Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Christened Kenneth Colin Bland, but always called by his middle name, Colin was born on the 5th of April, 1938 in Bulawayo, Rhodesia. Now known as Zimbabwe, at that time of Colin’s birth Rhodesia was a region of Africa being composed of both modern day Zimbabwe (then known as Southern Rhodesia) and Zambia (then called Northern Rhodesia). Southern Rhodesia was a self-governing British colony, and aligned itself to nearby South Africa with respect to most sporting activities.
Colin grew up in Bulawayo, the second largest city in Rhodesia. At school, he quickly showed his physical prowess in all sports. Colin revealed a particular talent for ball sports, and excelled as a youngster in cricket, rugby and hockey. He was selected to represent Rhodesia Schools in all three sports at a schoolboy level, and played in the Nuffield Cricket Week tournament in South Africa. His performances as a batsman and medium pace bowler were sufficient to gain him a place in the South African Schools team in his final year.
Near the end of his final year of school, Colin was selected to make his first-class debut in cricket for Rhodesia against the touring M.C.C. side. Colin was picked solely as a batsman in this game, and largely for the experience it would give him before playing domestically in the South African Currie Cup competition. However, he was forced to make a career defining choice at this point of his life. Colin’s rugby skills had been widely recognized, and he had been offered a football scholarship to attend the famous Stellenbosch University. Cricket had been Colin’s first love, and he made the decision to make it his chosen sport.
Colin’s debut match was against the M.C.C., and took place at Salisbury Sports Club on the 23rd, 24th, 25th of November 1956. Colin had plenty of opportunities to show-off his fielding skills during the M.C.C. innings, as they totaled 501, with Peter May making a double century. While he was listed to bat at no. 7, Colin didn’t have long to wait to make his entrance. After losing their first wicket with one run on the board, Rhodesia had progressed steadily to seven, whereupon they lost their next four wickets without adding another run. The sheer pace of Frank Tyson and Peter Loader was proving too much for the Rhodesian players, and soon after Colin arrived at the wicket, they were reduced to 6 for 11. Colin, however, in his debut first class innings, was the only batsman to stand up to the English quicks. He top scored with 19 in Rhodesia’s pitiful total of just 57. With a first innings lead of nearly 450, Peter May must have deliberated long and hard before deciding to enforce the follow-on. Rhodesia’s second attempt was better than their first, but they were still 5 for 47 when Colin went out for his second knock. He again top scored for his side, this time with 38 in Rhodesia’s total of 157. There are not many batsman, and certainly even less 18 year old ones, that can boast top scoring in each innings of their first class debut. In spite of Colin’s efforts, Rhodesia lost by the small margin of an innings and 292 runs.
Colin’s performance won him selection in the Rhodesian team to play against Transvaal in the Currie Cup at the New Wanders Stadium in Johannesburg from the 18th to 21st of January, 1957. Transvaal won the toss and batted first, making 417 largely on the back of the stalwart South African batsman Russell Endean’s 171. In reply, Rhodesia made 212. Again batting at no. 7 Colin made 18 before falling to the part-time leggies of Alastair Taylor. Forced to follow-on, Rhodesia managed to bat out the remainder of the three day game, with Colin coming to the wicket in the final over of the match and he remained 0 not out.
Instead of attending Stellenbosch University, Colin choose Rhodes University at Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape. His attendance there led to his third first class game, this time for the combined South African Universities against the North Eastern Transvaal team. This match was played at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria on 7th, 9th, 10th of December 1957. North Eastern Transvaal won the toss and batted, however, they were bowled out for only 172. Colin came out to bat with South African Universities at 3 for 48. He responded by scoring his initial first class century, finishing with 131 out of the team total of 8 declared for 293. The second top score with just 45 was Peter van der Merwe, who would later go on to captain South Africa in Test matches and also become an ICC match referee. North Eastern Transvaal folded in their second innings for just 122, and South African Universities scored the necessary 3 runs to complete a ten wicket victory.
Colin continued to play for both Rhodesia and South African Universities over the following three seasons. He moved up to no. 4 or no. 5 in the batting lineup, but only met with limited success. It wasn’t until South African Universities played Western Province that Colin scored his second century. The match was played at the Newlands Ground at Capetown from the 3rd to 6th of December, 1960. Colin was by now the captain of the Universities team, and after winning the toss, he scored 124 out of his side’s total of 421. A young Eddie Barlow was also in the Universities side, however, he failed with the bat by scoring only 7. Colin was bowling his right arm medium pacers more often, and he opened the bowling for Universities. He failed to take a wicket in either innings, but it was irrelevant as the other bowlers knocked Western Province over for only 89 and 234 to leave South African Universities the winners by an innings and 98 runs.
When Colin followed his century against Western Province with an unbeaten 130 a few games later for Rhodesia against Griqualand West in early January 1961, his name was started to be considered for national honours with South Africa. His stylish batting was characterized by strong front foot driving, with a penchant to hit the quicker bowlers back down the ground in the air. His medium paced bowling was seen as a useful backup to his batting, and his fielding was starting to gain widespread notice. The South African selectors picked him to tour England with an unofficial team called the South Africa Fezelas under the leadership of Roy McLean. This touring party was later viewed as the starting point of South Africa’s journey to world cricket supremacy. There were eight future Test players in the Fezelas, with four becoming long term test players. In addition to Colin Bland, the touring party also included Eddie Barlow, Peter Pollock and Denis Lindsay. Colin failed to impress with the bat on the tour and didn’t bowl, but he was in the selectors’ mind for national duty.
The New Zealand team toured South Africa in the 1961/62 season, and they commenced their trip through Africa with two first class games against Rhodesia. This opportunity provided Colin with the chance he needed to show his potential at the higher level. In the first match at his home ground at the Queens Sports Club in Bulawayo on 21st, 22nd and 23rd of October 1961, he scored 91 and 45, and he followed that up with 67 and at the 58 Police A Ground, Salisbury on 28th, 29th and 30th October of 1961. The South African selectors were looking to rebuild the Springbok team, and Colin’s scores were good enough to win him a place in the lineup. Their decision was based more upon potential than performance, but they had seen enough to know that Colin was of international standard as a batsman.
Colin made his test debut for South Africa against New Zealand at the Kingsmead Ground in Durban on the 8th of December 1961. South African captain John Waite won the toss and chose to bat on a difficult pitch. South Africa totaled 292, largely thanks to experienced opener Jackie McGlew who made 127. Coming in at no. 5, Colin made 5 before being caught off Frank Cameron. New Zealand replied with 245. The South Africans struggled in their second innings, making only 149. Waite made 63, and Colin scored a valuable 30, with no-one else passing 15. New Zealand only made 166, to lose by 30 runs.
Colin had done enough to maintain his place for the Second Test at Johannesburg, which was drawn. Colin struggled again, scoring 0 and 24 in his two innings. The Third Test at Capetown saw New Zealand win by 72 runs. Colin made two useful contributions with the bat, with scores of 32 and 42. He also took his first test catch, Zin Harris. Colin’s fielding was gaining rave reviews from those who saw him, and it was stated that even in his early Tests, spectators would specifically watch to see his fielding in the covers.
The series was now tied at 1 match all. The Fourth Test back at Johannesburg saw South Africa triumph by an innings and 51 runs. Colin made another start, scoring 28 in a batting lineup that almost all contributed to the total of 464. New Zealand fought back to win the Fifth Test at St George’s Park in Port Elizabeth by 40 runs. Colin again made starts in both innings, scoring 12 and 32, but it wasn’t enough to prevent New Zealand squaring the series at two tests all.
In March 1962, Colin was selected to play against a Pakistan team for an invitational International XI that was touring the world. He was asked to join this team after it had played two games against Rhodesia. While Colin had batted well without pushing on to a century in either match, his fielding had gained the notice of the International XI. Some of his teammates for the match against the East Pakistan Governor’s XI included Test players Colin McDonald, Roy Marshall, Everton Weeks, Ray Lindwall, Tom Graveney and the great Indian leg-spinner “Fergie” Gupte. After the East Pakistan team had declared at 5-385, Colin performed well for the International XI, top-scoring with 89 from the no. 3 position in a drawn result.
In spite of his average beginnings, and some indifferent form for Rhodesia, Colin was chosen for South Africa’s next international series, the 1963/64 tour of Australia and New Zealand. The lead-up games produced a poor sequence of scores of 3 and 10 not out against Western Australia, 27 and 15 against South Australia, 0 and 40 against an Australian XI, 14 against New South Wales, 52 not out against Tasmania, and 11 against a Tasmanian Combined XI. The failure to score heavily meant that Colin was left out of the First Test team to play at Brisbane. While this match was drawn, Colin was brought back into the team for the New Years Day Second Test at the M.C.G. Australia won by 8 wickets, but Colin made solid contributions to the losing team with 50 and 22.
Colin had started to find his timing on the faster and bouncy Australian wickets, and played well in the drawn Third Test at Sydney. He scored 51 in this first innings, and then held South Africa together with 85 to help his team to a draw. The Fourth Test at Adelaide was won by South Africa by 10 wickets. Colin’s score of 33 was well and truly overshadowed by Eddie Barlow’s 201 and Graeme Pollock’s 175.
Colin had started gaining a reputation in South Africa as a batsman who could make a quick 50, but struggled to go on with it. His scores in the series underlined this point, but he managed to turn this around in the Fifth Test in Sydney. This match, which started on the 7th of February 1964, saw Colin score his first test century, a graceful 126 out of South Africa’s total of 411. It wasn’t enough to force a result, with this match also ending in a draw. South Africa had performed very creditably on this tour, and it was signs of things to come for the team over the next five years.
His century in Sydney now firmly established Colin in the South African middle order. The team moved onto New Zealand for the second stage of their tour. The First Test at the Basin Reserve, Wellington on 21st, 22nd, 24th and 25th of February 1964 finished in a draw. South Africa made most of the running in the game on a very slow and unresponsive pitch. The game had started on schedule, in spite of anti-apartheid demonstrators attempts to damage the pitch. Colin scored 40 in the first innings, and a very quick 46 not out in 47 minutes in the second innings with captain Trevor Goddard looking to make a declaration. The weather affected Second Test at Carisbrook also ended in a draw. Late on the final day, South Africa were set 65 to win in only 27 minutes. After only scoring 1 in the first innings, Colin was promoted to open in the mad run chase. He scored 16 not out, with South Africa falling just short, making 3 for 42 off the 7 overs available to them.
The English M.C.C. team toured South Africa in 1964/65. South Africa were soundly beaten in the First Test at Durban on the 4th, 5th, 7th and 8th of December 1964. In response to England’s 485, Colin scored 26 in South Africa’s team total of just 155. Forced to follow-on, South Africa did little better, making only 226. Colin again showed his value with the bat, top scoring with 68.
The Second Test at the New Wanderers Ground finished in a draw. England again batted first, making another huge total of 531. South Africa again failed to make the follow-on mark, being bowled out for 317 with Colin making another disappointing 29. The early criticism of him failing to make the most of his regular starts was starting to reappear. Colin responded in the best way possible by making a magnificent fighting 144 not out in just over 6 hours, helping South Africa to draw the game. The Third and Fourth Tests were both also draws. Colin continued his good form with 78 and 64 at Newlands, and 55 and 38 not out at Johannesburg.
Colin’s fielding prowess was becoming well known. Less well known was the hours and hours of practice he put it to get to that level. Colin setup a spring loaded stump in front of a hockey goal at the family farm. He would then stand about 30 metres away, and have his family and farm workers throw balls in all directions for him to chase down and throw at the single stump. During practice he used a single stump as his target, as this was often all he could aim at from his place in the covers or mid-wicket.
South Africa’s next test series was a return tour of England in 1965. The First Test at Lords on 22nd, 23rd, 24th, 26th and 27th of July 1965 is seen as the point at which Colin’s legend as a fielder was recognised world wide. Colin’s old University teammate, Peter van der Merwe, was by now the Springbok captain, and he won the toss and batted first. South Africa made 280, with contributions all down the order. Colin made 39 before falling to the wily off-spinner Fred Titmus. England responded with 338, but the innings was notable for the runouts of Ken Barrington and Jim Parks. Barrington was on 91 when he went for a single to midwicket. Running in towards the keeper, Bland hit the stumps at the bowlers’ end, throwing it back over his shoulder. At that stage, England were going along very well at 4 for 240, just 40 runs behind South Africa and Barrington set for a large 100. This effort by Colin was generally regarded as one of the finest pieces of fielding seen at Lords, but he repeated it later on in the day to run out Parks in a similar manner. England were bowled out with a lead of only 58, and were left struggling to prevent defeat with their score at 7 for 145 when the game ended. These two pieces of magic are now considered the turning point in the series. While the First Test had ended in a draw, the English players became very wary of any ball hit in the vicinity of Bland for the remaining Tests. The South Africa players were also lifted by this exhibition, and they approached the rest of the series with renewed confidence. Colin’s personal confidence with the bat was also high, having top scored with a fluent 70 in South Africa’s second dig.
South Africa won the Second Test at Trent Bridge by 94 runs. Colin only scored 1 and 10 on a difficult pitch that neither team could pass 300. This left South Africa in the position to win the three match series against England, if they could either draw or win the final Test at the Oval on 26th, 27th, 28th, 30th and 31st of August 1965. English captain Mike Smith won the toss and chose to field on another difficult pitch. South Africa made 208, with Colin scoring 39 and ‘Tiger’ Lance 69. England failed to match this, making only 202. The pitch had started to flatten out, and South Africa tried to bat England out of the game. Colin made his third test century, scoring 127 in 276 minutes with 16 boundaries. South Africa finished with 392, and England were nearly 100 short of victory when the game finished in a draw. South Africa had their only test series win over England after World War II, and Colin was considered one of the stars of the team with both bat and in the field.
Colin was tired after his efforts against England, and after beginning the year in reasonable form, made the decision to stand down from the Rhodesian side during the 1965/66 home season in order to prepare himself fully for the upcoming tour by the Australians in 1966/67. He returned to the team for the following season, and was an automatic selection for South Africa.
Sadly though for Colin, the First Test against Australia at the New Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg on 23rd, 24th, 26th, 27th and 28th of December 1966 was destined to be his last. South Africa batted first and made only 199, with Colin falling lbw to McKenzie for a duck. Australia responded with 325, before the might of the South African batting made 620. Colin’s final test innings was 32, being dismissed to the part-time leg spin of Ian Chappell. South Africa dismissed Australia for only 261 to win by 233 runs, but tragically Colin crashed into the boundary fence chasing a ball and badly damaged his left knee. He was forced out of the remainder of the series, and despite making a comeback for Rhodesia, he never again regained his previous mobility and he officially retired from Test cricket.
Ironically, many South African fans believe his best batting performance actually came after his retirement, when Colin scored 197 in a match for Rhodesia against Border at the Jan Smuts Ground, East London on the 30th of December 1967 and the 1st, 2nd of January 1968. On a very sub-standard pitch, Colin’s quickfire innings setup his side for a victory when all other batsmen were struggling with their timing on a very slow surface. The knee injury meant that Colin could no longer prowl the covers, but he showed his all-round fielding ability by becoming an excellent slips fielder.
Colin’s fielding genius is still well remembered, with his captains often using him as an offensive weapon. His captains would often set the mid-off deeper than normal, encouraging the batsmen to try and sneak a single. Colin would be alert and cut across from his position in the covers and throw down the stumps at the bowlers’ end. Colin’s expertise in the field is still well recognized today, and in 2004 he was hired by the M.C.C. Cricket School to provide fielding coaching to the best young cricketers in England.
From 1961/62 until 1966/67, Colin played in 21 test matches. He scored 1669 runs at an average of 49.08, with 3 centuries, 9 fifties and a highest score of 144 not out. He also took two wickets at an average of 62.50. His best bowling figures were 2 for 16. He took 10 catches in his test career, but the number of run-outs he was involved in is not recorded.
First Class Games
In his 133 first class games, Colin scored 7249 runs at an average of 37.95, with 13 centuries and a top score of 197. He also took 43 wickets at an average of 35.27, with a best bowling of 4 for 40. Colin took 51 catches.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Australian cricket has a history going back almost to the start of the colony. The earliest recorded match occurred on the 8th of January 1803, when a game of cricket was played between officers and crew of the MHS Calcutta on a field that is now
Tom Horan was a cricketer of not inconsiderable skill himself; indeed he was a member of the Australian team that were victorious in the first ever test in March 1877. Horan also toured
“Cradle Days of Australian Cricket” is a fascinating wander through the past of our great game, and provides a wonderful insight into the development of cricket within
Monday, October 29, 2007
A question struck me the other day while watching the news; why are sport stars condemned for using illegal non-performance enhancing drugs, but musicians and artists celebrated for it?
The news had a novelty piece basically lauding Ozzy Osbourne for his many years of drug abuse that has addled his brain so badly he doesn’t know who he is anymore. The next article was a savage attack upon a sportsman who had the temerity to be caught with illicit drugs. The two newsreaders severely criticized the sportsman, primarily because they felt he was such an important role model to so many young people. It was a fantastic example of double standards, but I’m not sure why it is this way in our society.
Why is there such an amazing level of hypocrisy here? Why are some musicians almost worshipped for their abuse of illegal drugs and alcohol, but sportsmen are somehow expected to maintain a perfect existence? Bon Scott has achieved legend status in many parts of the music world, having died of alcohol and drug poisoning. The whole “Sex, Drugs and Rock’n’Roll” lifestyle is often glamorized by the media, and successfully played up to by rock stars. At the same time, sportsmen are sacked from their jobs for often quite minor offenses, and the media crucify them. Why do we, as a society, seem to accept these differing standards?
Cricket Australia is in the process of finalizing its drug testing protocols in relation to non-performance enhancing illicit drugs. It will be interesting to see what the final version looks like. I fully accept and support the necessity to test for performance enhancing drug use. There is no doubt that public figures should not be seen to be promoting illegal activities, but I fail to understand why sportsmen are subject to testing for non-performance enhancing drugs. If we are going to test certain sections of the community for illicit drug use, then random testing should be considered similarly appropriate for our journalists, politicians, judges, police, teachers, musicians and so on.
I must conclude by admitting that I have never taken illicit drugs myself, and have never had any desire to do so. But to pick one section of society such as sportsmen and apply different standards to them strikes me as immensely hypocritical.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
At the 2003 World Cup in South Africa, Shoaib Akhtar bowled the fastest recorded ball in the history of cricket. The sixth and final ball of his second over was bowled at Nick Knight, and was recorded at 161.3km/h or 100.2mph. This remains the fastest ball ever recorded, and would seem to give Shoaib some claim as the fastest bowler of all time. However, speed testing of fast bowlers is a very recent development, and many other players over history would also be able to make a reasonable case to be considered amongst the fastest bowlers of all time. Any list of fast bowlers will undoubtedly be extensive, and open to intense debate. Names such as Charles Kortright and Tibby Cotter who were both pre WWI, Jack Gregory, Harold Larwood and Learie Constantine who played between the wars, and then the multitude of quickies since then including Frank Tyson, Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith, Jeff Thompson and Michael Holding are often brought up. One of the more interesting characters included in this elite pace company is a relatively unknown West Indian called Roy Gilchrist, a player whose test career was over by age 24 and his place in cricket history clouded by both on and off-field indiscretions.
Roy was born on the 28th of June 1934 in Seaforth, Saint Thomas in Jamaica. He was the child of farm labourers, and grew up on a sugar plantation. The Great Depression had cast its cloud across much of the world, and had caused sugar prices to slump. Roy’s early childhood in Jamaica was characterised by widespread social discontent as the result of significant unemployment, pitiful wages, high prices, and appalling living conditions. It is clear that Roy undoubtedly grew into adulthood with a limited education and significant hardship. Michael Manley, a trade union leader and Jamaican Prime Minister, described Roy as being “burdened by those tensions which so often run like scars across the landscape of the personalities of people who come from poverty.” These factors undoubtedly were highly influential in Roy’s psychological journey into adulthood. Even as he started to make a name for himself as an exceptionally fast bowler, rumours of conflict with other players and team-mates started to surface.
Roy didn’t fit the prototype physique of fast bowlers, being quite short at about five foot eight inches tall and not being incredibly strong. He did, however, possess unusually long arms and his action made good use of this asset. Roy ran into the wicket at high speed, before unwinding with a high arm action. Roy’s natural pace and bounce saw him selected as a teenager to play for Serge Island in the sugar estates competition. His bowling was very erratic and wild, however, his obvious potential was clear to both opposing batsmen and the selectors.
Roy was soon picked for the Wembley Club that played in the Jamaican domestic cricket competition, the Senior Cup. His progress through the ranks then slowed, and it took him three more seasons before the selectors were prepared to pick him for the full-strength Jamaican team. Cricket in the West Indies in the 1950s was rife with racism and bias. The membership of most clubs were predominantly upper class whites, and players like Roy struggled for recognition. The captain the teams were always white, and any empathy or understanding of Roy’s situation in life was unlikely. Nonetheless, his performances were such that the Island selectors were compelled to choose Roy to make his first class debut at the age of 22.
Roy was first picked to represent Jamaica in a match at Bourda in Georgetown against the British Guiana in the Quadrangular Tournament on 11th, 12th, 13th, 15th and 16th of October 1956. His captain, Alfred Binns, gave him the new ball as British Guiana had first use of the wicket. On what would undoubtedly appear to be a flat wicket, British Guiana declared their first innings closed at 5 for 601, with four batsmen passing their century. Roy took a quite creditable 3 for 129 off nearly 40 overs. He was supported by his teammate, the great Alf Valentine, who bowled a mammoth 90.5 overs of his left arm orthodox in finishing with figures of 2 for 165. Jamaica replied with 469, and the match ended in a tame draw.
Roy’s next three matches for Jamaica were in March of 1957 against a touring Duke of Norfolk’s XI. In the first game at Sabina Park, Roy took his first five wicket bag for Jamaica, with 5 for 110 off 29.2 overs. He followed this with 1 for 53 in the Duke’s XI’s second innings. The next two matches against the Duke’s XI resulted in Roy returning the less than impressive figures of 2 for 63 and 1 for 64 in the second game, and 1 for 83 and 1 for 87 in the third. However, Roy must have shown considerable promise in this series of three matches, as he was picked to represent the West Indies on their 1957 tour of England.
Roy was still very young and inexperienced, and selection on the tour of England was clearly unexpected. At that point of West Indian history, the captain was still always a white man, in this case John Goddard. Roy was not familiar with protocol and the expectations of players representing their country, and there were again rumours of inappropriate behaviour by Roy on this tour. Roy played in three lead-up games against Northhamptonshire, Essex and the M.C.C., however, in spite of only taking one wicket in five innings, Roy was selected to make his Test debut against England in the First Test at Edgbaston on the 30th and 31st May, and the 1st, 3rd and 4th of June 1957.
Unlike previous eras, and certainly later ones, the West Indies bowling attack of 1957 was built around the joint spin attack of Ramadhin and Valentine. Roy was the sole pace bowler chosen for the Test matches, receiving medium paced support from the all-rounders Frank Worrell, Denis Atkinson and Gary Sobers. English captain Peter May won the toss in the First Test and chose to bat first. Frank Worrell bowled the first over, with Roy sharing the new ball. Roy took 2 for 74, however, the star for the West Indies was Ramadhin with 7 for 49 in England’s total of just 186. The West Indies made 474 in reply, with Roy being run out for a duck in his first test innings. England then posted a massive 4 for 583, with Peter May finishing on 285 not out. Roy bowled reasonably well in all the carnage, taking 1 for 67 off 26 overs. Atkinson, with 72 overs, and Ramadhin, with 98 overs, carried most of the load. The match ended in a draw, but not before the West Indies collapsed. Stumps on day five saw the West Indies struggling to avoid defeat at 7 for 72.
The four Test series was won by England two to nil, with victories in the Second Test at Lords by an innings and 36 runs and the Fourth Test at Headingly by an innings and 5 runs. The Third Test at Trent Bridge was drawn. Gilchrist produced some very quicks spells at times, however, his inaccuracy cost him. He took 4-115 at Lords, but 0 for 118 and 1 for 21 at Trent Bridge and 2 for 71 at Headingley. By the end of the tour, Roy had played more games for the West Indies than he had for Jamaica. Roy had shown some of his best form in the other tour matches, with a fine double of 5 for 41 and 2 for 27 against Derbyshire, and also 5 for 33 against Somerset.
The West Indies team returned home, with their next international series against the touring Pakistan side in 1958. Roy did not play another first class game after leaving England in September 1957 until the First Test against Pakistan, which started on the 17th of January 1958. While he had only taken ten wickets against England, Roy’s performances were sufficiently impressive to make him an automatic choice for the First Test. After the West Indies had scored an impressive 579, Roy bowled with impressive speed to take 4 for 32 in the rout of Pakistan for just 106. Another white man, Gerry Alexander, had taken over the captaincy of the West Indies, and he had little hesitation in enforcing the follow-on. Hanif Mohammad then produced one of the finest match saving innings of all time, scoring 337 in 970 minutes. Roy took 1 for 121, Pakistan totaled 657, and the match was drawn. The West Indies won the Second Test at Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain by 120 runs. Roy contributed strongly to the victory, taking 3 for 67 and 4 for 61. He made the early breakthrough for the home side in both innings, bowling the Pakistan opener Alimuddin twice for 9 and 0.
The Third Test at Sabina Park was also won by the West Indies, by an innings and 174 runs. Roy took 2 for 106 in Pakistan’s first innings total of 328. Pakistan probably would have been slightly disappointed that they didn’t get closer to 400, however, their disappointment quickly turned to absolute dismay as the West Indies piled on 3 declared for 790. This amazing total is largely remembered for Gary Sobers world record score of 365 not out, but few people now remember that Conrad Hunte was run out for 260 in the same innings, and was himself on track to break Len Hutton’s record score of 364. The game was effectively over when Alexander declared, and Roy took 1 for 65 in Pakistan’s second innings effort of just 288. The West Indies finished the series with another win at the Bourda Ground in Georgetown, being victorious by eight wickets. Roy took 4 for 102 and 2 for 66. The Fifth Test back at Queen’s Park Oval saw a major turnaround in form, with Pakistan winning by an innings and 1 run. Roy only bowled 7 overs in the game, and failed to take a wicket.
While Roy concluded the five Tests with 21 wickets at the fairly expensive average of 30.28, his pace had clearly unsettled many of the Pakistan batsmen, even on very dead pitches. His bowling was still erratic, and could be expensive, but there was no denying he had the sheer pace can defeat even the greatest players. Pakistan’s leading batsman, the great Hanif, admitted years later that the pace of Roy had scared him at times, saying “I live to this day the fear of a thunderbolt from Roy Gilchrist during that much celebrated visit to the West Indies in 1958.” Hanif recounted one particular delivery that just whistled past his nose, recalling “that delivery still sends shivers down my spine”.
The Fifth Test against Pakistan finished on the 31st of March, 1958, and Roy didn’t play another first class game for nearly eight months, when he was chosen for the back to back tours of India and Pakistan to being in November, 1958. Roy performed well in three leadup games to the First Test against India, but there were no real signs of what was to come. The West Indian selectors had paired Gilchrist up with another young fast bowler by the name of Wes Hall, and in this series, the two of them would become possibly the fastest bowling combinations of all-time.
The First Test at the Brabourne Stadium, Bombay on the 28th, 29th, and 30th of November, and the 2nd and 3rd of December 1958 finished in a draw. Gilchrist took 4 for 39 and 2 for 75, but his performances in this First Test are now better remembered for the emergence of a new delivery. The pitches in India were very low and slow, and Roy found them unproductive to bouncers. Roy decided, in his own manner, that the natural way to counteract this lack of bounce was not to have the ball bounce at all. The occasional ‘beamer’ happens to all bowlers, and generally is accidental. Roy’s beamers were neither occasional nor accidental. His comment was “I have searched the rule books, and there is not a word in any of them that says a fellow cannot bowl a fast full-toss at a batsman. A batsman has a bat and they should get the treatment they deserve”. India managed to draw the First Test, in spite of the beamers by Roy, largely due to a fine defensive innings of 90 by Pankaj Roy in 444 minutes.
The West Indian captain Gerry Alexander was evidently horrified by Roy’s deliberate beamers. Roy was ordered to stop bowling them, as Alexander considered them too dangerous to the batsmen’s health. Conflict between the bowler and captain, which had been simmering over the past year, started to come to a head after the game. Roy swore at Alexander, and Alexander demanded an immediate apology. Roy refused to do so, and Alexander told Roy that his tour was over and that he was to return to the West Indies. A delegation of the younger players, including Wes Hall, approached Alexander and requested that Roy be forgiven for his misdemeanor. Alexander agreed to this, however, Roy was warned that any future infractions would result in his immediate sacking. Roy was dropped from the Second Test in response to this episode, however, the reason given officially was that he had pulled a hamstring.
The West Indies won the Second Test, in spite of Roy’s absence, with Wes Hall taking eleven wickets in the match. Roy returned to the West Indies team for a match against Indian Universities, and promptly destroyed the students. He took 6 for 16 in the Universities total of just 49, and then hardly bowled in the second innings as the West Indies cruised to an innings victory. It was hard to leave him out of the team after a performance like that, and Roy returned to the West Indian team to share the new ball with Hall in the Third Test.
The Third Test at Eden Gardens in Calcutta saw the West Indies win by the small margin of an innings and 336 runs. After batting first and making 5 declared for 614, the West Indies bowled out India for 124 and 154. Roy took 3 for 18 and 6 for 55, and with Hall also taking three wickets in each innings, it was becoming clear that many of the Indian players had no wish to face either of the West Indian quick bowlers.
The Indian team had almost collapsed into chaos by the time of the Fourth Test. The captain in the previous three tests, Ghulam Ahmed, retired from all forms of cricket two days after the side had been announced. Polly Umrigar, who had been playing test cricket for a decade, was asked to take over to lead his country. Unfortunately, he had a fight with the selectors over the makeup of the team on the morning of the match, and he also quit. The great all-rounder, Vinoo Mankad, who is now better remembered for running out Bill Brown, was then chosen as captain. Roy continued to terrorise the Indian batsmen, and the West Indies won by 295 runs. He took 2 for 44 and 3 for 36, and his bowling was notable both for its pace and liberal use of bouncers and still, but less frequently, beamers.
The tension that had arisen between Alexander and Roy after the First Test had never really diminished. Clearly the divide between the Cambridge educated Alexander and Roy, who had come from poverty, was too significant. Whether it ever could have been overcome is difficult to know. The West Indies were going through substantial social reforms, and the previously defined class roles were rapidly disappearing. Roy’s complex personality needed sensitive and careful handling by his captain, and Alexander was not capable, or not willing, to do this. Regardless of his treatment by the captain, Roy was not especially popular with many of his teammates either. He was known to be a fiery and hostile bowler, but more than that, he was considered to have a malicious streak, and this was evidenced by his bowling of repeated beamers at the Indian batsmen.
The Fifth and final Test was held on a placid pitch at the Feroz Shah Kotla Ground at Delhi. The match ended in a draw, with no bowlers able to make any real impact. Roy took 3 for 90 and 3 for 63, but was outshone by the allround performance of Collie Smith, who scored a century and took 3 for 94 and 5 for 90 with his gentle offspinners. Roy finished the series with 26 wickets at 16.11 in four tests. The speed of Roy’s bowling can be best demonstrated by direct comparison with Wes Hall. Hall is largely regarded as one of the fastest bowlers of all time, however, the only Indian batsman to make a century in the series, Chandau Borde, rated Gilchrist as the faster of the pair. Gary Sobers also considered Roy Gilchrist to be the fastest bowler that he ever played with or against.
After the conclusion of the Fifth Test, the West Indies were to play one final tour match in India before departing for Pakistan. This match, irrelevant in the larger scheme of things, was to prove decisive in Roy’s international career. This last game was played at the Gandhi Sports Complex Ground in Amritsar against Northern Zone. On an under-prepared pitch, the West Indies were sent into bat, and were quickly dismissed for just 76. North Zone’s reply was even worse, making 59. Roy took 4 for 33 and Lance Gibbs 5 for 22. The West Indies faired a little better in the second innings, putting together a total of 228. The captain of North Zone, Swaranjit Singh, was a former colleague of Alexander at Cambridge, and he had evidently told Alexander that he would show the other Indian players how to deal with Roy. This news had filtered back to Roy, although who by is unknown. It was also said that Roy had a grudge against Singh following an article Singh had written about him. Clearly, fireworks were expected. Singh had been bowled by the first ball he faced in the first innings, but had made a solid start the second time around, being unbeaten on 15 just before lunch on the final day.
Roy bowled the final over before lunch, and after bowling a bouncer, tried to york Singh. Roy slightly underpitched the delivery, and Singh drove it back down the ground for four. Perhaps overconfident, or merely slightly silly, Singh said to Roy “You like that one? Beautiful wasn’t it?” The next ball, not unexpectedly for anyone who knew Roy, was a beamer straight at Singh’s head. Roy described it later as one of the fastest balls he ever bowled, and Singh was lucky not to wear it. Considerably unnerved by this, Singh edged the next ball but was dropped by Alexander. Roy followed this up with another beamer that Singh just managed to avoid. Alexander went to Roy at this point, and ordered him to stop bowling beamers. This message went unheeded, a third beamer for the over was sent down, and the two teams left the field for the lunch break.
Alexander approached Roy, and told him that he had bowled his last ball on the tour. Alexander then approached Singh, and asked him if he would have any objections to Roy being replaced. Not surprisingly, Singh was more than happy for this to occur, and Roy never walked back onto the field for the West Indies again. The tour selectors met at the end of play, and it was unanimously agreed that Roy would be sent home on the next available flight, while the rest of the team flew to Pakistan. Alexander informed Roy of this decision, which evidently was not well received. Quite what happened at the meeting remains a mystery, however, rumours of what transpired included everything from shouting through to Roy pulling a knife on Alexander.
Realising that his chances of playing again for West Indies were slim while Alexander was captain, Roy signed a contract to play professionally in England for Accrington in the Lancashire Leagues. He moved permanently to England, playing for a variety of different sides including Baccup, Middleton, Great Chell, Lowerhouse, Crompton and East Bierly over the following decades. Not surprisingly for a player of his talent, Roy dominated the Leagues, as his pace and bounce were simply beyond the capacity of most amateurs. He took an amazing 280 wickets in 1958 and 1959 for Middleton, and averaged over 100 wickets a season for nearly two decades.
Roy only ever played a handful more first class games, with a match at the Bourda Ground against Barbados in October 1961 his first at home since the Indian tour, and also his last game ever in the West Indies. On the basis of his form in England, Frank Worrell evidently requested him to be included for the 1960/61, however, the selectors refused point blank to consider it. Perhaps most interestingly, almost all of Roy’s first class cricket then took place in India. The BCCI, in an amazingly far-sighted manner, recognized that India would not become a Test power until they learn to play genuinely quick bowling. A group of fast bowlers including Roy, Chester Watson, Charlie Stayers and Lester King, spent a large part of the 1962/63 season playing for various Indian first class teams. Roy’s final first class match was for the Andhra Chief Minister's XI against the Indian Starlets in Hyderabad in March 1963. Roy took 0 for 83 and 1 for 38 in a drawn match.
Roy’s life off the cricket ground was, sadly, almost as tumultuous as that on the ground. He had married his girlfriend, Novlyn, and they had seven children together. Their marriage was a fiery one by all accounts. A very sad episode on the 2nd of June 1967 saw Roy attack Novlyn after a dispute over him attending a party. Roy had grabbed her by the throat, held her against a wall and then branded her with a nearby hot iron. Roy was, appropriately, charged with this assault, and was given three months probation. The judge commented at the sentencing that “I hate to think that English sport has sunk so far that brutes will be tolerated because they are good at games.” There were no further reported incidents of abuse, but Roy’s volatile nature meant that the marriage was undoubtedly not a quiet and peaceful affair.
Roy lived in England for twenty six years before eventually returning home to Jamaica in 1985. He had Parkinson’s Disease, which would eventually be the cause of his death at the early age of 67. Roy died at home on the 18th July 2001 at Portmore, St Catherine, Jamaica. Roy’s career is one of promise ultimately unfilled, and the question of whether a more empathetic captain such as Frank Worrell could have guided Roy to greatness will remain unknown.
From 1957 to 1959, Roy played in 13 test matches. He took fifty seven wickets at an average of 26.68. His best bowling figures were 6 for 55. Roy also scored 60 runs at an average of 5.45, with a highest score of 12. He took 4 catches in his test career.
First Class Games
In his 42 first class games, Roy took 167 wickets at an average of 26.00, with a best bowling of 6 for 16. He also scored 258 runs at an average of 7.81, with a highest score of 43 not out. He also took 10 catches.
After talking about it with the selectors, I have decided to hang the boots up again. At least, I would hang them up but I am too sore to get out of bed today.
At least the cricket is on the television today. Australia versus Sri Lanka. If the breaks had gone my way over the years, I should have been out there ......
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Unfortunately, I had possibly taken a little too long thinking about what I was going to do, because Weezel had simply grabbed the ball off Aspirin. I had also possibly slightly lost track of the game, because when I looked up, he actually was half-way in to bowl his first ball. In fairness to him, it wasn’t too shabby. It started down the leg-side and must have hit something, cause it straightened up alarmingly. Dodge just managed to get an edge on it. I had recovered quickly from the surprise of seeing Weezel coming in to bowl, but I didn’t quite managed to hold onto the nick. I was possibly in closer than I should have been, as the ball actually hit me in the guts before I got my gloves up.
After a brief spell curled up in a little ball on the ground, I showed my team-mates what true fighting spirits were, and I somehow managed to resume. The opposition had scored three runs, which at least took Dodge off strike. He had come up to me and asked if I was OK, but I knew it was fake sympathy. I told him to go away, and he just smiled that inane grin again before wandering back to his crease. Their cars had started blowing their horns wildly – it appears that Dodge had just got his hundred. Cheating ring-in.
Weezel’s next ball was a mirror image of the first one, although the batsman wasn’t good enough to edge it. Unfortunately, some dirt got in my eye and I missed it as well. It went for four byes. Bugger. Weezel charged in again. I may have, perhaps, misjudged Weezel. He could actually bowl fairly well. His third delivery started well outside the off-stump, before swinging back at right angles. It cut the batsman in half, flew over the stumps and it also went for four byes. I don’t know whether Sammy Carter himself would have stopped that one. This meant the scores were tied. I called all the fielders in – everyone needed to be on their toes to stop the single.
Weezel had obviously learnt from his previous poor efforts. He pitched the next one up, and the stumps went cart-wheeling in all directions. They were now 8 for 181 with the last batsman coming in (as they were still one player short). A big effort from everyone and we could still tie this match. The two batsman had a mid-wicket conference. If they could get Dodge on strike, they would easily win. There were two balls left – would the new batsman do the right thing by his team by simply trying to survive the remainder of the over and let Dodge win them the game in the next over, or would he try to be a hero?
The answer to that question was simple – hero all the way. Weezel pitched it up again, and the batsman swung wildly. He missed the ball, the ball missed the stumps, and I nearly missed the ball. Luckily for us, it bounced quite a long way back off my forehead. The batsman on strike had set off for the winning run with all the never-say-die qualities of a kamikaze pilot. Dodge kept his cool, damn it, and sent him back. It still should have been an easy run-out, but Jeremy and Prof. collided in their haste to pick up the ball. The ball remained untouched on the ground while Jeremy and Prof. had a laugh about it. They just don’t take the game seriously enough. The upshot was that the batsman had time to get back into his crease. That was our chance – I couldn’t help but feel we had missed the last opportunity to secure the first-up win that my great captaincy deserved.
I was feeling a little woozy after the previous delivery, but knuckled down to concentrate on this last ball. The batsman swung again, but this time managed to lay bat on ball. It went soaring straight up in the air. If we caught it, the match would be tied. The batsmen ran, so unless we caught it, we would lose. Knowing our teams ability in the field, it was clearly up to me. Keeping my eye on the ball I called ‘mine’ and sprinted towards the ball. Prof. was also in the vicinity of the ball, but I had the gloves - it was my catch and my destiny.
I don’t remember what happened after that. The boys tell me that Prof. took a great catch after I ran head first into that stupid tree at point. They said that they were quite concerned about me, as evidently I knocked myself out in the process of also knocking the tree down. They threw me into the back of Keeting's ute and, after considerately moving the pig carcasses to one side, took me to hospital. When I came to in the emergency room a few hours later (a lack of beds meant that I had been left to recover on the floor), Jeremy was quick to phone me to say that we had won. Prof. had realised that as we had lost less wickets, we were technically the winners, and he claimed the game on my behalf. A win's a win.
Yeah!!! We flipping murdered them!
Friday, October 26, 2007
After my retirement from the crease, we needed a new bowler. Weezel was making the traditional gestures indicating he wanted a go. He was whirling his arms around, doing elaborate stretching exercises, and yelling out “give me a bowl you stupid nong”. I picked the ball up carefully in my gloves, looked Weezel in the eye and threw the ball straight to ..... Cow. It was a coincidence that Cow happened to be standing there, but I wasn’t prepared to let that stand in the way of putting Weezel back in his place – last time that dickhead gives me out while I’m batting. “Have a trundle Cow” I called out. Cow looked surprised and tried to insist he wasn’t a bowler. I told him I had complete faith in his abilities, and headed back to the other end, effectively ending the conversation. In hindsight, perhaps I should have listened to him. He wasn’t a bowler. In fact, if you went through the relevant taxonomy and hierarchy he wasn’t a platter, tureener or even a gravy boater. His bowling action provided adequate symptomology for a vet to successfully diagnose Cow with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. After one disastrous over yielding 30 runs (including eight wides, three no-balls for throwing and four dead balls for deliveries that didn’t make it to the batsman), I realised I would probably have to think carefully about giving him another over.
Stanley bowled another tight over that yield both a wicket and only a few runs. More importantly, he had kept Dodge off strike. The game had now entered the final stage. They only had a few wickets in hand (they were only seven down, but they didn’t start with a full compliment of players), but likewise, they didn’t need many more runs. Aspirin, who so far had played little part in the game, then underlined why I have such good instincts for cricket. I threw him the ball and he produced a stunning maiden. The batsman simply couldn’t put bat on ball. He bowled so slowly that the batsman got himself tied up in knots and kept missing it. There was quite a delay after the first few balls while we argued whether double and triple bouncers were allowed, but when I pointed out that their captain had happily hit one for six earlier on (combined with the fact that no-one had a rule book), the over continued.
Chasing 182 for the win, they were now 7 for 170. They only needed 12 runs to win, and whilst they had heaps of overs to go, it was clear to me that this next over would decide who won and who came second.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
My first delivery from Stanley’s end was much better. No runs and very nearly a wicket. The batsman played and missed, and Prof made a late save down the leg-side to stop any byes. I don’t know why bowlers don’t get as much credit for beating the batsman down the leg-side as they do for outside the off-stump. The batsman missed it, didn’t they? Perhaps my celebration at the play-and-miss was bit over the top though – I just know that I will feel the affects of that cartwheel tomorrow. The batsman asked the umpire why it wasn’t called a wide – cheeky bugger. It pitched on the concrete, I don’t know what else he wanted.
The rest of the over was fairly uneventful – no wickets and no significant runs (three fours and a six). It was spoiled by Dodge’s antics though. The non-striker has no role to play when the bowler and batsman ‘exchange pleasantries’, and he didn’t need to become involved in our chat. Threatening to hit me with his Vampire bat was clearly way over the top, and I will be reporting him to the committee. His precise words were “If you call my playing partner a 'stupid monkey' again, my precious will suck the blood from your nose”. Once again though, Dodge had become distracted from the task at hand, and by limiting his partner to boundaries, I had cleverly kept Dodge off strike.
As it was a 40 over a side match, I unfortunately had to take myself off at this point. Each bowler is limited to a maximum of eight overs, and I had now bowled five of my overs. I decided that I would need to keep the best bowler (i.e. me) with a few overs left for the end of the innings. I had a quick chat with Prof, and I think that he agreed with my suggestion that I should take over as the wicket-keeper now that I couldn’t bowl anymore. He sort of grunted when I brought it up, so I assume that he thought the same as me – it was just common sense really as I am clearly more use to the side than he was in such a vital position. We exchanged pads and gloves (I called for my own box of course – there is nothing worse than borrowing a pre-used warm and sweaty protector from someone with questionable personal hygiene).
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Stanley opened the bowling from the other end and whilst he wasn’t up to my standards, he did a reasonable job in supporting me. At the end of the first eight overs, the opposition were five down for 90. My figures after four overs were a very unlucky none for 75, whilst Stanley had taken a pretty arsey 5 for 5. Worringly, there were a fair few byes being let through by Prof. As their only decent batsman, I had cunningly kept Dodge at my end for most of the time, and he had played a serious of lucky drives and hooks that somehow kept going to the boundary. Who knows how many they could have been if I had let him have a go at Stanley?
The match was evenly poised, with them half down for half the runs. Stanley was clearly benefiting from bowling down the hill and with the stiff breeze behind him. I had a quick chat with Prof. and said that I was thinking about making a change in the bowling. He agreed that it couldn’t hurt, so I decided to bring myself on from Stanley’s end. This switch involved bringing on a change bowler to allow this to take place. Jeremy’s dad had turned up just after the tea break, and had kindly offered to assist with umpiring. It is always good when parents take an interest in their kids, especially when they have as little talent as Jeremy clearly does. As a reward for his dad’s assistance, I threw the ball to Jeremy to have a trundle.
I quickly realised that this was a major mistake. I think I mentioned earlier that Jeremy may have imbibed a little more than was good for him during the tea break. Whilst he had sobered up a fair bit, he did look a little green as he stumbled in to bowl his first ball. I am not entirely sure what went wrong, but I think that Jeremy held onto the ball for too long. It landed about three metres in front of him, and bobbled down the pitch. The batsman, my aforementioned opposing captain Paul Keeting, launched it into space. It was probably the biggest hit since Dexy's Midnight Runners. Jeremy looked a little shaken by that, but it may just have been the effect of the alcohol. In hindsight, it probably was the beer, as he had a massive chunder next to the pitch right after delivering the ball and probably didn’t even see it disappear. Jeremy managed to finish his over without repeating either his projective vomiting or multiple bouncers. In fact, he managed to get the wicket of Keeting with his last ball, somehow caught by the guy at deep-midwicket. It was a fantastic catch – even better when you consider that he had a smoke in his left hand and therefore caught it just in his right.
The trick to our win would be to keep Dodge off strike. This would take some seriously good tactics, but I knew that I was up to it.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
The second time round, I was a bit ginger in my approach. Rather than trying anything too optimistic, I decided to simply try and put the ball on a good line and length. The ball left my hand reasonably well, pitched just outside off-stump and swung away gently. The batsman, with an agricultural heave that would have made Jesse James happy, somehow managed to slog the ball over mid-wicket. It took a while for them to get the ball back, as it sailed about 20 metres over the boundary markers (damn! I forgot to move them after we finished batting) and ran for miles. A hit like that can dampen anyone’s spirits, but I consoled myself by remembering that a fluke can happen to anyone. My second ball was an attempted yorker, a fair bit quicker and it swung away late. The batsman somehow managed to hit it at the last minute. I overheard a bit of quiet sniggering amongst my team-mates as the fielders went to retrieve the ball from approximately the same resting place as the first delivery, and as the umpire signaled a second six, I decided a change of tactics was in order.
I put a lot more effort into the third delivery. I had decided to bowl an inswinger instead, and I pitched it a little shorter. It rose beautifully, and as he heaved his bat at it, the ball swung in and hit him squarely in the box. With an almost soundless squeal, the batsman face-planted straight into the wicket, with both hands clutching his groin. We were all laughing hysterically (as you do), when we noticed a pool of blood. Turns out that the batsman had broken his nose when his face hit the concrete. This prompted fresh peals of laughter from us all. The square leg umpire helped the batsman up, and he managed to hobble off somehow holding both his groin and his nose simultaneously.
The next batsman worried me. I hadn’t noticed him in the field while we batted, and it turns out that he was a last minute ring-in during the tea break. Dressed immaculately all in white (Gray Nick. pants), a heavy duty looking BAS Vampire bat (with tape around the bottom and near the sweet spot), matching BAS pads and gloves, and an old blue/purple cap with a crossed bats logo. Either this guy could actually play, or he was a poser. The umpire called out “Good to see you again Dodge”. We’ll see if he can play or not.
It was clear that I would open the bowling, as I was easily the most experienced and skilled bowler, but I knew little about my fellow players. I gathered the team into a huddle, and asked who else bowled. They all shrugged a little, before Stanley said he would give it a burl. He said he was an expert at cutting – I chose to interpret that as leg and off-cutters and not anything related to a stanley knife. However, upon consideration, those skills may come in useful later in the innings if we need some ‘Sarfraz’ tactics to get the ball to reverse swing.
I adopted my usual strategy as captain in setting the field. “Scatter” I instructed. This sadly didn’t work as well as normal. Two players got into a fight over who was going to field at first slip, whilst three players marched down to fine leg. It took a while to sort all that out. Soon though, I stood at the end of my mark and got ready to send down the first ball. Sport psychology is rapidly becoming a significant part of all great sportsmen’s preparation. It is a very technical and highly developed process of preparing the mind of an athlete for victory, just as thoroughly as the physical body is trained. For many elite athletes like myself, superior performance comes from a careful honing of both mental and physical skills. I closed my eyes and visualized what I was trying to achieve and where the first ball would pitch. This is part of the ‘mental training’ technique that I was given by my individual sports psychologist (well, he was actually courtesy of a court ordered anger management course, but I picked some stuff that was actually useful. That anger management stuff winds me up). I could clearly see the ball in my mind, starting on the line of leg-stump before swinging across and clipping the top of off-stump. I counted to three, consciously relaxed my shoulders and opened my eyes – I was ready and set to go. It was only then that I realized we didn’t have a wicketkeeper.
After a brief delay in convincing Prof. to don the pads and gloves, I again prepared to bowl the first ball. The opposition opening batsmen were typical of fifth grade standard. The player on strike had mis-matched pads, and a pair of gloves with the old green rubber ‘spikes’ on the front. I hadn’t seen a pair of them for decades. His bat was almost black with dirt. The only vaguely willow-coloured parts were the pig-skin binding that covered half the blade. On his head was a red cap with a bull’s horn logo on the front. His stance was similar to that of an early Kepler Wessels. The umpire indicated he was ready by calling out “can we just get on with it” and I started to charge in for the first ball of their innings.
Monday, October 22, 2007
The tea break bore an uncanny resemblance to the drinks break. Tea was nowhere in sight, and instead both teams attacked the keg with great gusto. Heavy drinking is part of Australian cricket culture, but at my age, I have slowed down a little. I had a quick 5 schooners, and then decided to check my email on the laptop. Nothing new had come through, except for about 28 offers from some guy in Kenya who wants to give me $20 million. This sort of spam really bugs me – it is clearly a scam and after the fifth try I realized that it simply doesn’t work.
I also took the opportunity to check on the ‘net on how my erstwhile sponsor, the ‘Classic Bat Company’, was going. It appears that they went out of business. Their website says that they went broke “sponsoring too many crap cricketers”. Poor buggers – they should have taken more care in choosing their players. They made good stuff, but must have given their equipment away to too many English guys who didn’t deserve it.
By now, it was nearing 45 degrees in the shade. It was probably slightly cooler than that out in the field – the only shade was under a tin lean-to and it was stinking hot under there. I called my team together for a quick pep-talk prior to the game resuming. It took some severe yelling to get them away from the keg, and I think that it was only the fact that it was empty that allowed the game to resume. ‘Spotty’ seemed to have recovered from his dummy-spit during our innings, and was ready to play again. I was initially impressed with Jeremy’s dedication – he appeared to have overcome his disappointment at me giving him out and was doing some limbering up exercises. Turns out he was drunk off his nut and was just trying to stand up – thirteen year olds and free beer sometimes don’t mix too well.
We were ready – the opposition openers were ready, and once they finished arguing over who had to umpire, we could start the final stage of the battle royale. I said this, and Prof. told me that ‘royale’ meant “custard cut into shapes and used as a garnish in soups”. I told him where to go, and we trooped out.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Stanley swung the bat with great panache, and scored a quick 25 before being bowled attempting another boundary. It was just what the team needed, as our run-rate had started to drag. We had almost reached the half-way mark in our innings, and we needed to increase our scoring. Disaster struck us, however, as I nicked one just after I passed my fifty. It was a long-hop, and should have been an easy boundary, but I stuffed it up. I learnt back on my bat and nonchalantly pretended that I had missed it, but the umpire (Weezel, who I had met at training earlier in the week) still gave me out. The fact that second slip caught it probably made it a fairly easy decision, but the umpire’s chances of getting a bowl later in the day went downhill as quickly as his finger went up.
With my dismissal, both teams left the field for drinks. In my previous experience, it is usual for players from both sides to scull down energy replacement drinks or water in the designated five minute break. In fifth grade, they tapped a keg and the game stopped for around 25 minutes. As no-one else seemed to know the laws of the game, I agreed take the next stint as umpire, and I think both teams were annoyed when I finally insisted that we return to play.
I had held the team together with my 52, and unfortunately for us, the game now started to crawl. Now that I was out, our side would struggle, and I had a great deal of difficulty in maintaining my concentration whilst umpiring. A thirteen year old called Jeremy had replaced me at the crease. This was his first game, and he was so young he didn’t even have a nickname yet. He seemed a reasonable talent though, and I gave him a lot of coaching tips during his innings. Nonetheless, it was with some surprise that I heard the hooting of car horns to indicate he had reached fifty. As I congratulated him, he smiled shyly and commented that if he scored another two runs, he would pass me as top-scorer and get his name in the paper next week (the highest scorer for each team gets a quick writeup in the local rag). It was with some regret, therefore, that I had to give him out lbw the next ball. I admit that it is normal for the fielding team to actually appeal for an lbw, but this one was so plumb that I gave him out anyway. Jeremy seemed a bit upset, and claimed that he had hit it. The bowler said to me that he thought it came straight off the middle of the bat, but I said that it must have been an optical illusion. Even deep long-off, who fielded the ball, said he thought it wasn't out. How the hell could he tell from that angle? Anyway, I hope that time will give Jeremy the maturity to cope with disappointment - crying that much does nothing for the image of the game.
We ended up being bowled out in the last over for 181. Technically, we were only 7 for 181, but as we still didn’t have eleven players, we had to fold. It will be interesting to see how the opposition go in their chase.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
The new bowler sprinted in, jumped mightily in the air, and with a gigantic swing of his arm, let loose his first ball. I will admit that he was undoubtedly quicker than any of the previous bowlers, but the fact that the ball sailed over both Mailman and the keeper’s head without bouncing negated this fact a little. In fact, it was only a great save by the longstop (who caught the ball on the full outstretched in his left hand) that stopped it going for four wides. The bowler grinned sheepishly, and said that it slipped. I don’t believe in sledging, but I couldn’t help telling the bowler that it was, without doubt, the worst delivery that I had ever seen in my entire life. The grin disappeared, and the bowler stormed back to his mark. He sprinted in again, and whilst his second ball hit the ground successfully, it missed the pitch by about three metres. A really old fart (who must have been at least forty), who had been quietly sleeping in the slips up to this point in the game, just managed to get a hand on it and stop it going for more runs. The bowler looked a little despondent, so I apologized to him for my remark after his first ball, and said that I had clearly been wrong. He seemed to get really cranky for some reason when I said that his second ball was even worse than the first one.
The captain wandered over and suggested that the bowler slow down a bit. Another three wides followed, and we wondered if this over would ever finish. Then disaster struck. The bowler got one not just on the pitch, but actually on the stumps. Mailman was so surprised that he missed it and was bowled. Well, he was either surprised or just a really crap batsman. Mailman was replaced by a guy who introduced himself as ‘Cow’. I asked why he was called Cow, and he said that everyone thought he was udderly useless. Cow managed to survive the rest of the over, which finally ended with eleven wides and one wicket.
I deemed it prudent to hold the strike again for a while, and we got a good partnership going. I was nearly fifty when we had a near disaster. One of the those silly mix-ups that sometimes happen when you are running with a new partner happened. A combination of ‘yes’ ‘no’ and ‘wait’ saw both of us at the one end. Thinking only of the team, I told Cow that I was far more important to the side than he was, and gave him a push towards the far end. He valiantly made it to about mid-pitch before he was run-out. As he passed me on the way back, I commended him on his team spirit, but he didn’t seem to take it very well for some reason. I hadn’t given him that big a push really – after all, he did manage to get back on his feet before they ran him out.
Friday, October 19, 2007
He lumbered in with all the speed of a ZX81. He rocked back and with a huge shoulder action, launched the ball at approximately the same pace as Trevor Chappell bowling underarm. I had enough time to look at the specific gap I wanted, rehearse my shot and re-adjust my thigh pad before the ball got to me. As it was the first ball of the innings, I carefully nudged it towards square leg, rather than smashing it out of the park as I would have under normal circumstances. I set off for an easy single, but was passed about a quarter of the way down the pitch by Spotty, who was screaming “there’s two in that”. I somehow managed to make it back again for two, but I think I pulled both hamstrings and few muscles I didn’t even know were still muscles.
Spotty’s calling made me halt the game whilst we had a quick mid-wicket chat. I asked him as politely as I could what the hell he was doing. Spotty said that this guy was the quickest bowler in fifth grade, and be buggered if he was going to face him. I re-assured him that if this guy scared him, perhaps he should consider a different sport (like writing romantic poetry) as this guy was slower than 56k dialup connection trying to access Youtube. Maybe I shouldn’t have called him a yellow cowardly streak of pidgeon poop. For some unknown reason though, Spotty started crying and walked off the field. You just can’t win them all I guess. There were a brief pause while the next batsman got Spotty’s pads and bat, and then we were ready to resume. I introduced myself to the next batsman, whose name was Mailman (not because he always delivered, but because he was always unreliable, late or lost).
The bowler stumbled in for the second ball of the match. It was short outside off-stump, with four written all over it. Unfortunately, it must have hit a rock or something, cause it bounced more than I expected, which meant that I got a slight top-edge on my attempted cut shot and it went straight down the throat of the fly slip. It was in the air for a fair while, and the fielder circled under it uncertainly. Luckily for me (but not for him), he muffed the catch and it hit him fair between the eyes. It ran away for a boundary, so the overall result was fair enough. The other advantage to us was that they were now down to 9 fielders, as the fly slip had to be carried off. The sight of blood always makes me feel ill, but it wasn’t mine so I didn’t feel too bad.
The next few overs saw me continue to bat well, with Mailman providing good support. The other opening bowler was even less dangerous than the left handed giant. Nonetheless, as the senior player, I felt it my responsibility to protect Mailman from the new ball – the lack of fielders meant that I could steal a single off the last ball of each over quite easily. Mailman was a little presumptuous though – after the tenth over had finished he asked if he could actually face a ball himself. I explained that cricket was about partnerships, and he was providing great assistance to me and the team. We were none for 40 after these ten overs, with my score being 30. There were also ten extras, all byes, which is evidently pretty normal for this grade. There were no wides as yet, but this was about to change.
Part of batting first is the responsibility for setting up the field. As we headed out to the middle, the rest of the team were sent around the ground to setup the boundary. The ground itself is located inside the local bull-ring, and is a couple of hundred metres long and wide. Don Bradman would find it impossible to actually hit the ball to parts of the fence here, which is why we need the witches hats. This involves placing witches hats at intervals of about 10 to 15 metres. Until you run short of witches hats, which means that the last few are about 40 metres apart. From the top, I rather suspect that the boundary line bears a passing resemblance to the zig-zag railway line, but I will fix that up at the change of innings (which will also allow me to move the boundary back a few metres).
The ground itself was looking a treat. I found a few clumps of grass in the outfield, but other than that, it was fairly level dirt. There was a sandtrap on the straight hit (I think it was the remains of a longjump pit), which would stop any drives along the ground faster than the mention of 'teacher' gets the cigarettes put out behind the dunnies. One of the features of this field is a tree at deep point. Some keen students of the game (none of whom were at the match today) may like to draw similarities to the lime tree at Kent’s home ground in Canterbury. They would be wrong. This tree is skinny, and has few branches or leaves. Or any character at all. The tree is heritage listed (as it was the site where a particularly unfamous early Australian explorer spent the night one hundred and eighty odd years ago) which is why it remains uncut. Evidently, according to my new team-mates, at least one player a match does a face-plant into the tree whilst chasing a ball. Locals reckon that they can tell cricket season has started when they hear the thump of face on willow.
One of the other great joys of lower grade cricket is the fact that you umpire yourself. No umpires are provided here – your team-mates are responsible for your life or death. This naturally presents a few issues of potential bias, so I had quick chat with the two players who agreed (under threat of having to score instead) to start as the umpires. I told them that I wanted them to be as fair and impartial as possible, but that they should always remember that the batsman should get the benefit of the doubt. Which means that lbws are out of the question. I feel it is appropriate for players to walk if they nick one, but I have faith in these two and will leave it to their judgement if they think I am out.
Spotty and I agreed that I would take strike for the first ball. Well, Spotty actually insisted, saying that “I don’t want to get out first ball of the match – you’re facing”. It was hard to argue with that logic. I took my customary glance round the field, noting where there were gaps and places for easy singles. I have to admit that it was one of the strangest field settings I had ever come across – it made me wonder what their opening bowler was going to do. It is not usual to start the game with a deep mid-wicket, but they had two out there, about five metres apart. It turns out that there was an esky there. They also had a long-stop, which I thought had gone out in under-10s cricket. The opposition now had ten players, and the remaining fielders were scattered haphazardly around the rest of the ground. Fly slip is always a strange position – there is no way that guy is going to get much work today. I glanced up at the umpire and asked for my customary guard – middle and leg. He looked at me quizzickly, and said “what the hell is that?” I settled for centre instead, but I don’t know how accurate it was, as the umpire was standing off to one side when he gave it to me.
The opening bowler was a left-hander, and stood at the end of his mark. He had a fairly short run, the umpire called “Play ball” and we were ready to go.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Yeah!!! We flipping murdered them!
My first game back started with a bit of a whimper. I turned up at the ground two hours early (which is my standard practice) in order to prepare my mind for the match ahead. I sat in the middle of the wicket with my eyes closed, mentally running through my batting plan. Sadly, I was interrupted a few times by a couple of cows that were wandering past, but I think it was worth it. Any attempt to assess the pitch was quite useless – concrete doesn’t really change too much over time. There was an interesting crack just short of a good length that I took good notice of though.
With only twenty minutes to go before the start of the game, I was starting to get worried as no-one else from my team had shown up. In fact, no-one else at all had shown up. I wondered if I was at the wrong ground, but a quick phone call to the President reassured me. He did ask that I didn’t ring again though, as he was evidently umpiring at the time and the bowler got quite a shock when he answered his mobile just as the quickie entered his delivery stride. He should make a full recovery from all accounts.
At the nominated starting time of 1.00pm, a beat-up Landcruiser ute sped in, sending dust and rocks flying in all directions. The opposition had arrived. My counterpart, a kangaroo shooter with the unlikely name of Paul Keeting came over and introduced himself. He had obviously just come from work, as the ute had a couple of dead roos still hanging in the tray. I hate buggers that break every bone in your hand when you shake with them. I smiled, but mentally put him down for a couple of bouncers (or failing that, an ‘accidental’ Sreesanath or two) later in the day.
Within 30 minutes of the supposed start time, both teams were mostly there. We had seven players, and they had nine. This meant that we got to bat first, as the accepted rule in fifth grade is that the team with fewest players gets to bat in the hope that more will show up. The stumps were banged in (with the face of the bat by some moron), and we were nearly ready to get play underway.
I took the team (or what there was of it) aside for a quick tactics discussion. All fifth grade games are one-dayers, with each side receiving 40 overs. I feel that if we get our gameplan right, we could easily take out the trophy this year. However, I felt I may have got too technical, and a number of the team appeared to lose interest as I described the mathematical basis to the Duckworth-Lewis system.
I decided the batting order in the usual fifth grade manner – whoever had the gear got to go in first. I still had my “Classic Bat Company” kit from when I was sponsored by them (wonder if they are still around, must look them up on the 'net), but the rest of the team had little equipment. I ended up opening the batting with ‘Spotty’ – a teenager with an inordinate number of zits. He did, however, have his own bat and pads. Most of the team looked amazed as I put on my thighpad. Spotty didn’t use gloves, and I didn’t even ask about a box. We were ready for battle, and together we strode out.
Inspired by Australia's recent performances on the field in India, my own thoughts started turning towards a potential un-retirement from the game. I discussed it with my wife and kids, explaining that any return to cricket would involve me spending a lot of time away from them. They were very supportive, but I could tell that they had some reservations. Cricket is a harsh mistress, and for someone as dedicated to stellar performance as myself, the time needed to achieve the results I am capable of is high. Nonetheless, my family agreed that it would be good for me to spend more time away from home. In fact, they were so supportive that they suggested I start training every day for a few hours starting immediately.
So when the annual call from the selectors came through, I agreed (after much arm-twisting from the President) to make myself available again. They have been pestering me for years to make a comeback, however, they were genuinely surprised when I said yes. So surprised in fact, that I heard the chief selector say “oh hell no” in the background when the President told him the good news. But then they threw in the real bait – they want me to captain the team. I never saw myself in the captain’s role – I prefer to excel with both bat and ball and leave the grandstanding to others who like being in the limelight. But I feel that I can really add something to the team this year.
I am really excited about my prospects coming back into first grade. I know that my reflexes have slowed a little over the years, but my experience should enable me to cope with the young ‘quicks’ that are around these days. I went down the nets by myself and, after a few looseners, worked myself into a good rhythm and bowled 6 or 7 overs at reasonable pace. The first official net session is tomorrow and I am feeling good about things.
I can’t lift my arms up above my shoulders. Sneezing and coughing hurts like buggery. Rung in sick for work. Have to skip training – I must have pulled a muscle somehow.
Even worse than yesterday. Rang the president and explained that I would be right for the weekend opener still, as I wouldn’t want to let the first grade team down as they were no doubt excited about my return. After a bit of discussion, it appears that I have misunderstood what they wanted. They want me to come back to captain FIFTH grade. The team that never quite has enough players, and usually has a couple of ring-ins from the local prison farm. Hmmmm.
Actually managed to make it to the second training session of the week. I was introduced to my new team-mates in fifth grade. Well actually, I only met two – the rest are expected to show on the day. The two who turned up were called Weezel (cause he looks like Catweezel) and Asprin (cause he is a slow working dope). I have to get my glasses checked, as I was really struggling to pickup the ball whilst batting – perhaps my prescription is off. I tried to bowl a few balls, but my shoulders and back were still sore so I didn’t risk further injury. It will be interesting to see what happens this weekend – we have been drawn to play against the team who finished with the wooden spoon last year, so we should have an easy win.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Any team that has Simon O'Donnell and Dave Gilbert opening the bowling is hardly going to frighten any opposition teams. And the funniest part about this - Australia actually won the test with this lineup, but lost the series 2-1.
The other contendors for the crown would have included the 1912 team captained by Syd Gregory that lacked the Big 6 referred to in my previous post, and also the 'official' teams from the Packer years.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
The chairman of selectors was one Peter McAlister, a former player who had played 8 tests without success. He was seen by the players as a stooge of the Australian Board of Control, which was trying to gain overall control of the game. The early tours of England were conducted by the players, with the players sharing the profits (or wearing the losses) associated with the tour. The Board wanted that money, and a significant power struggle was taking place.
McAlister was not well-liked by the other players. As a reward for his loyalty, the Board had appointed him as the chairman of selectors whilst still a player. McAlister had put the other players off-side, just a smidgeon, by using his power as chairman to choose himself as the vice-captain of the 1909 touring party. He acted as a spy for the Board on the tour, and by the end, the other players simply refused to talk to him. The role of the manager was a critical one - he acted as the tour accountant. The players were concerned (and justifiably so as things turned out) that their payment would be significantly reduced if the Board gained control over the manager.
In the leadup to the selection meeting, Hill - McAlister relationship had been worsening. Both were selectors of the team (Hill having that right as the captain). McAlister had been making a series of very public criticisms of Hill as both a player and captain. It is believed that this was part of a campaign by the board to discredit Hill. Just before the meeting, McAlister sent Hill a famous telegram suggesting that he should drop himself from the team.
Once the meeting started, a slanging match between Hill and McAlister constantly interrupted proceedings. It culminated with McAlister telling Hill that he was the worst Australian captain in living memory. Hill jumped up from his chair and said "You've been asking for a punch all night, and I'll give you one." And he did.
The fight, which evidently was comfortably won by Hill, went an estimated 20 minutes. At one point, the other selectors had to intervene to prevent Hill throwing McAlister from the third storey window. The other selectors eventually managed to separate the two, and got Hill out of the room. As Hill was escorted out, McAlister yelled "Come back and fight, you coward." The Monty Python team, with several cricket fanatics in there, may well have used this line as the inspiration for one of the most famous film scenes in history. Hill returned to his hotel, the meeting continued and Hill was retained as both player and captain.
The media were informed of the events, and plastered it all over the newspapers. The public came out strongly in favour of Hill, but McAlister and the Board got their revenge. They pushed through (by weight of numbers) the right to choose the manager for the upcoming 1912 tour of England. As a result of this imposition, six leading players (Hill, Armstrong, Trumper, Cotter, Carter and Ransford) refused to tour. A forty one year old Syd Gregory was asked to step in as captain, but the weakened Australian side didn't perform well in the triangular series against England and South Africa.
How things have changed.