Monday, 10 February 2014


David Hopps at Thorner Mexborough CC promotion party

Way back in the mists of April 2012 I had the idea to ask cricket writers a set of standard questions about their time spent covering the game, upon which they would be invited to riff. Initially, I gathered half a dozen or so together, mainly through buttonholing the less forbidding writers in the press boxes I found myself in, and had fully intended to work my way up to the scarier, fire-breathing beasties. The idea was successfully pitched yet, for one reason or another, never hit the streets. Nor even the virtual streets. Anyway, having asked people to devote some of their time to this, it seems only right they don’t languish on my hardrive. So, here you go… 

David Hopps started at out as a reporter on the East Essex Gazette in 1980 and worked for the Evening Courier in Halifax and the Yorkshire Post before joining The Guardian in 1989. He became the UK Editor at ESPNcricinfo in 2011. [Interview: July 2013] 

Who are your favourite cricket writers, past and present? 
Matthew Engel influenced me more than any other writer. Michael Atherton I regard as the best writer of the moment. And there was a period when Martin Johnson made me laugh more than anyone else. 

How about broadcasters – which trio would you have in the commentary box for your perfect 30 mins? 
Bumble, Athers – I am very pro the Sky boys, actually – and Michael Henderson. That’s all Lancashire, isn’t it, and I’m a Yorkshireman. That is a really, really weird answer. Henderson wasn’t a broadcaster but he should have been. But you’d have to have a good lawyer. 

What were your personal cricketing achievements and highlights?  
Ha ha, you’re kidding. I suppose I’m meant to have achieved everything by my age but I’d still like to do more to promote junior cricket and spread the love of the game to a new generation. I’ve never had time to do that. I retired the year before last, at 53, and was just a club cricketer, but they have been good times and I managed to do a fair bit to improve the ground and did a lot of skippering in a pretty volatile style, specialising in mid-season resignations when I felt we were not being communal enough. And, if I don't play again, I can always say I finished by being caught at long on, which is the best way to go. One of the few downsides of working for Cricinfo is I don’t get free Saturdays any more. Come to think of it, I don't get free much at all really. I managed, in thirty years of club cricket, only ever to score two centuries. Should have been more. I was a left-handed batsman who southern friends said had a very defence that was “all Yorkshire” but I only had about three shots. You only need three when your extra cover drive’s as good as mine. I was petrified of fast-bowling though – I've never been very brave... 

Beyond a Boundary – what other passions do you have in life? 
My job is all-consuming. I never have time to do anything else. In theory, reading, theatre, hiking; that sort of thing. But I’m so bloody busy – I buy books but they just pile up. These days the bookcase just gets used as a backdrop for video. At some point in my life I need a quieter lifestyle. I’m not a great reader of cricket books. I’ve always felt the need to get away from the game more, to try and keep my writing fresh, and that’s what I deliberately try to do. But there’s so much cricket these days, it’s very, very difficult. 

Fantasy cricket – where’s the venue, who’s playing, and who are you watching it with? 
It would be Scarborough. It would be the Thorner Mexborough first team of about 1999 versus Hull University first team of 1979. I’m playing for both sides in my fantasy game. I’ve always loved playing cricket more than watching it. They’re my two most favourite years as a club cricketer. 

Favourite ground in England? 
Scarborough – closely followed by Trent Bridge, Hove and Taunton. My favourite ground abroad is Arnos Vale, St Vincent, where the boats go past and the small planes come in. Never get to the Caribbean and need to go there again. 

Favourite press box on the county circuit and why? 
Probably Trent Bridge. I’ve always enjoyed working at Trent Bridge. The height of the press box there is great. But I object – and it’s hard to avoid in England – to closed press boxes. The press boxes I love, overseas, are open, in warm climates, where I can hear the game as well as see it, because it helps me concentrate. English press boxes are so hermetically sealed. For me they make the job really, really difficult. 

Which ground provides the best nourishment? 
The main reason I like going to Headingley is so I can walk out into the suburb of Headingley at lunchtime and visit any one of several decent sandwich shops. I tend to eat outside grounds rather than inside grounds, so I don’t have favourites. Look, the best tucker is obviously Lord’s, very closely followed by the Rose Bowl. But outside those two, on county matches I very rarely trust catering on county grounds. 

What’s the best day’s cricket you’ve reported on? 
I’ve got a terrible memory, but I’ve never been more excited than when England won in Adelaide on the last Ashes tour. That wasn’t necessarily the best day’s cricket – because it wasn’t a particularly good day’s cricket – but I’ve never been as excited about a victory as that day. I can remember being on a high as I wrote the report. Also, the Tim Bresnan day in Melbourne on that same tour. Being a Yorkshireman, I absolutely enjoyed that. But I’ve never been very good at bests and lists. I think the best days in terms of writing are, ‘am I into the piece I’m writing?’ I’m quite selfish about it. The best day for me is knowing what I want to write, being able to write it, and being happy with it. And those best days often have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of the cricket. 

And which day’s play do you wish you’d been at? 
The start of Bodyline, definitely. Or when Bill Woodfull was hit above the heart – that day. 

Mirth in the press box – who’s the funniest colleague? 
[Laughs] That’s bloody difficult – look at ‘em all. Gareth Copley – I just think he’s got an insane humour. Most of the snappers are quite funny. Copley’s the funniest. Among the journalists, Martin Johnson, ‘Reggie’ Hayter. Vic Marks has got a lovely, gentle West Country wit. Jarrod Kimber would like me to say Jarrod Kimber. 

As a journalist, what’s the most tempestuous experience you’ve had? Have you ever come to blows? 
My row with Ashley Giles at Trent Bridge, behind the press box. I was so angry afterwards I had to walk round the ground to calm down and I honestly thought I was going to have a heart attack. My heart was pounding with adrenaline. I've never been as angry in my life. Ashley had just finished playing and was working for the BBC, and came to lecture me about why I’d used the word ‘temerity’. I told him he didn't know what the word meant and it kind of escalated. I’ve got a reputation for being volatile and having extreme highs and lows. And I was certainly volatile on that day. My favourite rows though were with David Bairstow back in my Yorkshire Post days. He cared passionately about Yorkshire cricket and the disputes normally finished with a beer or two. 

Magic wand time – what changes would you make to English domestic cricket, if possible? 
I’d half the amount of CB40s. I’d start two weeks later. And I’d negotiate a whatever-it-takes deal with India so that the English season didn’t clash with IPL – without an IPL window, we’re conning the public, playing sides with players missing – and so T20 could be a worthwhile product here. I’d condense it into a four-week, high-profile tournament. We’ve got to realise that we have to accommodate the IPL. And to take umbrage, because of the traditions of Test cricket, and just sulk about it is no solution.  

What would you change about international cricket, given half a chance? 
Window for IPL! And less is more. I’m quite sympathetic to Graeme Swann’s view that there should be as many T20s as ODIs now. So, I’d increase T20s, not by much, reduce the number of ODIs and cut back international cricket by…brackets: plucks figure out of air. Fifteen percent? 

Which youngsters do you think will go on to be giants? 
I wouldn’t burden any youngster with such a prediction. I quite like the look of Jamie Overton. As for batters, there are players coming through with power, but not too much subtlety. There can be a lot of hype about players who get sucked into international cricket and one of the delights of covering county cricket is that you get chance to see the younger players before you have to write about them in an international setting. 

Who are your favourite current batter and bowler? 
Well, I like watching KP, because he’s a flawed genius, and I like the flaws as much as the genius. I like watching Anderson when it’s swinging, a hundred times more than when it isn’t. [Long pause] I just don’t have favourites; I’m useless at this. Root’s fun at the moment. I’m often interested in character – I used to like watching Paul Nixon bat – they don’t have to be particularly aesthetic. 

Which coach do you most enjoy chatting to, given the opportunity? 
Any winning coach in a garrulous mood with a pint in front of him. I enjoy chatting to Dav Whatmore but he’s never told me anything in his life. 

Which player is a refreshingly platitude-free zone to talk to, on or off the record?  
It is a stereotypical answer to say Graeme Swann but there are so few platitude-free zones and that is a total indictment of the defensive media training that young people are given. Everything is so programmed. It might be designed to protect the game and the player, but it’s a betrayal of them as human beings as far as I’m concerned. Swann’s one of the few people who survives that, and good luck to him. James Pattinson gave such an honest interview at the Australian media day in Worcester about his brother Darren, and the family anger at how he was treated by the media during his one Test for England, and I was so impressed by his willingness to offer a true emotional response. 

Where is broadsheet county reporting headed and– 
Down the swanny. 

…And is Internet journalism sustainable? 
I’m going to sound really corporate now, but one of the main reasons I joined ESPNcricinfo is because it has more chance of producing sustainable county cricket coverage – if it wants to, badly enough – than just about anywhere else. Whether it will remains to be seen. There are too many people in high authority who don't value it. 

Lastly, what is the best piece you’ve written (or your favourite, if modesty prevents a proper answer)? 
[Laughs] No, no, I’m not doing that. [Pause] Um, the best piece I’ve written is always the piece when I type the word ‘ends’… I don’t have a favourite piece, but sometimes if I look back at something five or ten years later it can be a great feeling to read it fresh rather than to read it as something I’ve written that day; to read it almost as though I’ve never read it before, and never written it, because I’ve forgotten it – that can be a really joyous experience. And I can still surprise myself every so often when I find real pleasure in writing a piece. That's nice to know. I suppose the one I’m particularly proud of – because I managed to get it in the paper and it was so off-the-wall; and I don’t think The Guardian were at all proud of it – was one where I did a skit, writing the piece as though I were talking to a computer voice recognition programme, a piece from Guyana in the World Cup, which I know that Andrew Miller [editor of The Cricketer] regards as his favourite piece of mine. And I wasn’t drunk when I did it, despite everyone thinking I was… 

Also in this series:  
Andy Wilson | Jarrod Kimber | Vic Marks | Gideon Haigh | George Dobell


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