Saturday, 31 May 2014

SHANKAR PART 7: WICKED-PEDIA AND THE AFTERMATH




Lest this somewhat back-and-forth presentation of the unknown tale of Adrian Shankar’s final week as a professional cricketer has confused the chronology, let’s have a quick recap of the build-up to the final, unequivocal collapse of his fantasy – Adrian’s Gotterdammerung – when the story was broken on ESPNcricinfo on Thursday May 27.

As the endgame of those last days at New Road played out, we have seen that Shankar engaged in various online actions in an absurd attempt to plaster over the widening cracks in his story. First, his Twitter page became restricted access. Then a website appeared, purporting to cover the entirely fabricated Mercantile T20 tournament in Sri Lanka, the success in which won him his deal at Worcestershire. Soon afterward, there was a thread on a Sri Lankan fans’ forum offering apparently independent accounts of these wholly invented rebel T20 leagues, even adding a line to the Wikipedia entry for the defunct ICL. Around the same time, his Cambridge University CC profile was amended, removing news of him having been one of the youngest-ever captains (the story that corroborated his falsified age claims). Russian dolls of bullshit to explain bullshit.

Once the story broke, so did a tidal wave of ridicule and recrimination.

Worcestershire’s initial reaction was to make a press release announcing that “the contract and registration of Adrian Shankar with Worcestershire County Cricket Club has today been terminated by mutual consent. [We] will be making no further comment at this time”.

The day after his sacking, a further press release announced that West Mercia Police were investigating the circumstances surrounding his registration. Eventually, they decided against pressing charges. Worcestershire CCC chief executive, David Leatherdale, confirmed that, with Shankar having no previous criminal convictions, it became a simple employment issue with the club, even though there was an incentive for the club to engage him that wouldn’t have been there had he told them his correct age. With the presentation of falsified documents – a photocopy of his passport in this case – not exactly being hen’s-teeth rare, Shankar would have received only a conditional discharge or, at worst, a small fine. And with finite police resources, it simply wasn’t worth their while pursuing the matter any further.

ESPNcricinfo’s report, posted around 9pm on that Thursday evening (just 16 days after Worcester signed him), was hastily taken down for a couple of hours early on the morning of Friday 28 May while a few mainly cosmetic changes were made to the wording (doubtless at the behest of in-house lawyers rather than from Team Shankar, who was still flat out extinguishing the virtual fires engulfing the tattered shell of his dignity, his alter ego Yperera continuously amending a Wikipedia page that had become something of a sardonic free-for-all). The text has been subsequently modified to its current version, but the initial changes included the excision of the following two paragraphs:

Do you remember Ali Dia? He appeared very briefly for Southampton in the 1996-97 Premier League season after convincing the team’s manager, Graeme Souness, that he was the cousin of former FIFA player of the year, the Liberian George Weah. 

It turned out that Dia’s story wasn't true. Not only that, but he wasn't very good at football. Brought on as a 33rd minute substitute, Dia was subsequently substituted himself 20 minutes later. He never played again. Well, now cricket has its own version.

Also removed was the rhetorical question, apropos the age discrepancies, “Might he have been a youthful prodigy?” as well as the statement: “Shankar, however, has had a good try at re-writing history”. There’s also the line: “Whatever the truth in any of those claims, Shankar isn’t very good at cricket”. And the final paragraph was also taken down:

Shankar’s motivation is also unclear. He graduated from Cambridge with a degree in Law in 2004, so, under normal circumstances, might have been considered to have had the world at his feet. Instead of pursuing a worthwhile career, however, he’s become bogged down in an increasingly unwieldy series of lies.

It was those increasingly unwieldy lies that sparked the lampooning on his Wikipedia page, with the ever more outlandish biographical claims not too much of a departure from the reality he had endeavoured to feed Worcestershire. 


Then the hashtag #shankarfacts appeared on Twitter, the creation of Devanshu Mehta, who later blogged about his creation.

There was the obligatory Parody Twitter account, too, accomplishing much the same satiric objective. 


As has been suggested previously, it is evident that Shankar’s real talent was as a one-man PR machine although, in 2010 he confessed in a vox pop to the Independent that “I don’t buy that many books”: too busy studying International Relations as further corroborated in a below-the-line post by Mike Selvey on the County Cricket Live blog on May 28, 2011. 


In the winter of 2010-11, as he sought a new county deal, Shankar had been trying to generate interest on message boards, sending brochure-style resumes of his career, all excuses and puff, to fans that might then do his bidding. Here is a private message from ‘a Lancs fan’ to another forum user: 

“Player is Adrian Shankar - was in the middle of a 3 year contract with us last year but tragically lost his father and asked to be released from his deal half way through the summer. His family are in the south and he wanted to be closer to them. He had a few offers from other teams (Gloucester, Glamorgan, Middlesex) but said he was thinking of quitting the game. However somewhere along the line he has decided to play again and has just featured in an inter city T20 tournament in Sri Lanka, featuring all the best SL players not in their World Cup squad. He opened the batting and won player of tournament, averaging over 50 with a strike rate over 100 which is fairly incredible. 

He was always seen by Lancs as a future Championship batsman, but I think his personal issues have changed his attitude and now he just tries to belt the ball. Has lightning fast hands and is an excellent player of spin. Impressive to do so well in those conditions with the searing heat and turning pitches. He has now been offered an overseas slot in the Sri Lanka Premier League T20 in August and is being scouted by the Punjab IPL franchise for 2012. 

On the back of all this he has been approached by Gloucester, Glamorgan, Worcester and Hampshire for the English T20. Very good fielder and useful off spinner as well. Not sure what he will do but he is looking like a pretty good T20 prospect now, only 25 with a bright future. Lancs fans were lukewarm towards him because of his casual demeanour but I know that Mal Loye and VVS Laxman both thought he was a future star. Very popular in the dressing room as well, supposed to be a lovely lad. Lancs have actually enquired whether he would be interested in going back. I know that Mark Robinson spoke to him at the end of last season to see if he would consider playing at Sussex.”

As with the Sri Lankan message board, here was a series of characters being conjured into existence to trumpet and coo his merits. Once the game was up and knowing from his deleted Twitter account that he spoke some Portuguese, also that his mother was Brazilian Serendipity posted at the end of that aforementioned thread the verse used as the epigraph to this seven-part series. The cat was out of the bag.


Not only was Serendipity fairly sure sangapump, lavigne and t24 would grasp its relevance (and its meaning). It was also apt that it had been penned by Fernando Pessoa, the poet who gave the world the concept of the heteronym: similar to a pseudonym, only with more intense, almost independent characters or poetic voices although whether or not the three aforementioned wise interlocutors, let alone the aspirant county cricketer (or IPL phenomenon), were fully autonomous psychic entities is for others to decide.     

For all that he was an inordinate and compulsive feigner – and very probably a feigner of pain on the third morning of his County Championship debut, when he absented himself from some first-session Grievous Bodily Harmison – you would be hard pressed (and perhaps so too would he) to claim that Adrian Shankar was a great poet, notwithstanding his eloquent if excruciatingly self-deprecating blog for erstwhile sponsors Mongoose.

In his story ‘The Secret Miracle’, the great Argentine short story writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges wrote of his protagonist: “Like every writer, he measured other men’s virtues by what they had accomplished; yet he asked that other men measure him by what he planned someday to do.” Well, maybe Shankar took the plunge at Worcestershire believing that, one day, his ability would catch up with his PR, that his body would finally develop the marginal increases in co-ordination, that he could somehow will it into existence. Yet during that innings in the shadow of Worcester Cathedral he must have known the game was up, that Division One of the County Championship was no country for 29-year-old men.

* * *

What he planned some day to do…

The flair for the well confectioned sentence evident in the Mongoose blog resurfaced just nine months after sloping away from professional cricket – enough time, indeed, for a whole new life to gestate. On February 29, a review appeared of the Mayfair restaurant 5 Pollen St scribbled by Shankar for society website Quintessentially – who else? – that is not only unbearably sycophantic, but which again displays the hallmark grandiosity and self-importance the entitlement, the haughtiness, the sense that “he or she is ‘special’ or unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)” of the pathological narcissist. Dripping with it.  


Here is the full text, in all its undoubted, indiluted glory (and please do savour those first two well-marinated sentences after the italicized sell-text):  

Sitting down with Quintessentially Editor Harry Hughes and Diego Bivero-Volpe – dashing connoisseur of the London restaurant scene – writer and sometimes-gastronome Adrian Shankar muses on a bright new offering in the heart of Mayfair. 

Perhaps it would be an uncomfortable experience for some, placed opposite the intimidating figure of the Editor-in-Chief of Quintessentially. But not for me.  Now ensconced in the stylish confines of this Italian eatery - a new restaurant located on an a rather aloof side street in Mayfair - I had been instantly put at ease by the staff. 

The atmosphere dripped with effortless elegance and charm, and my gaze was transfixed on the carefully selected artwork, broken only when the head barman delivered our drinks, combining such energy and delicacy of movement that one felt as if Winter had turned to Spring. 

As the Editor-in-Chief regaled us with anecdotes and tales of yore, we sampled a beetroot ravioli starter. The restaurant hummed with conversation, but there was no doubt that attention now focused on the looming entrance of the signature dish – The Seabass – now sprawled in front of us with delicate élan, as if it had been stripped from the oceans by Poseidon himself. 

Brimming with charisma and foppish hair, the very distinguished figure of Mr Diego Bivero-Volpe has injected the establishment with a verve and style that befits the dashing new player on the scene.  Please note: for those seeking a more intimate experience, he has placed a private room towards the back of the restaurant (here, four men were seen negotiating subtleties long into the afternoon). 

After I refused the recommendation of a passion fruit fondant, the proprietor raised a suspicious eyebrow towards me, as if I had besmirched his honour, stolen his horse, and galloped off into the sunset with his fair maiden in tow. It was hard to imagine that anything could have outdone the lucid and sagacious conversation of the Editor-in-Chief – surely the title of Chief has never been so richly deserved – but the dining experience managed to do just that.  I retreated to the shops of Regent St, simply so I could purchase a hat and return, ready to doff it towards the staff as a mark of respect. AS

Whether the editorial brief specifically requested he bring chivalric affectation to the review will never be known, but the exchange with the proprietor recounted in the final paragraph would not look out of place in Don Quijote.

What he planned some day to do, this “writer and sometime gastronome”…

In the two years since the foregoing text was published, Adrian has focused his attention on making a documentary about one of the most upstanding of all sportsmen, the iconic Brazilian footballer Socrates, a languid, chain-smoking playmaker who captained the insurpassably glamorous Brazil team of the 1982 World Cup – along with the '54 Hungarians and '74 Dutch, arguably the greatest team not to have won the tournament – and, even more impressively, was prime mover in a political experiment called “Corinthian Democracy” at his São Paulo-based club of the same name. The production company is Liberdade Films – one of whose producers, incidentally, is his former Mongoose boss Marcus Codrington-Fernandez – and perhaps this second career will bring him some freedom: freedom, that is, from the gnawing uncertainties and off-beam certainties that pushed him to such ludicrous lengths.

Speaking of which, the Wikipedia page, the Twitter parody, the Luke Sutton blog, even parts of this text are all well and good, but we are not here to ridicule (the brief and delirious window for which has long since passed), only to comprehend what has been, for cricket, a story that, if not sui generis then relatively unusual. And we should try and keep a sense of proportion, right? I mean, it’s hardly crime of the century, even though his response at the time might have been sailing a little too close to the wind, turning up in the garden of a journalist and telling him that he had put his family in danger.

He is just a man whose imaginings got the better of him, a sort of modern, mundane Don Quixote, a man whose idle daydreams were slowly whipped up into a fluffy delirium. Many nations are ruled by such men. Many religions are founded by such men.

Undoubtedly, the medicalised idiom of the previous couple of posts gives everything a hard edge, but then there’s surely a qualitative difference between madness and mental illness: the former swirls around everyone; the latter is the congealing of that flightiness that sweeps us all along through the sunshine and shadow of our days here on planet earth. None of us is quite as hermetically sealed and secure as we are inclined to think (in that adaptive trick of the mind upon the mind that helps keep us relatively stable). Our private selves are formed at the confluence of myriad events and memories and emotions – seeking love, seeking status in a messy world – and can always be knocked off course by a major blow from the outside (a death, burglary, bankruptcy; promotion, seduction), a subtle transition inside, or perhaps even a temporarily altered state: a fever, a daydream, a hallucination, a reverie, a flotation tank. We are porous and precarious, every one of us, as F Scott Fitzgerald knew only too well:

“Of course all life is a process of breaking down, but the blows that do the dramatic side of the work – the big sudden blows that come, or seem to come, from outside – the ones you remember and blame things on and, in moments of weakness, tell your friends about, don’t show their effect all at once. There is another sort of blow that comes from within – that you don’t feel until it’s too late to do anything about it, until you realize with finality that in some regard you will never be as good a man again. The first sort of breakage seems to happen quick – the second kind happens almost without your knowing it but is realized suddenly indeed.”

Is all this mitigation for his actions? No. Is it to say that the future – maybe the documentary, Socrates: Footballer, Revolutionary, Enemy of the State – holds the opportunity for redemption? Yes.

Clearly, Mr Shankar has talent – by most measures, getting into Oxbridge in the first place is testament to that. There are mutual acquaintances of ours – men he played a lot of cricket with at Cambridge and with whom I have played subsequently in the leagues – that still vouch for him as essentially a decent bloke; men of sound judgement who are still loyal to, and protective of him. They bemoan the fact that it has been presented as though he were no good whatsoever – which isn’t true. It isn’t true – by most measures a century in Second XI cricket and Minor Counties cricket is a good level of ability. It is not, however, a good enough level of ability to warrant a two-year county deal at 29-years-old. You were never, ever going to pull it off. 

By most measures, inventing cricket tournaments to help you achieve your dream is a couple of steps beyond the norm. And by most measures, restraining orders and cautions from the police are an indication that you’ve become fixated, lost perspective, that the place in which you have sunk your pullulating passion – the idea of Being-Cricketer – has become a trap. As I say, the time for mockery has long passed and if there are details here that look on derisively agog at events, its tone is shaped largely by Shankar’s refusal to accept responsibility for how things went. Indeed, given his reaction when he was first exposed, I suppose there is a danger that anyone who punctures the self-image could become a target, a vent for the rage that this passage cited in Sam Vaknin’s Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited touches upon:

“When the habitual narcissistic gratifications that come from being adored, given special treatment, and admiring the self are threatened, the results may be depression, hypochondriasis, anxiety, shame, self-destructiveness, or rage directed toward any other person who can be blamed for the troubled situation. The child can learn to avoid these painful emotional states by acquiring a narcissistic mode of information processing.”

Yes, the hard medicalised idiom. But what else to explain the slippage from normal fantasy to abnormal phantasy? Perhaps there has been some poetic licence here, for to quote the Quijote:

“It is one thing to write as poet and another to write as a historian: the poet can recount or sing about things not as they were, but as they should have been, and the historian must write about them not as they should have been, but as they were, without adding or subtracting anything from the truth.”

I don’t have too many biographical details to flesh out the theory, so the latter is fairly skeletal in terms of the evidence mobilised. Nor am I inclined to chase the details: a man has the right to a fresh start. But I do have this tidbit, which may or may not be revealing. Brian Carpenter’s comment beneath the legsidefilth blog about meeting Shankar’s father at Lord’s when England played India there in 2007 might be illustrative of someone seemingly obsessed with achievement. And NPD can crystallise through a surfeit of attention or a deficit of the same, from being told that their talents were unlimited, or never being told they had any talent at all. Everything is ambivalent up there in planet Bonce. According to Carpenter, Mr Sambasivan Shankar, an A&E Consultant at Bedford Hospital, was much more interested in talking about Alastair Cook and his exceptional talents than about his own son...


Or there is the datum of Adrian’s entirely unempathetic (and entirely fabricated) pronouncement to his fellow Lancashire Second XI players at the back end of 2009 regarding a new contract offer, as reported by George Dobell:

“[T]owards the end of the 2009 season, other young players at Lancashire reported issues with Shankar. He had been bragging in the pub that he'd been offered a two-year contract extension. And, ridiculously, he claimed that he wasn't going to sign it as he wanted to keep his options open. As a result, another promising youngster who was doing rather better but who had been offered only a one-year deal, went to see John Stanworth (the Lancashire Academy coach) to complain about the inequitable treatment. Even when it transpired that the club had made no such offer to Shankar, still Lancashire didn't act.”

A loss of perspective, a self divorced from the usual checks and balances of reality, floating free as a bubble in his own increasingly delusional and desperate version of the world. And yet, as was suggested, the human self – the psyche – is nomadic, eminently capable of regeneration. Where once he was imprisoned by the idea of Being-Cricketer, perhaps Adrian can enter a becoming-other that lifts the burden of whatever baggage had propelled him into such an absurd cul-de-sac in which the delicate foundations of his fantasy would be exposed and sundered. The first thing to do would be to let go, to free yourself of those past entanglements, to accept and laugh at the sheer lunacy of it all.

A “wandering minstrel”, Adrian’s nomadism might follow his artistic leanings, although what eventually becomes of all that remains to be seen. Whatever, our lusophone filmmaker undoubtedly showed certain attributes of Fernando Pessoa’s poet at Worcester, so perhaps, to finish this yarn, we ought to look at the rest of that short verse, ‘Autopsychography’ (the writing of one’s own psyche), for clues – all the while bearing in mind that there can never be an exact translation of the original, just as there can never be a definitive writing of Adrian’s story:

The poet is a faker.
So completely does he feign
That he ends up feigning as pain,
The pain that he really feels.

And those who read what once he wrote
Feel clearly in the pain they read
Neither of the pains that he felt,
Only a pain they cannot sense.

And so around its track
This thing called the heart winds,
A little clockwork train
To entertain our minds.

---

O poeta é um fingidor.
Finge tão completamente
Que chega a fingir que é dor
A dor que deveras sente.

E os que lêem o que escreve,
Na dor lida sentem bem,
Não as duas que ele teve,
Mas só que éles não têm.

E assim nas calhas de roda
Gira, a entreter a razão
Ésse comboio de corda
Que se chama o coração


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




SHANKAR PART 5: DENIALS



'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. 

CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY CC 2005
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 cricketarchive.com, 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 cricketarchive.com 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…