ICC CRICKET WORLD CUP, 2019
There’s a feeling of wistfulness about Colin de Grandhomme – like the sad hitman, the sad gangster, weighed by the burden of who he is and what he has to do ©Getty
Colin de Grandhomme walks into a bar.
There’s no punch line. But you can imagine it can’t you, maybe somewhere in the Old West, the saloon doors swing back, a square-shouldered silhouette blot out the dusty light, the piano player stops playing, conversation dies, hands reach for guns.
Maybe it’s the moustache. Maybe it’s the kit. The man in black. The sad gunslinger. But there’s something about the big man.
In an interview last week, Thom Yorke, the Radiohead singer, said: “I found a quote from a film-maker who said, ‘You know society is in trouble when it rejects sadness in art or music.'”
Cricket is art as well as sport, especially in the long arc of its past. And sadness is inherent and important in cricket. Not just the kind of immediate and transient sadness of losing a match or being dropped, but the deeper one that clings a little longer, one that is often acknowledged only internally. During Channel 4’s documentary on the 2005 Ashes shown on Sunday, Simon Jones said: “You want to relive it, but you can’t,” and for the first time, 2005 felt like a long time ago. It’s the melancholy of years and opportunities passing, of what cricket grounds look like when they’re empty, the way the light falls during last overs.
Certain cricketers seem to hold these feelings within them, more so than others. They have wistfulness to them, and to how they do what they do. For me, Colin de Grandhomme is one. He looks good in that all-black, the sad hitman, the sad gangster, weighed by the burden of who he is and what he has to do.
He has the game we’d all like to have, a brutal match-winner, a clear case of nominative determinism. He took five wickets on Test debut. He has a 71-ball Test hundred. Kane Williamson calls him New Zealand’s “X-Factor player,” and Kane doesn’t exactly chuck words around.
But with the big man, everything’s not always as it seems. In New Zealand’s loss to Australia, for example, he holed out at long-off first ball – first ball – from the bowling of Steve Smith – yeah, Steve Smith. In the next game, New Zealand’s loss to England, he hit Ben Stokes’ loosener straight to Joe Root at deep square leg.
The game can be an existentially lonely place at times like that, one that can exile players in the course of an over or two, let alone a match.
Murali had a story about the young Andrew Flintoff when they were at Lancashire together. Murali would come into the dressing room and find Flintoff sitting there disconsolately, out early once again.
“Another shit shot, Freddie?” he’d ask. Flintoff would nod, sadly.
De Grandhomme bats the way he looks but he doesn’t bowl the way he looks. He looks like a squat Dennis Lillee at the end of his run, but the similarity ends there. He brings to mind John Arlott’s line about John Southern: ‘he’s the slowest fast bowler in England’. It’s a perfect line, because you don’t need to know anything about John Southern to understand exactly what Arlott is saying.
In cricket, there’s always a regret for the shots not played, for the innings cut short, of potential unfulfilled, of good things coming to an end. Professional cricket is so hard and intense that few players get much more than the odd moment in the sun. That’s thrown into deeper relief in tournaments like the World Cup, because, amid the endless cycle of the international game, it is fleetingly rare.
New Zealand have a semi-final, though, and the big man could do anything. He could go full Brathwaite, and take down the biggest stars of his era. He has it in him, but probability is stacked against. Therein, it lies.
Always outnumbered, always outgunned, lonesome, but in with one last shot.
Who couldn’t feel glad, and sad, about that.