CHRIS LEWIS, whacky and unpredictable as an England all-rounder, has been jailed for 13 years at Croydon Crown Court for smuggling cocaine with a street value of more than £140,000 into Britain. This bible devotee son of a preacherman is hard to fathom.
Lewis's links with drugs will not surprise a number of people in professional cricket. He was suspected of being a drug taker before regular testing was introduced. Traces of cannabis were found in his kit bag by customs officers after his arrest in December, though a conviction for cocaine smuggling did not prove he took cocaine himself.
Nevertheless there were private suspicions about his erratic behaviour. About 15 years ago a county coach jokingly remarked to me about Lewis's occasional mood swings -- that the player would sometimes arrive for nets in a subdued mood and after a visit to the lavatory he would be as happy as anyone.
Lewis, 41, was stopped at Gatwick Airport in December while returning from what he claimed was an innocent holiday in St Lucia. The drug, in liquid form, was found in tins of fruit and vegetable juice in his kit bag. He was arrested with his friend Chad Kirnon, a former London Towers basketball player. Lewis alleged in court that Kirnon had later offered to take the blame in return for £100,000. Both men were given the same custodial sentence for their "greed".
Lewis, a fine Guyana-born cricketer, became increasingly unreliable during his international career, driving the England coach David Lloyd to distraction with his poor time-keeping. He once arrived late for an England match at the Oval in 1996 claiming a flat tyre, though there was no evidence of this on his Mercedes SL320 convertible. At the start of the Caribbean tour of 1994 in Antigua he declined to cover his shaven head with a sun hat and suffered sun stroke. 'The Prat without a Hat' said The Sun
. He raised his income with a spell of nude modelling, though it was not clear if the St Lucia journey was a one-off drugs run or whether he had started a drug smuggling career. He claimed innocence during the trial.
Lewis told the jury that Kirnon had asked him to carry the tins of fruit as he was concerned his luggage might be overweight. "I don't necessarily believe that Mr Kirnon wanted me to get caught, but if you infer by Mr Kirnon giving me the cans that he set me up, then yes," Lewis said. "Generally throughout my life, my cricket career, when things have gone wrong its gone wrong in a very public way."
Judge Nicholas Ainley said both men had been motivated by greed. "In a cowardly attempt to evade justice you each sought to blame the other for a crime you obviously jointly committed," he said. "Drug smugglers would not entrust a valuable cargo like this to an innocent raveller."
Judge Ainley said to Lewis: "This was greed and I am sure that you ran the risk that you did because you deduced that the risk was worth it, because the rewards were substantial. You were knowingly and willingly engaged in major organised crime."
Lewis had stated he was travelling alone and that he had packed his luggage himself, but there was evidence he was colluding with Kirnon. Tom Wilkins, prosecuting, said that when Lewis's luggage was inspected, the Puma cricket bag was found to be labelled with Kirnon's name, the first of "a number of links" between the two defendants.
Kirnon was found with three tins of dissolved cocaine in his luggage when he was stopped by officials 10 minutes later. He also claimed that he had no idea the tins contained drugs and that the juice was a gift for his mother. The court heard the pair had been acting together to import the "very valuable consignment" in a "joint enterprise".
Peter Avery, assistant director of HM Revenue & Customs Criminal Investigations, commented afterwards: "Sportsmen and women who are regularly in the public eye have a responsibility to act as role models and ambassadors for their respective sports. It is therefore even more disappointing when such role models get involved in the criminality of attempting to smuggle Class A drugs into the UK."
Derek Pringle, a former England room-mate, wrote in the Daily Telegraph
after the news of drugs arrest that he liked Lewis a lot in their playing days for his unfailing courtesy and decency, though he added: "Just as his body seemed perfect, his mind often appeared a confused mess and he was remarkably uncertain of himself for a top-level sportsman. That uncertainty often manifested itself as migraines and he pulled out of more than one big match because of them. With his all-round abilities, he should have been a captain's dream, but often he just ended up frustrating everybody, though not as much, I suspect, as he frustrated himself."
Pringle recalled a couple of Lewis peculiarities as a room-mate during the 1992 World Cup in Australia. "Lewie, as he was then known, had the anti-social habit of ordering just about everything on the room-service menu, tasting a mouthful of each, and then leaving it to smell out the room. He also owned a hairdryer that gave off electric shocks, but he didn't tell me that until after it had made me and my hair stand to attention one day."
Less well known was that Lewis, who played 32 Tests and 53 one-dayers for England, suffered from Raynaud's Syndrome, an affliction in county cricket that similarly affected fellow fast bowlers Paul Jarvis and Simon Dennis, both from Yorkshire. The symptoms are numbness of the fingers, caused by poor circulation and trauma. Road drillers are susceptible.
Lewis started professional cricket with Leicestershire before joining Nottinghamshire in 1992, followed by a couple of seasons at Surrey. His county time went sour after he accused three fellow players of match corruption and, after returning to Leicestershire, he retired at the age of 32. Surrey brought him out of retirement in 2008 for the Twenty20 Cup and Friends Provident Trophy with an embarrassingly unsuccessful result. The brainwave probably helped cost Alan Butcher his job as coach.