, and here’s Simone, the one-time Mrs Warne, in the sun and fun of Melbourne saying, ‘Listen mate, maybe you can spend a bit more time with your kids now.’ No wonder the old boy went nuts with the white ball. And as for poor old Lamps, with one feisty former partner and two children waiting in the wings, his contract negotiations are drifting into Jarndyce v Jarndyce territory. Lamps should take a tip from Becks and try the States. His current missus would probably like it too.
But with a bit of luck there should be nicer news any day now from Down Under for Britain’s new man of steel, Andy Murray. This be the year he will blossom into a serial champion. The Aussie Open starts this weekend, and Murray has already won one tournament in Brisbane this year. Time to take a tip from his coach, Ivan Lendl. Like Murray, Lendl lost his first four grand slam finals before landing a major. The Czech soon went on to win five majors in eight tournaments from 1985 to 1987. Lendl proved you’ve got to be in it to win it, taking eight slams but losing in 11 finals too. Watch Murray this year as he makes Grand Slam final after final. The wins will follow.
Roger Alton is an executive editor at The Times.