Sunday, September 30, 2007

Requests for Player Profiles

I have a fair few more player profiles that I will drop on here over the coming weeks. However, if there are any specific profiles you would like, feel free to make a request.

Player Profile - Martin Donnelly

The First and Second World Wars affected the careers of many great players from the cricketing powers of Australia and England. Individuals such as Don Bradman and Walter Hammond missed out on the opportunity to play many more test matches during their peak performing years, however they were still lucky enough to live in a country that played test cricket regularly before and after these interruptions. Players from countries such as the West Indies had even fewer chances to play internationally, being penalized further due to the lack of tests that their country played at that time. Possibly the best player who was most affected by this unfortunate combination of the intervention of the war and birthplace was a New Zealander, Martin Donnelly, whose test career consisted of only seven test matches over a period of twelve years.

Martin Paterson Donnelly was born to Louis and Jane on the 17th of October, 1917 in Ngaruawahia, in the province of Waikato. He had a twin brother, Maurice, who unfortunately died in 1918 from influenza. Martin’s father Louis was a keen farmer, and when Martin was young, the family moved from Ngaruawahia to a Taranaki dairy. Louis encouraged all of his children to play sport, especially in his own loves of rugby and cricket. Martin went to the local Eltham Primary School, where he immediately impressed the teachers with his skills at cricket and tennis. Former Lancastrian player George Percy acted as his main coach in these early years, and provided a grounding was to prove invaluable. Martin was a natural left-hander, playing all sports in this manner. He very soon was showing the genius that separates the truly gifted from the merely very talented, and it is of great credit to his coaches that they didn’t try to limit his natural style.

Martin moved to New Plymouth Boys High School in 1930. Throughout his school years, Martin continued to shine in all ball sports. He was selected in the school first XI for five straight years, captaining the side in 1935 and 1936. He was also excelling in tennis, and led the school’s First XV Rugby team in 1936. The deciding factor for Martin’s sporting career occurred when he was selected as a schoolboy for a Country XI against Wellington. He scored forty eight, an innings that was noticed by a number of influential selectors. This occurred at an ideal time, gaining him a place in the Taranaki team to play against the touring 1935/36 MCC side. In the first innings, Martin fell to a wrong-un from Jim Sims, a delivery that he had never seen before. English player Joe Hardstaff took Martin aside at the end of the day and showed him how the ball was bowled. Martin showed an immediate appreciation for this assistance, top scoring in the Taranaki second innings with 49. This performance convinced Martin that he had the ability to perform against any opposition, and he was now committed to his cricketing career.

Wellington gave him a chance to make his first class debut in the New Zealand provincial Plunket Shield against Auckland at Eden Park in the game starting on the 5th of February, 1937. He was immediately identified as a precious talent, being selected to tour England with the New Zealand time in May of that year, solely on the basis of this one first class game. New Zealand were not blessed with a number of great batsmen in the thirties, and the selectors of the time deserve credit for the early identification of his abilities. It thus transpired that in Martin’s second first class game he represented New Zealand. He was still only a nineteen year old in this game against Surrey at Kennington Oval in London.

Martin’s form in the eight first class games prior to the start of the test series ensured his selection to make his debut at Lords in the First Test. He had the most unfortunately possible start to his international career, falling LBW to the English opening batsman J.H. Parkes for a duck, batting at no. 6 in the order. He did better in the second innings when he batted at no. 10, scoring 21 before falling to a catch by wicket-keeper Les Ames off the left handed paceman Bill Voce. He had however done enough to ensure that New Zealand would manage to draw the game, his wicket falling on the final ball of the game. In the Second Test at Old Trafford, Martin again struggled in the first innings, falling LBW to Wellard for 4, before finishing 37 not out in the New Zealand second innings collapse of 134 all out. The Third Test at Kennington Oval saw Martin’s first ever test fifty, top scoring with 58 in New Zealand’s first innings of 249. He fell for his second duck of the series in the second innings, however the game finished in a draw. Martin finished the tour of England with the very healthy first class figures of 1414 runs at an average of 37.21. The English commentators were very impressed with the young man, praising him as the hope for the New Zealand team over the next decade. Ironically, this series of three tests for the teenage Martin was to be his last for another twelve years.

New Zealand only played five test series during the 1930’s. They contested four series against England in 1929/30, 1931, 1932/33 and in 1937, and a one-off series against South Africa in 1931/32. This paucity of test matches meant that Martin was not expecting too many games, however the breakout of the Second World War meant that all international cricket was postponed. In the four domestic seasons in New Zealand from 1937/38 to 1940/41, Martin played only eleven first class games as he had started studying at Canterbury University, where he was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree. Playing for Canterbury in the Plunket Shield in 1940/41, Martin was officially recognized as the best batsman of the season. He was now twenty three years old and averaged 75.50, however this was to be his last first class game in New Zealand for over two decades. The Second World War saw Martin join the army in 1941 as a private, and he reached the rank of major by the time the war ended in 1945. His military service included being a Squadron Commander in the historic tank charge into the port of Trieste.

Martin recommenced his first class career in 1945, playing for the Dominions against England at Lords in a game starting on the 1st of September. Martin had travelled to England with the New Zealand Services XI, playing games all across the country from small towns to a match at Lords. In spite of the fact that he had not picked up a bat for almost four years, apart from a few pick-up games in Cairo, he was quickly back into form. Along with other New Zealand test players such as Stewie Dempster, Martin was picked to play in the combined Dominions team with individuals of ilk of Australian Forces players Keith Miller and Lindsay Hassett. He scored a hundred in his return to first class cricket, finishing with 133. One of his opponents, Wally Hammond, described the innings as the best seen that summer. Martin himself later rated it as one of his five best knocks.

Martin was discharged from the armed forces in October 1945, however he chose to stay on in England, being accepted into Winchester College at Oxford to read history. Martin was now twenty eight years old, and in the peak of his batting form. He won his Blue for Oxford in his first year, dominating the university’s batting. Over his years at Oxford, he scored nine first class centuries and also captained the team to five successive victories. One of the highlights of his initial season in 1946 was 116 not out against the touring Indian team. Martin’s efforts for Oxford in 1947 resulted in his selection for the Gentlemen in their annual game against the Players at Lords. He responded to this new challenge by scoring 162 not out, and then followed it with 113 for the South of England against the North of England. Martin was also picked to play for the MCC against the touring South African side. Wisden recognized his achievements by naming him as one of their five cricketers of the year.

During this time, Martin had also shown his continuing versatility at other sports, gaining his blue for Oxford in Rugby. This led to him becoming a dual international, being selected to play in the centres for England against Ireland in the test in Dublin in 1947. Players who represented their country at two different sports was more common in the past, however being selected at two different sports for two different countries is a remarkable achievement. He retired from competitive rugby following this test however, preferring instead to concentrate upon his cricket. In 1948, Martin played for Warwickshire in the County Championship, and finished the season with selection for the MCC in a match against Yorkshire. He again showed his abilities at the highest level, scoring 208 not out. During 1948 he also played twice against Bradman’s all conquering Australian side, for the Gentlemen of England and for the HDG Leveson-Gower XI.

As a consequence of his studies, Martin had not been available for New Zealand in their inaugural test match against Australia in 1946 and also in their home tests against England in 1946/47. He was however an automatic selection for the New Zealand team when they toured England in 1949. Martin underlined his value to the team by playing in twenty nine of the thirty two first class games on the tour. The tour was a great success for New Zealand, in which they won thirteen games and only lost one. All four of the test matches were drawn, however they were only three day games, rather than the more traditional five. Martin made his return to test cricket in the first game at Headingley on the 11th of June, 1949, almost twelve years after his last match. He held the team together after they slumped to 4 for 80, scoring 64 before being caught off Trevor Bailey. This was his only innings in the match that ended with New Zealand at 2 for 195 chasing 299.

The Second Test was Martin’s great triumph. At Martin’s favourite ground of Lords, he scored New Zealand’s first ever test double century. His 206 included 26 fours and took three hundred and fifty five minutes. The next best score in the innings was only 57 by Bert Sutcliffe, however Martin’s efforts took New Zealand to a first innings lead of one hundred and seventy one. Time ran out for New Zealand however, limiting any chance they had to push for a victory. This was the trend for the final two games, which also petered out with neither side really in the position to win. Martin finished the series with 462 runs at an average of 77.00. Noted English writer R.C. Robertson-Glasgow summed up Martin’s influence over the test series with the following statement “in the tests between England and New Zealand this summer one man above all others stood between England and victory; Martin Paterson Donnelly.”

New Zealand were not scheduled to play another test until 1951, and this 1949 series was sadly to be the end of Martin’s test career. He was now almost thirty two years old, and common to many non-professional cricketers, he could not commit to the amount of time away from paid employment that international cricket required. It was almost the end of his first class career as well, as he only played another five games. Martin had committed to a business career back in New Zealand, and his retirement from cricket was almost complete. Four of these matches were for Warwickshire in 1950 prior to his return home, however his final first class game was eleven years later in 1961, when he was brought back due to public pleading at the age of forty three for the New Zealand Governor-General’s XI against the touring MCC side. He did not play any games of note between 1950 and 1961, apart from a few benefit matches in the mid 1950’s.

Martin’s career at test level was very limited, due to a combination of the Second World War and New Zealand’s restricted schedule. Whilst he averaged 52.90 in test cricket, the high esteem that his teammates, opponents and commentators held him in underlined his greatness. Neville Cardus once stated that Martin was the finest left-handed foreign batsman to play in England since the Second World War, putting him in front of other greats such as Neil Harvey and Arthur Morris, who were both recently named in the Australian team of the century. Cardus also lamented the fact that Martin was not available to play for England in 1948, as he felt that he may have significantly bolstered the team struggling against Bradman’s side. Martin was inducted into the New Zealand Sporting Hall of Fame and also named as one of New Zealand’s eight cricket legends along with others like Richard Hadlee, Bert Sutcliffe and Martin Crowe. Martin died on the 22nd of October, 1999 in Sydney Australia, five days after his eight second birthday.

Career Statistics

Test Matches

Martin played in 7 test matches from 1937 to 1949. He batted 12 times, scoring 582 runs at an average of 52.90. His highest score was 206 against England at Lords in 1949.

First Class Games

In his 131 first class games, Martin scored a total of 9250 runs at an average of 47.43. This included 23 centuries with a highest score of 208 not out for the MCC against Yorkshire. Martin also took 43 wickets at an average of 39.13, with a best bowling performance of 4 for 32.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Player Profile - George Headley

It is always a great starting point for an argument to propose your view on who is the greatest batsman ever. Whilst Bradman would appear to have a clear right to this title, other people will put forward convincing counterclaims for players like Sachin Tendulkar, Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond or Graeme Pollock. To narrow it down to the best batsman from a specific country would appear easier, but that is still immensely difficult. If the question was targeted to the West Indies, any number of great cricketers come to mind. Viv Richards has been the recipient of any number of awards, as have other players like Brian Lara, Rohan Khanai, Gary Sobers, Clyde Walcott and Everton Weekes. However, the first ever truly great West Indian batsman was George Headley, and his career provides compelling evidence in considering him one of the top five batsman of all time, not just of those players from the West Indies.

George was born on the 30th of May, 1909 in Panama to a Barbadian mother and a Jamaican father who was working on the Panama Canal. The first ten years of George's life were spent in Cuba, playing baseball rather than cricket. He also participated in other sports such as athletics and swimming, however his love of ball sports was apparent even then. In 1919 the family moved back to his father's homeland of Jamaica, where George was introduced to cricket. The common game that schoolboys played was called 'catch and bowl'. This version of cricket, played all over the world, involves a simplified rule structure whereby the person who fields the ball bowls next, and if a bowler gets a wicket, he takes over batting. George had remarkable concentration, and it was not uncommon for him to bat for very long periods. On one occasion, George started batting on early on Monday, however when he still had not been dismissed by Friday, the rest of the boys terminated the game.

Even though he had only started playing cricket at age ten, George rapidly overtook the other boys of his age. He played for the local St Catherine's Cricket Club and his performances impressive enough that by the age of nineteen, he was selected to make his debut for Jamaica against an English touring team in 1928. This side, led by Lord Tennyson, was not the true test lineup, however it featured many current and former test players. George immediately showed his ability, scoring a total of 409 runs in five innings at the impressive average of 81.8. The highlight was a magnificent double century, finishing with 211. The England team and Tennyson in particular were very impressed with George's technique.

Following George's imposing first class debut, his family made the decision, common to many people from the West Indies, to move from their homeland to the United States. The USA was the preference of people who lived on the western islands within the Caribbean, whereas the residents of the eastern parts would look towards England as a destination. The emigration, and with it the finish of George's cricketing career, was to take place in 1929, however his passport was delayed due to a bureaucratic oversight. This allowed George to play for Jamaica against the 1929/30 touring English team, a happy situation that resulted in him scoring yet another century. This century was enough to result in his selection to make his debut for the West Indies team, and the move was not again considered for George. Even at this early age, his capacity to watch the ball closely and his ability to play the ball later were very evident.

George's test debut at age twenty was against an England side in the infamous 1930 series, so described as another England team was also playing official test matches against New Zealand. Quite how the governing bodies of cricket could countenance this situation would appear beyond understanding, but nonetheless it was accepted then. Irrespective of this, George made his debut in the first test against England, played in Bridgestone, Barbados from the 11th of January. George's first test innings was cut short for only 21, being bowled by the English allrounder O'Connor. The West Indies trailed England by ninety eight runs, however George guided his team through to a draw by scoring 176 before being caught by O'Connor off Wilfred Rhodes. George had twin failures in the second test at Port of Spain with scores of 8 and 39, however redemption followed quickly in the next game. The West Indies won their first ever test match at Bourda by 289 runs, largely on the back of George's twin centuries of 114 and 112. George continued his excellent form in the next game with his first test double century, scoring 223 on his home ground in Kingston, Jamaica.

George was now only twenty, however he was quickly establishing himself as the best batsman in the West Indies. He finished this series against England by scoring 703 runs at an average of 87.87. The West Indies set off for their first overseas tour of Australia in 1930/31. Australia won the series four games to one, with the single West Indies victory coming courtesy of catching Australia on a sticky wicket following a downpour. The significant problem that the team faced was the lack of quality batting, with George quickly becoming the mainstay of the side. He had a great deal of difficulty early in the series, with his predominantly off-side play struggling greatly with leg-spinner Clarrie Grimmett. His scores in the first two tests were 0 and 11 in Adelaide, and 14 and 2 in Sydney. One of the underlying signs of George's brilliance is the fact that was able to change his technique following these difficulties. George responded to the challenge of Grimmett by scoring 102 not out and 28 in Brisbane in the third test, as well as another century in Sydney. His average in the five tests was 37.33, totaling 336 runs in the series. Whilst this would appear on face value to be only a moderate return, it was a valuable learning experience and again underlined the fact he was the best batsman in the side.

The West Indies did not play another test series until they toured England in 1933. 'Mass George' as he become known to his fans, did still play first class games for Jamaica, and also had a second encounter in 1931/32 with a non-test England side led again by Lord Tennyson. This was even more profitable than his first experience with Tennyson's side, with George scoring a remarkable sequence of 344 not out, 155 not out, 140 and 84 in his four innings for 723 runs at the quite reasonable average of 361.50. Tennyson commented that he had never seen "such perfection of timing nor variety of shots". George managed to maintain his excellent form on the 1933 tour of England, without perhaps ever quite reaching those phenomenal heights. In the three test series, George scored 277 runs at an average of 55.40, with a highest score of 169 not out. On the tour, he scored 2320 first class runs, more than double the next best player. George's efforts were recognized by Wisden, being named one of their cricketers of the year.

The return tour of the West Indies by England in 1934/35 was another triumph for George. He scored 485 runs at an average of 97.00 with his highest test score of 270 not out coming in the fourth test at Kingston, Jamaica. Interestingly, his innings of 44 in the first test at Bridgestone, Barbados was considered to be one of his best ever, coming out of a team total of 102. The pitch was well below the desired standard, with English great Wally Hammond describing his own score of 43 as being the most difficult innings he ever played. George's input was vital throughout the four matches, and was central to the West Indies recording their first ever series win. Of the ten test centuries scored by the West Indies since George's debut, he had scored seven of them, and he personally accounted for one third of the total runs scored by the side over this period.

George was by now in his mid-twenties, however he was forced to wait another four years until the West Indies played further test matches. Currently, players could expect to play between twenty and thirty tests over a four year period, however George missed out on these most productive years of his career. He took up a series of very profitably contracts with sides in the English Lancashire Leagues, and continued for Jamaica. Sadly, his career was even further limited by the Second World War. The West Indies played the final series prior to the outbreak of the war in England in 1939. Despite the break of four years, George managed to maintain his place as the best batsman in the team. He scored 334 runs in the three tests at an average of 66.80. George scored twin centuries for the second time in his test career in the first test at Lords, with 106 and 107. He was the first person to ever accomplish this feat at the home of cricket. George's other three scores were 51 and 5 at Manchester, and 65 in his only innings in the third test at the Oval.

By the time hostilities ceased George was thirty nine years old, with his best batting years lost to a combination of lack of opportunity and the war. Frank Worrell is quite correctly seen as the first regular 'non-white' captain of the West Indies team, however it has often been overlooked that George was the first 'black'person to actually lead the side. This occurred in their first test match after the Second World War against England in 1948. George only played in this first test at Bridgetown, scoring 29 and 7 not out, with injury ruling him out from the remainder of the series. This injury resulted in him batting at the unfamiliar position of no. 11 in the second innings, the only time in his test career that he experienced this indignity. Unfortunately, this injury and his age meant that George never again had the chance to captain the test side.

George only played in two more test matches. One of these was against India in 1948, when he scored 2 in his only knock. His ongoing struggle with injury forced George to quit playing test cricket at this time, however he continued on in the West Indian domestic competition for Jamaica. There was a great deal of public support for his return to international game, and George was recalled at the age of forty five to play against England in 1954 at his hometown of Kingston, Jamaica. By this stage however, he was well past his prime and his scores of 16 and 1 underlined this. This was a sad finish to his career, and in hindsight, his playing was probably a mistake of judgement both by the selectors and George.

Celebrated West Indian author, C.L.R. James considered George to be the second greatest batsman of all time, only just behind Don Bradman. English scribe Neville Cardus went one step further, stating that he had good claims to be considered the best batsman on all wickets, an inference that Bradman was by far his inferior on poor or rain affected tracks. George's statistics would support these claims, with his test average still in the top five players of all time, his first class average of 69.86 is only behind Bradman and Vijay Merchant, whilst his record of a test century every four innings is second only to Bradman. George never had the support from his teammates that Bradman did, with players of the calibre of Ponsford, Woodfull, McCabe, Morris, Brown, Hassett and Harvey available to assist Bradman compile his scores. Australians, perhaps patronizingly, referred to George as the 'Black Bradman'. This was delightfully combated by the West Indians referring to Bradman as the 'White Headley'.

For many years, George provided financially for his family by playing cricket professionally in England, primarily in the Lancashire leagues. When the war broke out, George's cricketing contracts finished and he worked in a variety of jobs included a stint as an insurance salesman and with the Jamaican Department of Labour. He fathered eight children including Ron, who went on to play for Jamaica and two test matches for the West Indies. Interesting, Ron's son Dean also played test cricket, but for England following Ron's relocation to that country. George died on the 30th of November, 1983 at Meadowbridge in Kingston, Jamaica.

Career Statistics

Test Matches

George played in 22 test matches, scoring a total of 2190 runs at an average of 60.83. He hit 10 centuries, with a highest score of 270 not out, and also took 14 catches.

First Class Games

In his 103 first class games, George scored 9921 runs at an average of 69.86, with 33 centuries and a highest score of 344 not out. He took 76 catches and also managed 51 wickets at an average of 36.11 with his occasional spin bowling.


Hi all,

Welcome to my new blog on cricket. It is devoted to players and games from the great past of our game, with an emphasis on legends that may have been forgotten or overlooked in current times. I will also review cricket books, DVDs and other associated paraphernalia.