Back after a short break, John Pryor returns with a column highlighting the part international sports stars can play in the development of young fans and players, using his own chance encounters with, among others Andrew Flintoff and Liam Plunkett, as examples.
Role models in sport are hugely important for the development of younger generations; this is most obviously depicted in football where every young footballer has their favourite players name printed on the back of their shirt.
In cricket this idolisation is materially depicted in various ways ranging from the use of the same bat to the printing of the sporting heroes name on their One-Day International shirt. It is safe to say that a child's passion and dedication to sporting greatness can be inspired by their hero and with increasing media coverage of all forms of cricket this is becoming ever more relevant in cricket.
Consequently a chance encounter with a sporting hero can be the defining moment in a young cricketer's career. The role model aspect of professional sport is becoming increasingly encouraged and celebrated by the cricketing world: with the retirement of Brett Lee this earlier month from international cricket, Cricket Australia Chief Executive Officer James Sutherland and National Selector John Inverarity were keen to point out that Lee was not merely a fantastic cricketer but also an inspiration to young fast bowlers around the world.
"Brett inspired young Australians to play cricket and bowl fast...Australia's young fast bowlers have greatly benefitted from his mentoring and the standards he has set in recent years."
As a young cricketer I was lucky enough to meet some of my heroes, often in quite bizarre circumstances. In a queue for the London underground, coming back from an England rugby match, I happened to be standing next to Andrew Flintoff.
Despite being a few beers down and not in a cricketing environment, Flintoff took the time not only sign an autograph for me but also spend half an hour talking to me about my cricket and offering advice. Needless to say, it was an Andrew Flintoff style Woodworm cricket bat and ODI shirt which topped the list for my next birthday.
Other bizarre encounters included a football match with the Durham county cricket team on the M25. During a five-hour standstill traffic jam the team had been kind enough to open up their bus as a public toilet and coffee shop for stranded motorists.
Upon using the toilet they invited me to join them in a game of headers and volleys on the hard shoulder; the punishment for loosing said game was a flick on the head. As a young boy, despite the pain, I gleefully received this punishment from my sporting heroes including Liam Plunkett.
On the flip side of this was a brief encounter with the great Shane Warne. Arguably the best spin bowler ever, Warne was an inspiration to a generation of young cricketers, including me. On arriving at The Oval Ashes Test Match in 1997, at the age of seven I was surprised to see the Australian team bus pull up alongside.
The one player's autograph I truly wanted was Warne’s. I waited patiently behind the security guard and then as 'Warney' stepped off the bus I asked for his autograph
He seemed panicked, as if he was being mobbed by journalists (there was only myself and my Dad standing there).
”No, no, no, no autographs," he said in a rather Vicar of Dibley style manner. Next off the bus was Mark Waugh, who swiftly apologised for Warne's behaviour, signed my programme and handed it to the remainder of his colleagues.
While it is not our place to tell cricketers how to behave, being at the pinnacle of sport means more than showcasing their talent on the pitch.
The greats are not only remembered for their records but also for their place as role models. On arriving in England for his final Ashes series in 1948 Donald Bradman stayed up well into the night replying to every piece of fan mail which he received.
On the whole cricket stars should be praised for the way they handle this responsibility; on the 3rd July at Edgbaston, the England cricket team and captain Andrew Strauss took the time to meet and mentor Kibworth Cricket Club juniors giving them a day to remember.
Even though this extra commitment to the game is becoming expected of professionals we should not forget to celebrate the additional work they are doing for young cricket.
© Cricket World 2012