I’d got this piece all planned out: a needlessly vitriolic and unpleasant personal attack on Dickie Bird to mark his 80th birthday, a piece that would have said far more about me than it would an essentially harmless old duffer from Barnsley.
It was to be the usual sort of thing that the four of us in Britain who have no time for the National Treasure and Yorkshire Billy Bowden come out with. Chuntering about his professional Yorkshireman, everything-was-better-in-my-day witterings. Unease at the way his gigantic ego is seen as endearing and lovely and wonderful while the far smaller ego of, say, Kevin Pietersen is evidence of just what an appalling shit of a man he is (Here’s a game: imagine the press reaction if KP ever said “It stands on the exact spot where I was born, 100 yards from the town hall – trips come from all over to see my statue” or “They all rated me the best: Sobers, Richards, Lillee and Botham”). Furious anger at the highly scientific poll I’ve just conducted in my head that reveals a sodding umpire ranks behind only Ian Botham, and possibly Mike Gatting’s squashed nose, in a list of English Cricketing Figures People Remember From The 80s, and some general bewilderment at the fact his autobiography sold more than a million copies.
My dormant Bird-disliking fire was lit by a piece on the birthday boy in Thursday’s Telegraph that contained the line about his statue in Barnsley (imagine, JUST IMAGINE, that we live in a world where people go on trips to look at a FUCKING STATUE of DICKIE FUCKING BIRD in FUCKING BARNSLEY) and an altogether less offensive, or so I thought, Dickie Bird all-time Test XI presented in traditional click-generating photo gallery form in case you don’t know what a Viv Richards or Shane Warne looks like.
While I chortled at the depth of thinking Dickie had put into the project and the detailed analysis behind his selection of Sunil Gavaskar to open the batting (“Sunil was one of the two best opening bats I saw”) before briefly raising my eyebrows at the omissions of Sachin Tendulkar and Don Bradman, I quickly moved on with my life and returned to the more important business of getting myself all worked up about the concept of people going on day-trips to see a statue. Of an umpire. In Barnsley, I mean for fu…
But this morning, everything changed.
Because this morning, I found this.
It has instantly and undoubtedly become my favourite ‘news story’ of all time. Every time I read it, I laugh at something new. If you’ve just read it, go back and read it again.
See? It’s truly the (Dickie’s 80th birthday) gift that keeps on giving.
There’s just so much to enjoy, from the gumption in claiming the views of two ancient former players as representing the righteous anger of “the cricket fraternity of India”, to describing a team clearly scribbled on the back of a fag packet following about five minutes’ thought by an 80-year-old man as “controversial”, and the accusations of bias from Indians demanding the inclusion of more Indians in an Englishman’s team that contains the same number of Indians as it does Englishmen. Or just the simple pleasure of the phrase “he said with a sarcastic tone”.
Then there’s also the seemingly genuine concern that this XI – a team that is, and this shouldn’t really need saying, fictitious and will never actually take to any cricket field – lacks proper balance. And the fella essentially telling Dickie that his opinion is wrong and in order to select the “ideal” team he really out to have included Adam Gilchrist rather than Alan Knott.
Or perhaps you particularly like the bit in the fifth par when they work out Bird has only picked from players he saw display their greatness at close-hand (which is as sensible a criterion as any to employ when attempting to distil all the great cricketers, which after years of study I can confirm is a number significantly greater than 11, into one team) yet still plough on as they explain precisely where and why and how badly the old man’s opinion is so very, very wrong.
It is, as Ashley Connick put it on Twitter, “two people saying ‘I disagree with your fantasy XI, here’s my own.’ But angrier.”
So much anger. So much pointless, hilarious anger. Getting worked up about someone’s all-time XI? You might as well get annoyed about daylight, or which type of cheese someone prefers, or a statue.
There might be a serious point to be made here. Something about caring so much about such total insignificance while actual important events go unchallenged and unreported. Or about the drivelsome and tiresome accusations of bias that screech from the mouths and keyboards of actual grown adult humans whenever they are presented with an opinion about their favourite team or bestest players that differs from their own clearly far more considered, nuanced and impartial viewpoint. The sort of spittle-flecked nonsense which means that, for example, my colleague Nick Miller – as nice and fabulously bearded a man as you could ever wish to meet – should probably not go to Hull. Which would definitely be Hull’s loss.
But tits to all that. Balls to making serious points. That’s not what this site is or ever will be about.
No, here’s what matters: Dickie Bird picked a team of cricketers that led directly to a news story containing the phrase “he said with a sarcastic tone”.
And with that, Dickie, everything is forgiven. Happy bloody Birthday. Please tell us again about how much better things were in the old days, when the internet was in black and white and a Decision Review System was you thinking for an extra second before turning down that lbw shout.
Tell us again about how many times you’ve met the Queen, and how many hours early you were, you endearingly eccentric national institution you. Remind us of that time Merv Hughes done a shit in your coat pocket for the now-lost and much-lamented banter and lolz (I may have made that one up). By all means release yet another inexplicably popular book containing these and many other frequently-heard-before tales (Foreword by Michael Parkinson).
But first, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to fucking Barnsley to look at a fucking statue.