Saturday, 31 May 2014

SHANKAR PART 6: MONGOOSE ON THE COUCH



So far we have posed, and posed again, the two gnawingly insistent questions in all of this: 

1. Why did the counties sign Shankar? (This of course invites subsidiary questions – questions about the thought-processes of the counties when faced with his modest record, about the mechanics of getting the deal done, about the role of Mongoose in that, and more.) 

2. What compelled him to pursue the fantasy / phantasy unto such absurd lengths, to the point where he couldn’t possibly hope to get away with it? 


We have seen that, in a last-ditch attempt to persuade Worcestershire the Sri Lankan sally took place, he built a rudimentary website

We have also seen that he engaged in some elaborate online cat and mouse on a Sri Lankan fans’ forum, explaining away the scant media coverage and outlining the ramifications for players involved in illegal leagues. An extraordinary thing to do, to stick to yet more feeble online proofs of an increasingly story collapsing round about you – and out in the Shires people from Spencer CC, Cambridge University, Bedford School, Lancashire were peeling back the tissue of lies surrounding him. 

We have speculated (amateurishly) about certain psychological dynamics that might have fuelled all this – the lies, the fantasy, the ‘worldview’ – a hypothesis suggested to me and for which the prime support turns out to be a blog he wrote during the summer of 2010 for his bat sponsors, Mongoose, a text upon which subsequent events throw a curious light. 

It is perhaps ironic that, of all the bat-makers, it should be Mongoose – a company emerging out of a massive PR campaign – that Shankar persuaded not only to sponsor him (on a small four-figure retainer, when everything was factored in) but also to allow him to write a blog, for which he was paid £250 per post. Ironic, not stupid: after all, he was a professional cricketer at Lancashire, well educated, and was probably better equipped to craft an interesting paragraph than a nuggety fifty. 

I say it was Shankar himself that persuaded Mongoose. It may well have been Total Sport Promotions, his management agency, as well as that of fellow ‘Gooser and future Worcestershire teammate, Gareth Andrew. According to their website, TSP’s direction was conferred by the feeling that “there was a niche in recognising up-and-coming grass roots players”, and informs us, alongside their “sizzle reel”, that they had delivered “an average uplift of 26.1% in gross basic salary per client over the last decade of trading”, which suggests that Shanks would have eventually trousered £315.25 for his dispatches from the front line of Second XI cricket.




Mongoose CEO at the time, Marcus Codrington-Fernandez, had a background as Global Creative Director at Ogilvy and was reputed to have followed up the contact from Shankar/TSP by overseeing him in the nets himself rather than asking for references. Now a freelance branding expert, and thus supremely aware of the power of image – indeed, one company profile describes him as “Head of Imagineering” – Codrington-Fernandez undoubtedly created a sleek and captivating brand with the ‘Goose (largely via the curiosity surrounding its flagship product, the MMi3) but ultimately it was a lot of glitzy PR, large contracts and too few sales. And when it comes to the question of the backing offered to Shankar by Mongoose – and by Codrington-Fernandez in particular, who continues to support his endeavours (more on which later) – a cynical, perhaps uncharitable view might be that if you spend your time farming hot air (or imagineering) then you ought to be able to spot one of your ilk. Can’t kid a kidder…?

Could he not see through the “brand architecture” that Shankar had created off his own bat – if you pardon the expression – and which persuaded Mongoose to chuck some resources at him? 


What, for example, did Mongoose HQ – located in the same building as the offices of the Professional Cricketers Association, who provided useful contacts when it came to entering Shankar in the 2011 IPL auction – make of the unsolicited emails they were receiving from the field filling them in on Shankar’s progress? These emails would form the basis of their Investor Updates: small bulletins circulated among their financial backers to assure them that the stable, yer Haydens, yer Trescothicks, yer Shankars was going well. 

Take this one from September 2010, shortly after being released from Lancashire, shortly before the winter sojourn in Sri Lanka that persuaded Worcestershire (with heavy involvement from Codrington-Fernandez) to take a punt on the late-developing old youngster: 

NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO CEMENT A SIDE IN THE FIRST TEAM [sic] 

Adrian Shankar captained Cambridge University for a couple of years and hit a hundred and fifty at the Varsity match. He was snapped up by Lancashire last season, and great things are expected of him. 

Well we didn’t have to wait too long for those great things. This year he has averaged just under 100, with an MMi3 that should only be used with a gun-license, he’s been flaying bowlers all around the country to other more distant parts of the country. 

The problem is, in spite of the tsunami of runs he’s scored, he can’t get a regular place in the Lancs first team. He has been the country’s stand-out player in both county second team and club cricket, and has been the most talked about player on the county circuit. 

Frustrated and confused by his lack of opportunities at Lancashire, and keen to return to his roots in the south of England, last week Adrian departed Lancashire without a county to go to. Watch out for him next year, wherever he emerges. He has been spotted by the IPL and has trials with Rajasthan in January, so it could be am exciting time. 

Worcestershire was one thing, but getting Shankar into the IPL would have been the cricketing heist of the century. The incentive was clear, because achieving this was central to the Mongoose business strategy of cracking India, for which a young(ish) Anglo-Indian Gooser would have been more than useful. Large contracts for Hayden, Anderson and others – not to mention lesser lights, and rough diamonds such as Lou Vincent, Andrew Symonds, Mohammad Ashraful – combined with flashy and expensive PR pseudo-events (such as ‘Mind the Windows, Banger’ promo and the accompanying event at Lord’s) were all geared toward the Indian market, but they never sold a bat there. Eventually, the company went into administration and the hitherto patient investors ousted Codrington-Fernandez, buying the company back in a pre-packaged insolvency before steering it, presumably, on a more sedate course. That would be the Big Idea: to face up to, and not wildly overreach, your present capabilities. Capisce?   




Anyway, looking back at the blog through the light of subsequent events – and Mongoose, doubtless fearing ‘brand toxicity’ or somesuch, were as quick to take it down as might a family be to box up those now-creepy photos of an uncle convicted of pederasty – with that light refracted through the prism of the psychiatric definition, is certainly illuminating. Colourfully illuminating. So, why don’t we try? 

I mentioned earlier that a friend of mine, a psychiatrist, on hearing the outline of the story, suggested, hesitantly, that it bore certain hallmarks of narcissistic personality disorder. In order for a person to be diagnosed with NPD they must meet five or more of the following symptoms, outlined in the (contentious) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM], published by the American Psychiatric Association: 

  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g. exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Has a very strong sense of entitlement (e.g. unreasonable expectations of especially favourable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations)
  • Is exploitative of others (e.g. takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends)
  • Lacks empathy (e.g. is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others)
  • Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
  • Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes


Let’s quickly thumb the blog’s virtual pages, for, as Freud knew, it was in the interpretation of dreams that one finds the royal road to the unconscious. 

* * * 

The overriding tone of his entries was a sort of morbid (though almost certainly affected) self-deprecation, interspersed mixed with circuitous approval-seeking, oblique self-promotion and, at times, the hallmark grandiosity of the narcissist, all of which being only slightly leavened by humour. Witness the opening paragraph of the opening blog (a blog, remember, that he had petitioned them to write): stylistically pleasant enough but, read symptomatically, quite excruciating and even a wee bit sad: 

“In the beginning there were words. And the words formed the Mongoose blog. Unfortunately these words are constructed by me and so generally exhibit a lack of cohesion and eloquence, but I will try and improve as I go along. The first blog will no doubt go down as a seminal moment in history, akin in sporting terms to Jesse Owens skewering the ideology of the master race at the Berlin Olympics, or to Nelson Mandela wearing the symbol of his apartheid oppressors at the Rugby World Cup Final. In philosophical terms, it will probably come to be seen as more influential than Plato’s Republic. It is also to fill the gaping void in dynamic political thought in this country. Peter Mandelson has already been in touch to see if I can reignite Labour’s faltering election campaign.” 

The grandiosity and/or faux self-deprecation – that is, the low self-esteem that needs perpetual validation, or the performance of low self-esteem to elicit, or solicit, that validation – is abundantly evident in the second blog, too, the subject matter for which is provided by a club match that followed a week spent at the National Performance Centre at Loughborough University. He starts with an epigraph – evidently, his writing skills were coming along – offering a new twist on a familiar proverb: 

“Stones and cricket balls launched at high speed may hurt me but words will most likely reduce me to tears and induce a nervous breakdown”.




From there, he tap-dances into an account of events that, although a touch hackneyed, is once again potentially illuminating: 

“Still suffering the effects of physical and mental torture at Loughborough, I walked into the leafy heartlands for a highly strung local derby in league cricket on Saturday. Men with overgrown bellies stalked the boundaries, already necking copious amounts of alcohol while the laughable warm-ups took place. The crowd consisted of a curious mix of Tory supporters, lounging next to their Chelsea tractors while sipping on Chardonnay, and BNP types, crushing cans of Stella Artois on their foreheads and bemoaning the number of immigrants featuring in the match.” 

Now, I’m sure it would be possible to write a 5000-word paper on this paragraph alone, but let me confine myself to a couple of remarks. First, no name is given for the lowly club to which he has been seconded, or which have hired his services, although he does reference Loughborough again, a pair of facts that, taken together, seem to support the DSM definition of the narcissist as someone who “believes that he or she is ‘special’ and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)”. 

Second, the physically gruelling week of fitness work at the ECB’s National Performance Centre of course contrasts not only with the “laughable” warm-ups at club level – although at least these warm-ups didn’t result in, say, a serious knee injury – but also the bellies of people who are – heaven forbid! – drinking on a weekend. As for the evocation of the acceptable and less acceptable faces of British right-wing politics, well, I’m aware that “Tories” and “BNP types” might be mere caricatures sketched for comedic effect, but you’d have thought someone doing an M.Phil (or having completed an M.Phil) in International Relations at Cambridge University might bring a little more nuance to his political stereotyping, even more so given that “emotional tie to the North West” he cooed about in the Manchester Evening News upon signing for Lancs. Anyway, the game: 

“To my great disappointment we lost the toss and took the field but excellent bowling and comedy batting meant that we were looking at chasing around 180. That is until I took the ball. Nine overs of astonishingly incompetent off spin later, and we were looking at chasing 260. Three of my deliveries bounced off the pavilion roof at mid wicket much to the delight of the home crowd. Shouts of “You’re a disgrace” rang around the ground accompanied by scoffs and general disbelief that I have the gall to call myself a professional. My last scrap of dignity evaporated as one of the home supporters launched an ice cream at me on the boundary.” [italics added] 

Oh my. Once again, there’s probably an analysis of several thousand words to be written here alone. Witness the contempt toward the “comedy batting” at club level. However, if this opening blog covers the opening skirmishes of the 2010 season, it ought to be pointed out that on the weekend of April 24 and 25 Shankar played at Kendal for Preston in the Northern Premier League, making 4, and for Royton in the Central Lancashire League, making 3

There’s also the self-effacing appraisal of his “astonishingly incompetent off-spin” – irrelevant, of course, as far as self-esteem goes, since it is not the reason he’s a pro. Which brings us nicely on to the mention of “scoffs and general disbelief that I had the gall to call myself a professional”, which is pure psychoanalytic gold. It’s just a shame that he didn’t get round to writing a blog while at Worcestershire. 

But what we really want to know is how Adrian got on with the willow: 

“Howls of derision greeted me as I walked out at No.3. This time the opposition players joined in the fun. The only time club players have seen the Mongoose in action is in the hands of two hulking slabs of Queensland beef in the IPL, so it was highly amusing for them to see a weak gangling bag of bones drag it out to the middle. Luckily I managed to redeem myself and take us to victory but the damage to the last few shreds of my self esteem had been done. I sat in the changing room wondering what the point of the day was. But then during the victory celebrations one of my team mates attempted to down a yard of ale – he only made it half way through and then vomited in front of the girl he was trying to impress, but it was enough to make me glad that I had turned up.” [italics added] 

Note that actual details of the match-winning effort are provided – surely there must be a few moments of note given that they were “looking at chasing 260” – nor can they be found. This could be considered self-deprecating. Or it could be considered quickly skirting around something that hadn’t actually taken place. Still, the search for a good reason for bothering to play with the plebs can be found in the ignominious pulling efforts of one of these clubby jokers.




But of course he didn’t always move in such lowly social circles. Not at all. For a third and final example of his alternating grandiosity and self-deprecation – and remember the DSM’s third NPD trait: “believes that he or she is ‘special’ and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)” – take this account of Adrian on twelfth man duties for the Old Trafford Test match against Bangladesh (the fourth of eight blogs):  

“Luckily, we knew a few of the players from playing with or against them before, like Jimmy, Alastair Cook, Ajmal Shahzad and Steven Finn, which cut through any social discomfort. The other England players were polite and welcoming for the most part. Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott were only interested in what any of us had got up to the night before, hoping for sordid stories of womanising and all night drinking binges. I had to inform them that three drinks counts as a binge for me and any hope of being a womaniser went out of the window when God forgot to bestow me with any form of charm or charisma.” [italics added] 

So, the England players, for the most part welcoming (nudge, nudge) – and remember that fifth trait of NPD: “a very strong sense of entitlement (e.g. unreasonable expectations of especially favourable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations)” – were only interested in their carousing… 

He then goes on to recount what he did “after serving the country as best I could…” But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the passage is that reference to women, which echoes a Swiss Toni-esque analogy from the first blog: 

“I realized that performance testing is a bit like attempting to chat up a beautiful woman – you start off trying really hard in an effort to impress, but you are rapidly reduced to a state of panic followed by profuse sweating. Finally you end up collapsed in a heap on the floor, wallowing in spectacular failure.”




Everything is there, hardly even requiring a reading between the lines. And then the same refrain, after having informed us that a mandatory 7am hill run the following morning – through woods that “were reassuringly empty of serial murderers and escaped mental patients” – means not going out on the lash: 

“Tears roll down the faces of several players as they walk past a queue bursting with inebriated female students. Luckily there is no feeling of regret for those of us with zero charm and charisma and an empty set of social skills.” 

Part of you just wants to give him a hug: it’s alright Adrian, you don’t have to be perfect. Then you wonder whether it’s all just attention-seeking. In Malignant Self-Love, Vaknin wrote: “The narcissist seeks to secure a reliable and continuous supply of admiration, adulation, affirmation and attention. As opposed to common opinion (which infiltrated literature), the narcissist is content to have any kind of attention - good or bad. If fame cannot be had – notoriety would do”. This would go a long way to explaining the utter recklessness of cultivating a fantasy world made of wax then leaving it next to a roaring fire. By the opening lines of the third blog, he appears to be reveling in the attention he’s getting, theatricalising it along familiar lines: 

“Well the pressure is now firmly on me. I have just seen on Twitter that @MongooseCricket has described me as ‘highly amusing.’ I have been described as many things, but never that. A girl once described me as ‘the most pathetic little man she had ever met’. I thought that was a bit unfair, as I’m not really that small – more average in height, I would say, if you compared me across the nation. Only last week another female described me as ‘aloof and distant,’ so I am hardly being showered with compliments. In that light I guess I will take all that I can get.”


 

Another of the DSM’s narcissistic symptoms – “regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes” – is revealed through another throwaway comment on the general theme of amorous relations while describing an episode that took place on a jaunt to Colwyn Bay, a List A game versus Unicorns in which he didn’t feature (maybe he’s 12th man, but he doesn’t mention this): 

“A couple were ending their friendship by getting married, and as we walked into the hotel lobby we were treated to the unusual sight of a 16-stone bride in a white dress and black thigh high boots, stumbling around and knocking plants over”. 

Oh good grief, must we. Must we? 

Such snobbery, sneering and unveiled disdain bubble up through the recollection of other jaunts (Oh, how we had such japes). Here’s a description of a trip to the North East (back up to unlucky Jesmond): 

“We are scheduled for a week in Geordieland now, so next week’s blog should include details of a pastry eating contest at Gregg’s.” 

Or how about this bit of local tourist board-courting bantz: 

“We headed to Grimsby, aka the suicide capital of the North. The suicide rate is sky high there as it is comfortably the most interesting thing to do in the area.” 

Is this an example of that seventh trait, “Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others”? In one post he mentions Nick Caunce, a triallist who doesn’t quite make it (i.e. a person of lowly status within the group), and says the first overtly critical (and insensitive) thing, calling the 19-year-old who’s yet to play a first-class game: “the man with one brain cell”. 

How about the eighth trait of the pathological narcissism: “is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her”. Well, here’s another account of a club game in the north, and yet more rough-arsed yobbery for His Eminence to tolerate: 

“The weekend only brought more farcical situations. In what I assumed was a meaningless club game, every move I made seemed destined to spark a riot. Each song selection on the dressing room iPod brought howls of anger from an oddly large crowd, and their wrath was released on me as I patrolled the boundary during the home side’s innings. After a sizeable contribution when we batted, some members of the crowd felt that I had not given enough respect to the crowd on my way back to the pavilion, and in some hilariously tragic scenes, shoving and pushing of fierce proportions took place between my team mates and members of the home crowd. When the lipstick and mascara had been placed back in the handbags, we reached a comfortable victory, and both teams were sanctioned by the league. Although the real winner of the day was me – I managed to leave the ground with both my face and my car intact, something that looked very unlikely at one stage”.




Beyond the sheer arrogance of assuming that a club game was “meaningless”, this paragraph again contains many NPD hallmarks: 

  • feelings of being special (“destined to spark a riot”);
  • arrogance (“an oddly large crowd”);
  • lack of empathy (“hilariously tragic scenes”);
  • grandiosity (having his honour defended by underlings, on account of a failure to acknowledge the crowd’s plaudits with sufficient respect after “a sizeable contribution”).

Again, all a far cry from the humble affection for the region that he’d rather glibly outlined in that press release ‘by the county’ when he first joined Lancashire. 

To a certain extent we all feel we’re special; we all need to be told, during infancy, that we’re special. But eventually, like Copernicus, you realize the sun doesn’t circle the earth. Eventually you also need to know that specialness ultimately comes down to our disposition, our attitude, our behaviour, not some talents or achievements that, being imagined to be the source of others’ appreciation of us, find themselves projected unto the four corners of the cosmos. “Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)”. 

Here Adrian describes a catch-up with his boss: 

“I was expecting a quick chat in a nondescript café but with a typical dash of élan Marcus took me to celebrity haunt Gigamesh [sic]”. 

Impeccable taste – and far be it from me to wonder whether this was the same élan that led to the expensive and ultimately wasteful PR pseudo-events – but no mention of who, as well as the actors, pop stars and Second XI cricketers, was at the “celebrity haunt”.


Gilgamesh

And your guess is as good as mine as far as what the conversation was about, although I’m guessing it might have had something to do with spin, much as was the topic when namechecking the National performance Centre at Loughborough again, a post sprinkled again with that heady and ambiguous self-deprecation, covertly drawing attention to his shortcomings (to explain the reality away a little): 

“We were given the chance to use the outdoor pitches and practise our one day skills. Once again, Merlin dominated me. It has already got me out 115 times this year – a truly ruthless opponent. With a serious look on his face, the ECB Academy Coach asked me if I felt that playing spin was one of the strengths of my game. It was hard to keep a straight face in return.” 

Yes, hard to keep a straight face. 

Was this light-hearted? Taken in isolation, perhaps – although Freud knew that much information came through a person’s humour – but one cannot help but read it as a subtle attempt to explain away failings that might have been evident, to sugarcoat some of the fibs, provide a smokescreen, much as he deals in the following manner with the probably quite perplexing matter of his tennis mediocrity when set against the national junior tennis prowess divulged in the Manchester Evening News piece: 

“Some of the senior players decided that some relaxation was needed and some tennis was organised at the gym. In a cruel twist of fate I find myself on a court with Stephen Moore, Mark Chilton and Paul Horton, the three best tennis players in the squad. To avoid embarrassment, I switch places with our physio Sam Byrne, mainly to avoid Stephen Moore’s serve, which is steaming down at around 120mph.” 

Anyway, one can only think that all this practice against Merlin eventually paid off, allowing him to become leading run-scorer in the Mercantile T20 in Sri Lanka, where he struck Rangana Herath for five sixes in an over… 

* * * 

We have prodded and poked enough – if you’ll excuse the pun – and in any case the final installment will remind of the wave of ridicule that greeted the story’s entrance into the public domain. But, as I said in the second post: “Once that audacity – and, depending on your proximity to the story, to professional cricket, the anger or indignation, too – had been fully absorbed, then, if you’re of sympathetic disposition and don’t simply set up camp at derision, you’re left, in the end, with pity”.  

There is a sad, perhaps even tragic element to all this, and we should be careful not to be too sanctimonious. When all is said and done, aside from the matter of falsifying his documents, his crime was relatively minor – at least, if measured by victims’ suffering. Moreover, the tango required a certain amount of unwitting complicity (if that’s not an oxymoron) from the counties, and was, whichever way you look at it, something he couldn’t ever hope to pull off (unlike a one-off heist, after which, swag in the bag, you slip off into obscurity). 

He was animated by a dream – aren’t we all? – and, in pursuing it, lost sight of the fact that anyone, but anyone can live a dream as a dream, à la Don Quijote de la Mancha (“I know who I am and who I may be, if I choose”; “Too much sanity may be the worst type of madness, to see life as it is and not as it should be”) but not many do it as reality. Well, not unless they recalibrate those dreams in line with the pitiless tribunal of reality, with the concrete, material capacities of your body to intervene in and shape that reality. And in that fact there is, after all, hope for Adrian. 

Let’s now see what happened to Adrian after the dam burst. As for me, I can only end with words borrowed from his blog: 

“…we can only hope that the next blog is infinitely more action packed and entertaining than this one. I also hope that it contains no reference to Sex and the City 2, which looks at the moment as if it is ready to consume the western world with a tidal wave of narcissistic and materialistic consumerism, subliminally chipping away at society until we succumb to another global recession.” 

Intro | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 7




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