It's not just modern-day cricketers who've had to deal with obsessive fans. Back in 1921, it's said that a small boy spent a long, hot day stalking Warwick Armstrong, Australia's hard-drinking, 140kg "all-rounder". But Armstrong didn't just have a big stomach, he also had a big heart. He eventually turned around and smiled at the little fellow, saying, "Here, give me your autograph book and I’ll sign it."
"I ain’t got one," went the reply.
"Then what do you want?" asked the puzzled cricketer.
"Please, sir, you're the only decent bit of shade in the place."
So why bring up this story now? Well, first of all, good fat jokes are timeless. (Have you heard about the guy who was so fat that when he fell in love, it broke?) But the main reason is that increasingly few of today's cricketers can provide a decent bit of shade. While Big Warwick carried a bottle of whiskey in his cricket bag, and sweated so much that puddles sometimes formed at the crease, today's cricketers sweat it up in the gym and then drink Powerade to replace their "electrolytes".
To stray from the righteous path of fitness is, careerwise, to hit a dead end. Only this week, rising WA star Mitch Marsh was left out of the Australia A team due to play South Africa because – gasp! – he had a boozy night out. "Mitch is a good lad," selector John Inverarity saw the need to say of the 21-year-old evildoer. After all the appropriate sanctions have been imposed, Inverarity "feel[s] really confident that he will kick on as a young man".
Inverarity also took the opportunity to call for a cultural overhaul of WA cricket, which was a power state back in the '70s and '80s. "There are concerns there. The concerns are fairly widespread. We want cricket to have a very healthy culture in all parts of Australia. I think (in) Western Australia, there needs to be some changes and they need to pull up their socks."
No. They. Don't. Australian cricket would be perfectly fine if everyone pulled off their socks, soaked them in whiskey and sucked them dry. No one drank more than WA's Lillee and Marsh way back in the '70s. Who says that cricketers need to be fit?
Not history, that's for sure. From Ian 'Beefy' Botham and Mark 'Tubby' Taylor, to Inzamam 'Morbidly Obese' ul Haq, the biggest names to play the game have often been, well, big. WG Grace may have had a "towering presence" but he also had a "somewhat lumbering carriage". It's said that he had to stop riding horses because – true story – they tended to "break".
Want more names? Try Merv Hughes and Darren Lehmann, Greg Ritchie and David Boon. Or Colin Milburn, Eddo Brandes, Arjuna Ranatunga and Samit Patel. Put that lot on the Titanic and it would have sunk before it ever set sail.
"If you could just turn up the night before and play, then I’d probably still be playing," baked beans fan Shane Warne once told the press. "But there’s too much other rubbish they carry on with these days - jump tests, fitness things…"
How many other talented cricketers must we lose to this fitness curse? The World Health Organisation has found that obesity is reaching 'epidemic' proportions in Australia, with no less than 67 per cent of adults overweight. Australians consumed more alcohol than the OECD average, and around 40 per cent don't do enough exercise. Must so many people be denied a shot at the big time?
No! The wonderful thing about cricket is that, in so many ways, it's not really a sport. It's slow. It lasts five days. It's pointless and packed with charm. In a world of hustle and bustle – of muscle-bound, alcohol-free athletes going faster and higher and stronger – cricket is a refuge for the fat, slow and weak.
And long may it remain so. Stop trying to change cricket's culture, selectors. Celebrate it with a couple of beers.
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of BigPond Sport.
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