WPP chief executive Martin Sorrell has been playing cricket from an early age. He loves the game because it is so anachronistic he tells Telegraph sports correspondent Mihir Bose.
Observe the scene: it is a wettish Sunday afternoon somewhere in the Home Counties. A cricket match is taking place. The bowler bowls, the umpire calls a wide. 'That was harsh,' a voice from mid-on says, before gurgling with laughter. The voice is that of Martin Sorrell. He is captaining his team against a rival team of journalists and it sums up his attitude to cricket. His remark is meant to keep up the spirits of a young bowler at a crucial stage. His good humour shows that to him cricket is only a game.
Sorrell likes cricket because 'it is a team game but individual performances are important'. His passion for the game is also derived from the fact that 'it is so English. Imagine playing for five days having lunch and tea breaks and at the end of it getting a draw. When you tell that to the Americans they fall about laughing. I love cricket because it is so anachronistic.'
This sounds a little strange given that Sorrell heads WPP, the holding company that owns high-profile advertising and PR organisations like JWT, associated in the public mind with the modern, go-ahead methods of Madison Avenue. Yet Sorrell's view of his own industry is that it is as old-fashioned as cricket.
'We are a very hidebound industry, very conservative. Look at our organisational structure - we have not changed in 80 or 90 years. We don't like to change structures, just like those who run the game.'
Little surprise then that Sorrell's love for cricket comes from a cricketing age that can never return: when the game had rigid barriers dividing professionals from amateurs and Lords playing host to an annual match between Gentlemen and Players. 'To me that is part of the rich character of cricket,' he says.
Sorrell was attracted to the game in the traditional way. An uncle came with a Gunn & Moore bat and Sorrell, then about four or five, started to play in the back garden. Despite being born in London he took not to Middlesex or Surrey, but Yorkshire. 'I don't know why but I fell in love with Yorkshire.
My favourite bowler was Freddie Trueman.
In those days you could sit behind the Mound stand at Lord's - sideways on - behind the bowler's arm and I would love to watch him roar in.'
In spite of his admiration for 'Fiery Fred', Sorrell became not a tearaway bowler but a batsman. His two batting heroes were Len Hutton and Geoffrey Boycott. 'I don't think that I have got any of their cricketing qualities except maybe a certain dour batting style.' Then with a disarming smile he adds, 'I am not a good bat, but I can block.'
Sorrell once acted in contract negotiations for Boycott. The occasion is not a source of great pride for him. He was working for Mark McCormack, who was then trying to break into cricket. Boycott was negotiating a new bat contract with Gunn & Moore. Sorrell recalls, 'It must be the only time in history that we came away with a lower offer than the one we went in with. It wasn't my most distinguished moment.'
Sorrell played for Haberdashers' Aske's first team, opening the innings for two years. 'It wasn't quite as good a school as it is now and the cricket team wasn't very good, which is why I got in.' Nobody who has played with Sorrell, as I have, would endorse that view. As a batsman he is not a bad club player, able to hold his own in most company. And in the match we played, he propped up the lower order of the innings. Coming in at number seven, he chipped in a vital 50 or so runs that set his side on the way to a win by 67 runs.
Sorrell started organising his own team a few years ago when he realised that he had lost touch with the game after leaving Cambridge. 'It is a nice way of getting back into the game. I have a bunch of friends and now as we grow older we have to get the children to play but it brings everyone together.'
He varies this with occasional appearances in charity matches where he plays against the great and good of the game. In spite of his abilities with the bat, his cherished memory is of bowling Clive Lloyd, the former West Indies captain. The following year he bowled Imran Khan - with a no-ball.
Not that he let this upset him. 'Some weekend cricketers take it terribly seriously,' he says, mystified. He likes winning, of course, but for him the cricket pitch is a place to have fun.