Some accidents are good – barely a day goes by when we don’t thank the Lord for the miraculous healing powers of penicillin – but few are as genuinely thrilling as the one that occurred in the 51allout kitchen just a few days ago. During a particularly heated debate about the worst player in the history of everything, thoughts turned to two of our most recent Unlikely Lads, Mick Lewis and Chris Silverwood. Who was worse? The shouting began: Mick! Chris! Lewis! Silverwood! Dan! Dan! Dan! Dan! Dan!
After everyone laughed for a good minute at how we’d yet again segued into Partridge, there came a pause. Amidst the madness, we’d stumbled upon the most obvious Unlikely Lad ever. And yet we’d somehow managed to write 41 articles in the series without getting to him. The shame was palpable. His is a story that has everything: Batting! Bowling! Drugs! Prison! Lost fingernails! And, er, sunstroke!
Most cricketers’ stories end up in either a glorious swansong or a quiet escape, slipping away into retirement almost entirely unnoticed. The Chris Lewis story is rather different, with his career ended by being very publicly sentenced to 13 years in prison for attempting to smuggle around £140,000 worth of cocaine into the UK in 2009. Of course, this came at the fag end of a career that had already more or less finished in 2000 when he made (unsubstantiated) accusations that three England team mates had taken money in return for match fixing. All in all, it’s fair to say that he wasn’t your average failed new Ian Botham.
Lewis made his Test debut in 1990 against New Zealand, a Test that saw both Richard Hadlee’s retirement and just England’s second win at home in an astonishing 25 Tests (with the only other victory being against a novice Sri Lanka side), acquitting himself fairly well in scoring a pleasant 32 in the first innings and taking four wickets. This was followed up by two quiet performances against India (in which he scored 3 runs and took 5 wickets at 56) before a migraine caused him to miss the final game of the summer.
Lewis was part of the team for the first Ashes Test the following winter as England crumbled to a comical ten wicket defeat in Brisbane, despite leading by 42 after two low-scoring first innings. That was his sole appearance, injury again keeping him out for the rest of the tour. You might be able to spot a pattern forming here already.
The visit of the West Indies the following year saw Lewis play the last two Tests of a series we’ve written about before in some detail, at home to the West Indies. And it was here that our man finally began to show that there might be some actual substance to his performances, making 65 and 47* and taking 6/111. Shortly after came 70 and 5/31 in two matches against New Zealand before a lost fingernail caused him to miss the final game of the tour. And no, that’s really the reason given. Maybe he was actually busy planning to smuggle cocaine or something. Meanwhile, he featured in the majority of England’s matches in the 1992 World Cup, most famously being bowled for a golden duck by quite a good ball from Wasim Akram.
Of course, like all true next Ian Bothams, the good performances were surrounded by anonymity and calamity. Lewis did little in the following summer at home to Pakistan, before making a hundred against India in Madras (in a series in which he took just three wickets at 74) and being dropped after two games of 1993’s Ashes, having contributed almost nothing to two heavy defeats. It was still enough to earn him a place in England’s squad for their tour of the West Indies, which says an awful lot about the selection policy of the time.
It was on this tour that Lewis made perhaps his best known (non-drug related) contribution to the world of cricket – having his head shaved (by Devon Malcolm of all people) before not bothering to wear a hat and ending up with sunstroke. The Sun called him ‘The Prat Without A Hat’, which to be fair to him, was still loads better than being called ‘convicted drug smuggler Chris Lewis, on routine suicide watch’.
Again Lewis contributed little to the first two Tests. In the third he did pick up seven wickets but his performance was rather overshadowed by England being bowled out for 46. Had the internet been around in 1994, we’d have probably set up a massively unsuccessful website at 46allout.co.uk (or at least we would have if Editor Steve had intimidated us into it). To top off a wonderful personal series, Lewis took 0/140 in the final Test as Brian Lara racked up 375, although he did make 75* of his own.
Lewis’s on/off Test career stuttered along for a further seven matches but it was clear that he would never fulfill his potential. Meanwhile, he continued to do crazy things off the pitch: he was fined for being late for England training and making up a rubbish excuse about a flat tyre – we tried that on Editor Steve once and still have the scars to show for it – and once went to Newport in South Wales when he was due to meet up with his teammates in Newport, Shropshire. Then came the accusations of match fixing against other players which led to him becoming an outcast in the county game.
There was the promise of an Indian summer when Lewis signed for Surrey in 2009’s T20 competition. After a single unproductive game, injury struck again and Lewis was done, this time for good. Most predicted he would disappear quietly into the shadows. Unfortunately the only shadows he was interested in were those at the back of the arrivals bit of Gatwick airport.