Tuesday, 27 May 2014

SHANKAR PART 3: WORCESTERSHIRE'S SOURCE?




Once the cricket-loving public had absorbed the sheer brazenness – and bizarreness – of Shankar’s con-trick, the next query to arise may well have been how, exactly, he managed to pull the wool over Worcestershire’s eyes. Were Worcestershire – and Lancashire before them, perhaps – simply duped, or was there more to it? I mean, there was nothing in his record to suggest that he was a sound and logical signing, and surely they would want solid evidence of that. Imagine walking into the Moscow State Circus and telling them you’re a trapeze artist who recently walked the high-wire over Iguazu Falls, showing them a photo-free blog post from a Paraguayan gaucho as proof, and expecting them simply to swallow it and hire you on the spot. Well, that’s pretty much Shankar’s stunt. The most charitable explanation from the counties perspective is that it was simply jaw-dropping gullibility rather than negligence or anything more.

First of all there was the question of his age – which, to be fair to Worcestershire, may not have entered their considerations in the same way that it probably had for Lancashire, for whom he signed aged ‘23’ (26), thus entitling them to the ECB’s Age-Related Player Payments, a positive incentive for the selection of local, young cricketers designed to circumvent the impossibility of legislating against the plethora of EU-passport holding, non-England-qualified ‘Kolpaks’ in the game (this was all moot, since Shankar didn’t actually play). 

However, for the version of his biography disseminated by both counties upon signing him – i.e. that he was born in 1985 – to be correct, the former Cambridge Blues Captain, who went up to Queen’s College to read Law in October 2001, would have first matriculated at the tender age of 16 – not impossible, certainly, but more likely to be true of a future Nobel laureate than a man pursuing a career in the lower echelons of professional cricket. (Or maybe not, for I briefly knew a guy who had started his Physics degree at Cambridge aged 16. When our paths crossed, on a two-week trip to Cuba, he was pixellating pornographic movies for the Japanese market.) Anyway, be it naïve or negligent, Worcestershire simply accepted a xeroxed copy of his (falsified) passport and handed the documents on to the ECB, who must take their share of the blame.

Second, there’s the question of his ability – either potential or demonstrated. You will recall that Worcestershire’s first press release cooed about Shankar having “spent the winter in Sri Lanka gaining valuable experience and catching the attention of numerous counties. Director of Cricket, Steve Rhodes, commented ‘Adrian came to the Club’s attention during the winter, which he spent playing cricket for Colombo in the Sri Lankan Mercantile League…’” Came to the Club’s attention. And: Catching the attention of numerous counties. But they signed him on May 11, a full month into the season, which hardly speaks of a winter-long hot-property surveillance operation!! One wonders quite what so many of the counties were dilly-dallying at – I mean, you wouldn’t turn up for the January sales in February. 


Third, there were his actual feats. Rhodes continues in the WCCC press release: “He was the leading run scorer in the twenty20 tournament with an average of over 52 and also scored three successive hundreds in the longer form of the game.” I did some routine investigating in Sri Lanka at the time, to see whether these stats stacked up. First, Columbo-like, I contacted Colombo CC (the genuine first-class team, not the ‘Reds’), whose scorer, a Mr Nandalal, confirmed that Shankar had turned up for an initial practice session, at which he had been injured (sound familiar?), and was not seen since. He also confirmed that they didn’t have a Second XI, so it wasn’t immediately clear where Shanks might have notched this troika of tons. Most intriguingly – and this really is where Worcester’s alarm bells ought to have gone off, ideally before signing the contract – there was no sign of “The Mercantile League” anywhere on the web, as is now widely known. Mr Nandalal said that the Mercantile League was for firms, not clubs, and thus wasn’t first-class or List A level.

As it happens, Shankar did spend some of the winter in Sri Lanka, having first travelled to Botswana, volunteering for Cricket Without Borders. Good for the CV, no doubt. Apparently, he acquired a nickname out there in Gabarone – The Eye Candy as one of his fellow volunteers would explain: “The nickname is of uncertain origin, some saying Adrian suggested it himself…”

After this, he headed over the Indian Ocean to Sri Lanka, where Mongoose had hooked him up with Ravi de Silva, a former player with Colombo CC, and at the time an administrator in charge of Sri Lankan first-class cricket (although again, probably not the ‘Mercantile T20’) as well as a player agent representing another ‘Gooser, Chamara Kapugedera. Mongoose sent kit out to Shankar and received regular email updates, both from Adrian and those who
d said theyd seen him play. Doubtless they were impressed, for it was these emails that formed the basis of Mongoose’s ‘Investor Updates’, informing the company’s financial backers how the Mongoose stable was getting along. One such update was sent to Manoj Badale owner of Rajasthan Royals, and, like Adrian, a Cambridge graduate and a meeting was set up at which Mongoose, keen to use the Anglo-Indian Shankar as a marketing vehicle, persuaded Badale to enter him in the IPL auction. He failed to attract a bid. Unsurprising, yes, but also putting him in the same boat as Graeme Swann, Chris Tremlett, Ian Bell, James Anderson, Jonathan Trott, Matt Prior, Monty Panesar, Ravi Bopara, Samit Patel and Tim Bresnan. Good company, he might have thought to himself in consolation. Or in pride.   

Anyway, back to his engagement by Worcestershire and Lancashire, it perhaps seems ludicrous that neither county did any background checks into his age (despite, in Lancashire’s case, being prompted by the Secretary of Bedfordshire, Pip August), nor carried out due diligence regarding his documentation, but you don’t need Derren Brown to tell you that, all too often, we are easily primed, in an entirely subconscious manner, to accept certain authoritative versions of ‘reality’. Be that as it may, perhaps more damning than all that is the far from tangential question of Shankar’s lack of any discernible pedigree as a cricketer. Surely Worcestershire had a quick look at his record. Did he even have a trial?


As for Lancashire, at the time of Shankar signing at Old Trafford, the outgoing coach and soon to be Director of Cricket, Mike Watkinson, said: “Adrian is a quality young batsman who fills a gap in our player development programme. He has attracted interest from a number of other counties which confirms his potential”. Confirms? Curious logic: Lots of other people seem to like foie gras, so I’m going to go out and buy enough for the next two years, even though I’ve never tasted it. And who told Lancashire that there had been “lots of interest from other counties”: the same source that told Worcestershire that he had been “catching the attention of numerous counties”?

Worcestershire CEO David Leatherdale said that contracts had been signed with Shankar prior to the county receiving the requisite papers from the player. He also said that he “had doubts”, and “further checks into the documentation showed that they had been falsified”. Fine, but it wasn’t clear whether those doubts arose organically, as it were, or only after prompting from journalists. Either way, this laxity must have grated considerably with people striving to carve out a legitimate career in the game. I mean, if youre perusing the cricketing labour market and happen to alight upon a fellow of 29 (or 26) years with an average of 21 in 2nd XI championship cricket from 43 innings (over 11 years), one of 27.83 in 38 Minor Counties innings for Bedfordshire (with a solitary century), and just 16 for Spencer in the Surrey Championship Premier League in 2008, how would he be considered a more worthwhile, or even plausible, signing in the universal currency of runs? It cannot be argued. There is absolutely no basis for such a stance (as a discerning batting coach once told me around the time I ruled out a pathway into the professional game). Oh Adrian, how the eff did you think you could get away with it...?

To be fair to Lancashire, his average in competitive 2nd XI cricket for them (28.48) was better than that overall record, so the case could be made that he was at least on an upward curve. Then again, he only had a single half-century from 23 innings (249 runs at 13.83) at that level prior to starting his contract. Indeed, in among the twelve 2nd XI games he had played – for four counties across eight seasons – before his Old Trafford trial in August and September 2008 were three matches for Worcestershire 2nd XI in 2003 alongside Daryl Mitchell, the Pears’ club captain in 2011 (not that you would expect him to remember every mediocre triallist from eight years earlier). In the first, batting a couple of spots above Steven Davies, he managed a top-scoring 41 in an innings defeat to Northants (for whom another player of Indian extraction, one Mudhusuden Panesar, bagged match figures of 7 for 79). The second outing was a weather-ruined West Midlands derby to which he contributed 1 not out. In the final game of this three-act audition, against Lancashire, Shankar made 1 and 2, stumped in the second innings off the bowling of Gary Yates – Academy and Second XI coach when he signed for Lancashire in 2008 – having been bowled by then Cambridge University colleague Simon Marshall first time round. It’s a small world, professional cricket. It’s very difficult to bullshit your way through – particularly with that thing called the Internet around now – or so you’d think...

A quick background check might have enabled Worcestershire to recollect these games. Worcestershire’s Academy Director and Second XI coach, Damian D’Oliveira, might have even remembered that he had seen Shankar bat in 2009 at Southport. Then again, ‘Shaky’ made 44 out of 494 for 9 declared, so Dolly may have been impressed. 

Shankar and Karl Brown open up; Dolly looks on

Anyway, as we now know, he was signed on a two-year deal and his first assignment was to play a second-tier Birmingham League match for Evesham at Bromsgrove, from where it was over to London to play Middlesex in a televised CB40 game at Lord’s. The day before, practising with his new teammates, snug in his fresh-smelling, spanking new county kit, he faced Jack Shantry and Alan Richardson, neither of whom thought their new signing had shaped up particularly well to their examination. 

In mitigation, it had not been in early-season England that Shankar’s cricketing star had begun to shine again, but out in Sri Lanka – land of the wrist merchants, the touch players, the glancers and gliders. So, at the end of that testing net session, he duly explained to these two seam bowlers – neither of whom has a particularly orthodox action, let’s be fair: a self-styled “left-arm strange” and a double windmiller (at which Shankar tilted unsuccessfully) – how he had struck Rangana Herath for five sixes in an over during the aforementioned Mercantile T20 competition. Impressive. Even more so given that, 19 months later, the diminutive spinner would reach the rarefied heights of second in the world Test bowling rankings, behind only Dale Willem Steyn. 


But here’s the thing: a couple of years earlier, in the summer of 2009, Rangana Herath had been the professional for my club, Moddershall, in the North Staffs and South Cheshire League. At least, he was until called up by Sri Lanka in early July, after Muralitharan had pulled up lame with a shoulder injury, at which juncture Ranga scooted out of a modest club season to Heathrow, then on to Galle and straight into a man-of-the-match display, backed up with two five-fers in the following games, that helped convince his countrymen that he would be the man to fill Murali’s wizard’s shoes. We had chatted on the phone the following summer, when he was having an indifferent time at Hampshire. 

Oh, and here’s the other thing: the day I heard about Shankar’s 6-6-6-6-6 claim also happened to be the day before I headed over to Derby for the first day of the Sri Lankan tourists’ warm-up against the England Lions. Rangana and I had arranged to catch up. When we did, I asked him about the Mercantile T20. Unsurprisingly, he knew nothing about it.

“So, a guy called Adrian Shankar definitely didn’t hit you for five sixes in an over last winter?”

“Scott”, he said, that cheeky, chubby smile breaking out into a still patient if incredulous laugh, “no-one’s ever hit me for five sixes in an over”.  


Intro | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7




2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have tears in my eyes through laughing so much at this whole article. Superb stuff take a bow Sir!

Anonymous said...

First of all, this is some of the most convoluted writing I've come across. It's a real embarrassment to the English language.

Secondly, the writer's obsession with this story borders on the sociopathic. Get over it already