As this year’s Strictly Come Dancing approached its final lap, it was left to footballer Robbie Savage to carry the torch for sport. When the competition hit Wembley, he was the last remaining sportsman dancing, but even the most diehard Savage fan would concede he wasn’t exactly leading the pack.
Despite his wholehearted approach and energetic posturing, the truth is Robbie had more chance of turning up in Manchester City’s midfield than he had of lifting the Glitterball. But this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s followed the show for the past eight years. As our all-time table of Strictly sports competitors reveals, it’s cricketers, not footballers, who have the niftiest feet on the dancefloor.
Former England fast bowler Darren Gough (2005) and batsman Mark Ramprakash (2006) were both crowned Strictly champions, while spin bowler Phil Tufnell put in a respectable performance in 2009. Even BBC presenter Chris Hollins, Strictly winner that year, turns out to have been a talented cricketer who made eight first-class appearances for Oxford University.
But shouldn’t it be boxers who need to be quick and light on their feet, who make the best dancers? Not so, as head judge Len Goodman confirms: “Audley Harrison, bless him, did his best and always had a smile on his face, but that was to distract you from looking at his feet.
“Joe Calzaghe was terrible. And in the American show, Dancing with the Stars, so were Sugar Ray Leonard and Evander Holyfield. Even Floyd Mayweather Jr, the world’s greatest pound-for-pound boxer, was terrible. He danced like he was guarding against a left hook. Boxers are not good dancers! But, bizarrely, cricketers are great.”
Indeed, cricketers appear to have a natural affinity with the dancefloor. Batsmen need to possess balance, timing and poise, so perhaps it’s not surprising that they display the same qualities in the cha-cha-cha.
Cricket’s greatest batsman Don Bradman was a keen dancer who attributed his prowess on the dancefloor to his cricketing footwork. And England legend Jack Hobbs kept fit in the winter by going ballroom dancing. Even Geoff Boycott said he found inspiration in dance: “At the crease, it’s fatal to beome flat-footed, so I was like Fred Astaire. I never stopped dancing.”
Another member of the Goodman family offers further insight. “In cricket, bowlers have quick and nimble feet and learn to be careful with their foot placement,” says Len’s son James, 30, who teaches dance at the Goodman Dance Centre at Dartford in Kent while his dad flits between judging panels in the UK and US. “When fast bowlers run in to bowl, they have to make sure they don’t plant their feet over the line without looking down. I’ve always believed that’s why Darren Gough had such good footwork.
“Batsmen also possess excellent co-ordination and work a lot on refining their technique, paying attention to balance and positioning. And they’re used to spending a lot of time practising one-on-one in the nets, so perhaps they respond better to that sort of coaching in the dancehall. Interestingly, Dad was also a very good cricketer when he was younger. He liked to put a bit of emotion into his performances, but unfortunately he once got banned after cheering when he clean bowled a batsman.” Not what you’d call strictly cricket.