Ex-football man Didi Hamann is Germany’s most famous cricket convert. Here he describes his conversion to the greatest game of all, comparing the great rivalries of his two favourite games and explaining why facing Glenn McGrath would be scarier than wearing a Roy Keane tackle.
I know you’ve been into cricket for a while, Didi. Could you explain how you got bitten by the cricket bug?
I hadn’t seen any cricket before I came to England, but I watched the Ashes for the first time years ago, I couldn’t sleep and I watched the 2002/03 series over in Australia. I already knew what was going on by the time that fantastic Ashes series in 2005 came around and that’s really when I started watching a lot of cricket and I still do now, all the time. Whenever I get the time, I watch all formats, including county cricket, the CB40, the Champions League in South Africa. And so many events are coming up now. The IPL is obviously a bit of an issue for the ECB, but to see all these top players play in one tournament I think is fantastic.
What do you like most about the game?
It’s a thinking man’s game and that’s what I like about it. You need to take a lot of things into account. Obviously, the tone of the game is changing at the moment with the shorter formats coming in. But skills-wise, especially in Test cricket, you’ve got to make a lot of decisions; whether to bat or bowl first, when to use your bowlers, how to set the field. Some people think it’s just tossing a ball up and smacking it out of the ground. But there’s so much to the game.
Any fond memories?
Freddie Flintoff took me to the nets in Lancashire about five years ago and he bowled a few balls from the machine at me at 90, 95 miles an hour and I can tell you I have the utmost respect for the players. He told me Brett Lee used to bowl that fast and its unbelievable how they manage to get bat on ball in less than half a second.
Scarier than a Roy Keane tackle?
Yeah. The thing is, usually, in a tackle, you expect it, you know when someone is heading for you, but with a cricket ball, you don’t know whether it’s short or full or where it’s going to go.
And have you played much?
I’ve played a few games occasionally with Ian Rush, charity games where they needed an extra player, and a bit for my local club too, but not too much this year. I’m happy to play wherever I’m needed though, I’m sure the local club only asked me if I wanted to play because they were one short, but unfortunately half the time the pitch was waterlogged so I don’t really think anybody got too many games this year. But I definitely enjoy playing the game.
And what are you like as a player?
Well, I’m a batsman. Low down the order. Well, a tailender. Actually, I’m a tailender who doesn’t bowl, so I’m not really much of a player. Though I do have a top score of 12 at an over 45s game in Oxton, which I sneaked into on a false passport.
I really like the allrounders. It’s hard enough being a batsman or a bowler but if you can do both, that’s phenomenal. Shane Watson is tremendous. And you look at Kallis and you’ve got two of the best batsmen around and they can bowl as well. Then obviously you’ve got Tendulkar. Watching him play with MS Dhoni in India would certainly be something worth doing because they are icons. They are treated like gods. I can’t even imagine what it would be like when Sachin walks onto the pitch.
But you’re used to a fair bit of adulation playing football for big clubs like Liverpool?
Yes, but the difference is when you play cricket the player is contracted to the country and the whole country is supporting you, which you don’t really get in club football. You obviously have the respect of your fans and that is something every sportsman should earn. But a United player may not be the favourite of, say, a Spurs fan or vice versa.
There aren’t too many German cricket nuts. Are you flying a lone flag for the game over there?
I get a few tweets, emails and letters telling me that there are teams. Most of them are British people, who are playing the game all along the south of Munich. The Germans are sportspeople. I think there might be a market for it. But I don’t know how far it is being developed. Obviously we don’t grow up with it and it’s difficult, but people tell me it’s getting bigger and bigger in Germany and who knows, maybe one day we could compete to qualify for World Cups.
As a footballer, what’s your opinion of the idea of the ‘spirit of cricket’?
There’s a lot of talk about it. I think it’s a good idea. When that episode happened between Surrey and Somerset last season, when Kartik took the bails off whilst bowling, I think he has every right to do so because in a way if the batsman’s leaving his crease before the ball is bowled, he’s cheating, in a way. So why can he not take the bails off? But then, there are also batsmen walking when they nick it. I think it has to be directed. It has to go both ways. You can’t expect batsmen to walk off after nicking it and then have the non-striker being able to run halfway down the pitch.
You’ve played in some big derbies – Liverpool, Manchester, England-Germany. Could you compare those with, say, England and Australia in cricket?
It’s different when it comes to playing between countries. England-Germany in football and England-Australia in cricket you can probably compare, but I’d still probably say Liverpool-Man United is the biggest, most intense rivalry I’ve experienced.
Didi was speaking at the Liverpool launch of ‘StreetChance supported by Barclays Spaces for Sports’.
StreetChance is a Cricket Foundation project which uses cricket to tackle anti-social behaviour and youth crime. For more information, visit www.streetchance.org.