Saturday, 31 May 2014


'The Metamorphosis of Narcissus', Salvador Dali

Among the many useful contributions toward a wider understanding of those mute mysteries of our interior life made by the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, was his helpful distinction between the two principal categories of psychiatric illness as he saw it: neurosis and psychosis. In the former, said Freud, the ego – the organised, largely conscious part of the self – obeys the requirements of reality and stands ready to repress those unorganized, ‘asocial’ drives of the id (the unconscious), whereas in psychosis the ego falls under the sway of the id, ready to break with reality. Too strong a repression in either direction – of the unruly desires from the unconscious or of the social and even biological norms that constrain us – will result in one or the other pathological character.

Freud’s ‘psychic topography’, his map of the mind, also introduced a third agency to sit alongside the ego and the id – namely, the super-ego, mainly but not wholly unconscious, the locus of internalised, often ‘patriarchal’ rules. If reality impresses external demands on the ego, then the super-ego issues internal commands. It is the inner critic, the parental voice that cajoles and berates the ego to live up to perfect standards, punishing its inadequate behaviour with feelings of guilt for not meeting those ideals. The intensity of the super-ego’s punitive aspect derives in part from the individual’s feelings in infancy, and such severity is believed to provide an outlet for the aggressive, violent impulses of the id: i.e. by turning them on oneself and one’s internalised parental imagos (object-representations).

Freud postulated that it was precisely a conflict between the already overworked ego – its relation to the id likened to a man on horseback trying to harness the superior strength of the horse – and the exacting demands of the super-ego that gave rise to the so-called “narcissistic neuroses”. A narcissistic neurosis crystallises when the self, due to some traumatic or abusive experience in infantile psychosexual development – typically, not being ‘seen’ (validated as an independent being by the parents), but instead treated as an object of gratification or abuse; that is, being over-esteemed beyond all reason, or abusively under-esteemed – will as a consequence look within for the gratification and affirmation lacking from without, and will thus invest desire in (“cathect”) facets of the self that in ‘normal’ development would invest objects in external world – invariably, in classical theory at least, the primary objects of the parents. This explains the characteristic grandiosity of the narcissist (which is more than simple self-esteem; it is a perverted, inward-looking self-affirmation that compensates for that ordinarily deriving from stable and functional relationships in the world) and the violence and rage with which they react when this hermetically sealed, introverted personality structure (as opposed to one that must continually navigate the sometimes choppy waters of the extroverted, social self) is disturbed, exposed, or otherwise threatened. A heady brew.

Crucially, Freud believed narcissistic neuroses to be untreatable (this orthodoxy was later challenged as the neuroses became re-classified as Personality Disorders in the light of work by Heinz Kohut and others), because the patient was unable to enter transference: that part of the talking cure in which (largely negative) feelings or ideas were displaced from their real object-target (invariably, functionally idealised versions of the parents) onto the personage of the analyst, thus eventually dissolving the inner conflict from which they arose. Or so the theory goes. 

Anyway, it was these distinctions and terms that came to mind when poring over the various articles that surfaced in the aftermath of Shankar’s sacking, as I tried to comprehend the mysterious subterranean forces that not only might have led him, in the first place, to such a desperate and ultimately delusional act as fabricating an entire tournament in which he starred in order to inveigle a professional contract out of Worcestershire, but that also caused him to try and cling on to the house-of-cards of a story even as the implacable winds of reality were blowing it over – even, for a while, after it had been destroyed, the ruins there for all to see.   

Now, I am no mental health professional – there is no MSc from the University of Galle to embellish my CV – and I would therefore need explicitly and categorically to underline the fact that, regardless of the intrinsically speculative nature of all psychiatric or psychoanalytic diagnoses as they attempt to penetrate the thick entanglement of semiotic and neurochemical systems from which our ever-modulating personalities arise, this is not my domain. Bonce mechanics are most definitely terra incognita. I did once play as a ringer for the Department of Psychology in the University’s postgraduate inter-departmental league, although, again, that doesn’t really qualify me (by most socially accepted criteria, at least). No, I am most definitely an amateur, not a professional. For me to aver psychiatric diagnoses here would be akin, say, to a restaurant critic walking into a professional sports team and trying to persuade them he was a player.  

Amateur I may well be, but while chatting to a friend of mine – a cricket colleague of many years and a professional in said field of bonce mechanics – it was suggested to me that Adrian Shankar’s story bore certain hallmarks of Narcissistic Personality Disorder [NPD], although he did add that he would be extremely hesitant to make that a concrete diagnosis until he could ascertain certain patterns of behaviour and relations from his infancy and childhood.

He also said he was sympathetic to those with NPD, since they were always in some sense victims of others’ dysfunctions (whether those were social and psychological in origin) yet reiterated the Freudian line that they were untreatable, in sharp contrast to the view held by Karl Jung, Heinz Kohut and others, to the extent that narcissism was an adaptive mechanism, a coping strategy for an intolerable reality, and could in time be overcome. As I say, I’m no professional. I couldn’t even offer here the sort of Jungian riposte that Niles Crane might have thrown at his Freudian sibling, Frasier.

Anyway, let us conjecture, using old and familiar language, that here was a desperately fragile person – perhaps someone harbouring a long-standing sense of not being loved for who he is during the trials and errors of his budding selfhood – who, as a consequence, sought out whichever circuitous, fanciful, polygraph-twitching route to the esteem and approbation of others that he could find. And herein lies the paradox that animates the pathological narcissist: on the one hand, the ego requires continually to be flattered, endorsed, admired, to hang out the bunting of its merits and achievements. However, such a compulsion – certainly, when directed toward activities in which the individual’s capabilities will be subject to searching public scrutiny and through which they could never hope for approval commensurate with their own self-regard – actually serves to undermine the self-image lived out by the narcissistic ego.

Or so you would think. All of that can be merrily ignored. Sam Vaknin, in Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited, explains:

Narcissism is fundamentally an evolved version of the psychological defence mechanism known as splitting. The narcissist does not regard people, situations, entities (political parties, countries, races, his workplace) as a compound of good and bad elements […] He either idealises his objects or devalues them. At any given time, the objects are either all good or all bad. The bad attributes are always projected, displaced, or otherwise externalised. The good ones are internalised in order to support the inflated ("grandiose") self-concepts of the narcissist and his grandiose fantasies and to avoid the pain of deflation and disillusionment. 

The narcissist's earnestness and his (apparent) sincerity make people wonder whether he is simply detached from reality, unable to appraise it properly or willingly and knowingly distorts reality and reinterprets it, subjecting it to his self-imposed censorship. The truth is somewhere in between: the narcissist is dimly aware of the implausibility of his own constructions. He has not lost touch with reality. He is just less scrupulous in remoulding it and in ignoring its uncomfortable angles.

Hence the coma story brassnecked out to Luke Sutton in order to explain his place on the Younguns pre-match 5-a-side team… Not lost touch with reality: so, still on the neurosis side of things, according to the Freudian schema. Anyway, Vaknin continues by quoting Jon Mardi Horowitz’s Stress Response Syndromes: PTSD, Grief and Adjustment Disorders:

"The disguises are accomplished by shifting meanings and using exaggeration and minimisation of bits of reality as a nidus for fantasy elaboration. The narcissistic personality is especially vulnerable to regression to damaged or defective self-concepts on the occasions of loss of those who have functioned as self-objects. When the individual is faced with such stress events as criticism, withdrawal of praise, or humiliation, the information involved may be denied, disavowed, negated, or shifted in meaning to prevent a reactive state of rage, depression, or shame."

So, despite the threat of shame, humiliation or derision, the narcissist – the pathological narcissist – cannot stop. This was the thing, the odd conundrum of the Shankar case: the closer he came to realizing the seemingly humdrum, non-grandiose fantasy of Being-Cricketer (though, of course, no fantasy is, subjectively, humdrum and it would be an intellectual dereliction to dismiss it as such), the more he had to back away from it in order not to have it melt in the unequivocal arclight of truth. Surely this is the most cogent explanation for what compelled Shankar to feign injury in that Lancashire 2nd XI game at Jesmond, on his Championship debut at Worcester, and in his solitary training session with Colombo CC. 

Jesmond CC

Anyway, once the titters and Twitter lampooning had started to abate it was precisely this conflict that remained the most compelling aspect of the Shankar Affair. (Well, that and whatever it was that persuaded Worcestershire, and even Lancashire, as to his cricketing merits. Oh to have been a fly on the wall.) There is nothing to suggest that, subsequently, Shankar was willing to face the reality of his actions – which, in the Freudian schema, would suggest psychosis, although I’m inclined to agree with the distortions and less scrupulous remouldings set out in the foregoing passage from Malignant Self-Love – since his initial response to being rumbled was to ladle on the far bigger lie of actually being engaged by MI5 (“OK, it’s a fair cop; I confess”) so as to cover the now relatively small lie of having averaged 52 in a make-believe T20 tournament in Sri Lanka. But Adrian wasn’t the only one in denial in all of this…

* * *  

Excuse the zig-zagging here but, as is now familiar, on Saturday 21 May (possibly late the evening before) Adrian Shankar was confronted by Worcestershire CCC with the allegations that the tournament upon which their judgement as to whether to award him a two-year professional contract apparently pivoted was, in fact, a figment of the player’s imagination. A couple of days yet from wheeling out the MI5 story, our Cambridge Law graduate was still using the classic “No I’m not fibbing” defence of many a six-year-old with biscuit crumbs on their fingers and all down their Spiderman jim-jams. And we also know that at this juncture he set to work building his website to prove that the tournament had taken place – Oh Adrian!

The following day, Steve Rhodes contacted Shankar’s Cambridge University CC coach, Chris Scott, for a reference – in terms of timing, akin to a chaste man going to Thailand, having a shotgun wedding to a dancer he met in a Bangkok club, then, some weeks later, discovering that she had the wrong set of reproductive organs. But then recruitment can indeed be a bumpy road. 

BACK [left to right]: Chris Scott (coach), Nick Alberts, Adrian Shankar,
Duncan Heath, Ian Massey, Anthony Hyde (sec)
MIDDLE: James Chervak, James Heywood, Ben Jacklin, Tom Savill
FRONT: Vikram Banerjee, Richard Mann, Rudi Singh, Richard Timms

It wasn’t the first time Scott had been asked about Shankar – a person he was in the habit of calling “Jeffrey Archer” – long after the horse had galloped off into the yonder. Back in November 2008, he had had to request that Lancashire remove from their website a comment attributed to him to the effect that Shankar was (and I paraphrase) “one of the best players I’ve coached and the most talented cricketer at Cambridge since John Crawley”. He added (and this isn’t a paraphrase): “I’ll give you a summary of his cricket if you like, but I doubt you would want to put it on your website”.

But that wasn’t the only curiosity about Shankar’s signing for Lancashire. Why, for instance, did Lancashire choose to ignore ‘Pip’ August, the Secretary of Bedfordshire, Shankar’s former Minor County, when he told them upon the player’s registration at Old Trafford that he wasn’t 23, but 26. Likewise, as George Dobell reported, former Lancashire leg-spinner and teammate of Shankar’s at Cambridge, Simon Marshall, informed Lancashire as to Shankar’s real age before they signed him. No action was taken. I suppose it was the ECB’s problem if they had accepted his documents.

Had Worcestershire, for their part, carried out proper due diligence, and not simply assumed everything was okay with his previous registration, they too might have spotted the anomaly of him apparently having gone to Cambridge aged 15 – not impossible, true, but usually leading to a career as a Nobel Prize-winning physicist or whatever else prodigies get up to, rather than one in the lower echelons of the professional game. They then might have contacted Bedford School and got to the bottom of things. 

But no, the denial, the sweeping under the carpet, the incentive of the Age-Related Player Payments, or whatever else it was at Lancashire that muffled the alarm bells was replicated at New Road in those few crazy days in May 2011. Indeed, despite the tightening net and their own internal investigation, on Wednesday 25 May – fully cognisant of the age fraud allegations, and the fabricated Sri Lankan ‘success’, and the lack of any other cricketing pedigree, and the fact that all this falsehood had seeped substantially into the cricketing consciousness – the county nevertheless continued to publicly support the player. A BBC Sport report published that afternoon – although, to be charitable, perhaps using quotes a day or two old – had Steve Rhodes lamenting the county’s ill luck and saying that Shankar’s knee injury was a “bitter pill to swallow”.

Worcestershire might still have had a tiny sliver of faith in Adrian’s story – or rather, might have been praying they hadn’t dropped such a massive bollock – but abroad in the Shires were several people who could see the holes in it all, gaping holes bigger than the gate offered Tim Murtagh a few days earlier. Surely Adrian would have known this? Take the aforementioned Simon Marshall, who also happened to be Shankar’s flatmate in Didsbury while the latter was trialling at Old Trafford at the back end of the 2008 season. He was released by Lancashire at the end of that summer, aged 26 – the most painful experience for any aspiring cricketer – and might have been slightly peeved that the county saw fit to give his one-time Varsity skipper a two-year deal. He may also have been miffed at having recommended Shankar as pro to his old club, Neston, an arrangement terminated after only five weeks, however, following a failure in each of his first three appearances to make it through to the game’s second over. He ended up amassing 19 runs in 5 innings up there on the Wirral, with a best of 15 not out.

In those final days of Shankar’s brief sally at New Road, a post from one sjm214 appeared on a thread on the Worcestershire CCC fans forum carrying the title ‘Adrian Shankar’. It was hastily removed by the moderator for potentially defamatory content. 

Nevertheless, sjm214 – was this Simon James Marshall? – was clearly keen not to allow the various lies and half-truths surrounding Shankar to flutter their way innocently about the public domain. Indeed, sjm214’s modifications of Shankar’s Wikipedia page corrected some of the more outlandish fabrications on the latter’s biog’, particularly those explaining the extraordinarily long gap – from the perspective of someone destined for county cricket, that is – between coming down from Cambridge and starting at Lancashire. 

As is now widely known, and indeed has been widely mocked, among the more glitter-coated of Shankar’s megaporkies – aside from the falsified age and the invented Sri Lankan tournament – were:

  • that he had played tennis for England schools;
  • that he was among Arsène Wenger’s first intake at Arsenal’s academy in 1996;
  • that he was, at the time of signing for Lancashire, studying for an M.Phil in International Relations back at Cambridge University (not implausible, given his academic record);
  • that he had his career derailed “for 18 months” by a bout of glandular fever.

The four-year lacuna in his cricketing trajectory, from graduation in summer 2004 to Lancashire trial in 2008, fails to account for how he ended up playing the 2005 Varsity match (alongside the equally mendacious Vikram Banerjee) given that he graduated in 2004 and that there are doubts as to whether he was even a matriculated student in 2005 – doubts well known to the Oxford team at the time, but who didn’t kick up a fuss because they didn’t consider it was putting them at any disadvantage (and in any case, Shankar spent most of the game off the field, batting at No9 and No8 in their innings defeat). 

Of course, once he had knocked three years off his age, the story was easier to spin. Hence the fulsome account given on LCCC website’s announcing the signing: 

Lancashire County Cricket Club have added promising English batsman Adrian Shankar to their professional squad for the next two years. 

23-year-old, Ascot-born Shankar has an impressive University and Club Cricket resume, but due to completing his Law Degree at Cambridge University (Queen’s College), Adrian’s cricketing ambitions were put on hold until 2006.  

After finishing his degree, 2007 saw this former Middlesex Academy Member and Under19’s Captain represent the MCC in higher level games against the UCCEs and the MCC Young Cricketers.   

Adrian spent some time with Lancashire during the 2008 pre-season period.  He then spent the first half of the season playing for Kent’s Second XI where he impressed with the bat, before returning to Lancashire in August to play in the county’s Second XI team. 

[retrieved May 2014] 
According to, the cricket Shankar had played between the 2006 and 2008 seasons was a solitary game for Middlesex 2nd XI as well as a couple of seasons for Spencer in the Surrey Championship and one fixture for London County, the club revived by Neil Burns. Nothing for Kent in this period, nor any record of the “higher level” games for the MCC (runs in which have been known to get you on an Ashes tour, I’m told).

Notwithstanding the incomplete nature of the records, there was already a clear discrepancy between the chronology presented on the LCCC website and that reported in Chris Ostick’s column in the Manchester Evening News on April 10, 2010. The latter read:

Glandular fever put Shankar's cricket career on hold for 18 months. He has since had spells with his home county Middlesex and played for Kent seconds, and several clubs were interested in him. But after training with Lancashire last winter and playing in the seconds at the end of the summer, the 23-year-old knew Old Trafford was perfect for him. 

Which 18-month period are we talking about here? According to the Lancashire CCC website piece that we have just seen, Shankar was doing his degree up until 2006, after which, in 2007, he was playing for various teams, and in 2008, after some winter training, was trialling for Lancashire. Anyway, it turned out that he hadn’t had glandular fever – at least, not according to “sjm214”, who, as we saw, not only edited Shankar’s Wikipedia page but also posted a lengthy point-by-point dismissal of these claims on the Worcestershire cricket forum, a post that was hastily removed and prompted Worcestershire to go member’s only.

On the subject of the postgraduate study he was supposed to have undertaken, Ostick’s column, Textbook Cricket for Shankar, which deserves to be cited at length, began:

ADRIAN Shankar will have no problem filling in his time when the rain inevitably falls this summer.

For while some of his Lancashire team-mates may take the chance of a break in play to catch forty winks, surf the internet or lose their week's wages in the poker school, the new recruit will be picking up his books.

With a law degree already completed at Cambridge University, the top order batsman is now studying part-time for a masters in international relations.

"I have always been into current affairs, international politics, that sort of stuff," said Shankar, who like Mike Atherton captained his university.

"Luckily Cambridge do an international relations course, which you can do as a two-year part-time course where you only have to be resident in Cambridge for six weeks of the year.

"Most people do a two-week block in October, February and then at the beginning of April. The rest of the course is writing a thesis on a particular subject. What I asked to do was the six weeks before Christmas, getting all my tutorials done, then I can have from January onwards to focus on my cricket with Lancashire.

"Monday to Friday I will be doing whatever we are doing in the morning, whether that be netting or training, then in the afternoon I tend to set up in the dressing room to get to work on my thesis or whatever I need to be doing. I am trying to do as much as I can at the moment so that I can have full concentration on my cricket in the summer. Once the season starts, my full focus has got to be on the cricket." 

Having myself dabbled at length with both postgraduate study and cricket, I cannot say that a cricket dressing room after training would be the optimal place to get to work on a thesis. Quite apart from that, it turned out that there was no such course: an MPhil in IR, yes, but not with a six-week residency requirement.

Besides, can you imagine what the incoming Head Coach, Peter Moores (have you heard of him?) would have made of having someone looking to “set up in the dressing room” of an afternoon, poring over heavy tomes on, say, Zionism and Israeli expansionism all the while he was trying to discuss lines with Saj Mahmood?

Come to mention it, can you imagine what he might have made of it all when he had his first look at Shankar in the nets? It’s doubtful he would have been quite as effusive as the outgoing coach, Mike Watkinson, who was about to move upstairs in the Director of Cricket role (and if he was as effusive, Lord help the England team this summer). Here’s what the afore-cited Lancashire CCC web report had to say about Shankar, previously described as ‘foie gras logic’: 
On signing Shankar, Cricket Manager Mike Watkinson says: “At Lancashire, we have a very successful Academy Programme which has so far produced nine players who have gone on to sign professional contracts.  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.”

On signing this 2-year contract, Adrian said; “Lancashire was always my preferred destination when deciding on my future.  My father spent his formative years in Liverpool and retains great affection for the area.  Even though I have grown up in the South, I have an emotional tie to the North West, and my experience of the people there has only reinforced that.

“I know competition for places will be fierce, but that is healthy for the Club. I had a positive spell in the Second XI this year, and the senior players were very open and welcoming. The coaches and the facilities at Old Trafford mean that the infrastructure is available for me to develop and become an important part of Lancashire's future.”

A couple of things: (1) Watkinson and Rhodes are men whose professional competence, in the first instance, stands or falls with their judgement of cricketers, and Bumpy’s photo shaking hands with Shankar on the WCCC website might turn out to be the pants-down, stag-do shot; (2) remember that “emotional tie to the North West” for Part 6.

It is clear that Lancashire cannot have done due diligence on his age. Nor could they have really considered his cricketing credentials – a player coming from totally off the radar, after all. Nevertheless, Ostick’s column finished off as follows:

Director of cricket Mike Watkinson has already said Shankar, who went to the same school as Alastair Cook, is ready to play first-team cricket.

However, the player himself knows he may have to bide his time to get a chance. He said: "I am not one of those people who sets goals. I think being new in the set-up is more about being comfortable come the start of the season, that I am as fit as I can be and that my game's in good order.

"When I spoke to Mike I said that I am not going to be the type to be knocking on your door saying `Why am I not in the team?' "If you score three or four hundreds in the second eleven, but are not selected, then you might have a word.

No, of course he won’t be knocking down the door. And not because he’ll have scored 100s in the second team (he didn’t), but because he was happy to cruise at a level where he wouldn’t be so badly exposed. The overreaching narcissist’s paradox, remember? This was Shankar’s psychological high-wire act. When he repeated it at Worcestershire, the enormity of the lies left him without a safety net. 

Even so, when the news broke the on Thursday 26 May, George Dobell’s story being published by cricinfo (and amended overnight), Mongoose replied to a tweet by SPIN cricket with an incredulity bordering on denial: 

Could they – a new brand seeking respectability in the cricketing world, sponsors of a universally admired player in Marcus Trescothick – have been duped? Evidently so. They had even described their charge as “a rare mix of elegance and ferocity”. Or perhaps that too was Adrian. 

Amidst the pathological falsifications, it can be supposed that Shankar’s real talent lay as a one-man PR machine, stirring up fake interest from other counties on message boards and forums. (You can imagine his clammy handed offer to write the blurb for the LCCC and WCCC websites: “No need to go to any trouble. I’ve dashed off a concise background and added a couple of quotes that you just need to sign off. We both know you haven’t said those things about me but it’ll help create a feelgood buzz, won’t it? If you want to come up with something of your own, Steve / Mike – or can I call you Bumpy / Winker? – then that’s fine…”) By that last week in May 2011, however, the fact that he was now fully aware – albeit maybe in denial, too – that his secret was out makes the eleventh-hour dissembling (the website, the forum) even crazier. Up shit creek? Time to play a paddle-sweep…

Talking of PR and paddles – and apologies for that clunky segue (and the hackneyed writing on this blog in general) – this propensity for fanciful self-promotion was nowhere better epitomised than in his 2010 blog for aforementioned cutting-edge batmaker, Mongoose (designer of the paddle-like MMi3), here revelling in the workaday mundanity of the county pro’s life, there indulging in mawkish self-deprecation and drawing attention to his “lack of charm and charisma”. All fertile material for a psychoanalytic interpretation…


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