Bowling a maiden over

We are living in a golden age of celebrity cricketing romance, as the remarkable events of the last few days have proved. Not only has Alex Loudon rekindled his relationship with Pippa Middleton, so recent paparazzi photos demonstrate – but Shane Warne is now engaged to Liz Hurley.

Time was that cricketers’ partners were as far removed from the limelight as you could imagine. Your typical pro simply married his local sweetheart, or a girl he met down the pub. Quite often, Cupid’s arrow has struck within yards of the boundary. Andrew Flintoff met his wife Rachael when she ran Npower promotions at test matches. Jonathan Trott’s spouse Abi worked in Warwickshire’s press office, while Mark Butcher married Alec Stewart’s sister.

Very few cricketing WAGs have ever put their head above the parapet. Frances Edmonds – wife of Phil, and a journalist in her own right – remains one of the few exceptions. Kathy Botham achieved notoriety simply for enduring her husband’s boorish antics.

Till now, the sportsmen who’ve wooed celebrity girlfriends have almost exclusively been footballers. It’s the leather-chasers who have the kind of fame, cachet, and flashy lifestyle you need for the best chance of seducing a fading popstar, aspiring model, or former Big Brother contestant. Cricketers, by contrast are too dull, too homespun, and too lacking in glitz, to put themselves in the frame.

Perhaps inevitably, Kevin Pietersen was  the first to break the mould – dating Caprice and then marrying Jessica Taylor from the pop group Liberty X. But it seemed that few other cricketers would follow suit until Warney and Louds got busy with their paramours.

I wonder if Alex Loudon slightly resents becoming far more famous for his links to the owner of Britain’s most admired bottom than he ever was for his cricket. When his international career fizzled out after a solitary ODI cap, he probably never foresaw an invite to a Royal Wedding.

Unless, of course, Pippa Middleton always had a weakness for off-spin bowling all-rounders who played for Warwickshire. Did she spend years scouring the county scores on Ceefax, or poring over a dog-eared copy of Playfair, in her romantic search for Mr Right? Was it Loudon’s doosra, or his conventional off-break, which finally won the heart of Prince William’s sister-in-law?

Miss Middleton is a handsome woman, and to use rather unreconstructed, male language – you’d have to say that Alex Loudon has done pretty well there. Much the same can be said about Warney. To recap, Shane Warne is engaged to Liz Hurley. Let’s just say those words again. Shane Warne is engaged to Liz Hurley. It barely seems any less extraordinary however many times you hear it.

We’re not talking here about some Z-lister from The Only Way Is Essex. Hurley is a proper, blue chip celebrity – hailed during the height of her fame as one of the most beautiful women in the world. Hugh Grant and Indian magnates rank among her former beaus. And now she’s shacked up with a  brash beach bum from Melbourne, best known outside cricket for his lack of self-discipline with mobile phones.

Oh to be a fly on the wall during their pillow talk. What do they discuss? Poker? The difference between the zooter and the slider? His impression of Richie Benaud?

We wish them both every happiness, but also hope her influence on his personal grooming begins to wane, before Warne looks so ridiculous you can no longer take his commentary seriously. Hurley has already made his eyes look weird; his hair is suspiciously sleek, and he’s lost loads of weight. Somehow, a meterosexual Shane Warne wouldn’t be quite the same.

Their impending marriage is certainly good news for pub teams in the Cotswolds. Hurley both lives and runs a business in the area. As Warne is pretty rootless in the UK, you’d imagine he’ll move into her place. Naturally, at some point he’ll fancy turning his arm over and will look around for a bit of local cricket. So if you run a club in east Gloucestershire, and a man with bleached highlights and peculiar eyes approaches you at the bar, claiming to bowl a bit of leg-spin – take him up on the offer.

So what next? Will Monty Panesar soon be snapped leaving a nightclub with Kate Moss? Should we expect Jennifer Aniston to hang around the Riverside, on the off-chance of chatting up Graham Onions? At this rate, the possibilities are endless. Against all the odds, cricketers have begun a slow but triumphant march from the inside pages of Wisden, to the front cover of Heat magazine.

Maxie Allen



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