The Cricketer
Huw Turbervill Huw Turbervill

THE GOOGLY: ZAFAR ANSARI IS ENTITLED TO QUIT… JUST DON’T EXPECT ME TO UNDERSTAND IT

Mike Atherton applauds his decision – a man who won 115 Test caps and led his country 54 times

Courtrooms can be fairly dark places, in more ways than one. I cannot help but wonder, therefore, if Zafar Ansari will look up at a little window one day and see a streak of sunshine streaming in, forget the trial he is involved with, and yearn for The Oval.

It is about a month since he announced that he was quitting cricket at the age of 25 to pursue a legal career, and the initial reaction from many commentators was to applaud him. Most notably, Mike Atherton said he “suspect[ed] that it is a decision he will not regret in time.”

Really? I struggle with this, as I suspect do thousands of recreational cricketers up and down the land. Of course I absolutely defend his right to do it… one has to do what makes one happy… but still, could he not have stuck at it for a bit longer?

I am not saying playing cricket for a county – with some bonus international appearances thrown in – is the be-all and end-all of life, but it must be close… Us club journeymen would give our eyeteeth to wear the brown cap; to bowl spin at The Oval, following in the footsteps of Laker, Lock, Pocock, Saqlain and Salisbury; to find the boundary with a crisp shot and hear a smattering of applause from the faithful in Surrey’s beautiful old pavilion; to gaze at the London skyline, including the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben, from the non-striker’s end. I bet most cricket-loving lawyers would too, to feel the capital’s breeze in their hair, to be working in the light, to be running around and keeping fit, rather than living on caffeine and sarnies, burning the midnight oil. Of course being a lawyer is a fantastic, admirable career, but you are a long time retired, as the cliché goes…

Things were going pretty well for Ansari. He did not set the world alight in three Test appearances over the winter, and maybe he would not have won many more caps, but just to give up at 25… Pat Pocock was still bowling twirlers for England in India at the age of 39. Ansari will never know how good he could have become…

I also recall my interview with him in The Cricketer in June 2015. “My brother Akbar scored two first-class hundreds for Cambridge University. Luck is the key to becoming a first-class cricketer. He was as good a player as I am but did not get the opportunity…”

Ansari played in 71 first-class matches for Surrey and made three Test appearances for England

Atherton obviously sees a kindred spirit in Ansari. They are both outstanding at cricket. They are both clever. They both have bad backs. It is easy for him to applaud the decision, though, as a man who won 115 Test caps, captained his country a then-record 54 times; scored 16 Test centuries; who is now an applauded television commentator and newspaper columnist. He has done things the right way, in the right order.

Ansari took a double-first at Cambridge. His thesis discussed the ‘deacons for defence and justice’, an American ‘self-defence’ group set up in Louisiana in the 1960s. He also loves music. He said: “Cricket is not the end for me. My life is not directed towards it. Cricket is a part of my life.”

That is all fair enough. But cricket is the most cerebral of games. It was enough to stimulate Michael Brearley. It is not like Ansari was not challenged, mentally. He could have been a great captain. He could have had ‘a degree in people’ like Brearley had/has. When you are captain you are never out of the game…

The cricket dressing room is generally an accommodating place. Yes Alec Stewart said: "Zafar used to read books in the dressing room, the others would be colouring them in." But no one is saying Ansari was mocked for being a brainbox. It is not like football, when Graeme Le Saux was lampooned for reading The Guardian. Ansari could have read his books on tour (and I do concede that touring can be tedious, and homesickness is unpleasant). Or in a quiet corner of the pavilion. He could have been a legal eagle in the winter…

Everyone wishes him the best. I have met him several times and he is a gentleman. I hope I am not being harsh on him. I am just not equipped to understand his decision, that is all.