This is by way of an introduction to the intriguing chess-like sport of cricket (the game of 'the flannelled fool'), and my recollection of events during the two years I represented VI in cricket - 1971 & 1972 - which will follow in Part 2.
just another game?
“With those little pals of mine,
Ramadhin and Valentine!”
These are the most memorable lines of a lovely little ditty titled ‘Cricket, Lovely Cricket.’ Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts), a West Indian, had composed it on the day of a famous victory. Thus were immortalised two West Indian cricket bowlers, unplayable spinners Ramadhin and Valentine. On 29 June 1950 the duo spun their team to an emphatic first ever victory over England in Test Cricket, in England. The extraordinary celebrations by the Caribbean fans on that day continued to Piccadilly Circus, giving birth to the legend of the Calypso Cricketers from West Indies.
If success in cricket was to be determined merely by exotic and flamboyant names, then none could possibly best the West Indians. They had Frank Mortimer Maglinne Worrell, Clyde Leopold Walcott and Everton de Courcey Weekes who were the famous 3W’s. Then there were George Headley, Garfield St. Auburn Sobers, (CLICK HERE for his six 6's) Rohan Bholalall Kanhai, Wesley Winfield Hall, Charles Christopher Griffith, Cuthbert Gordon Greenidge, Roy Clifton Fredericks, Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards, Lawrence George Rowe, Alvin Isaac Kallicharan, Anderson Montgomery Everton Roberts, Michael Anthony Holding, Curtly Elconn Lynwall Ambrose, and more, all outstanding, brilliant cricketers. The West Indians brought with them a brand of cricket never seen before. Macho, style, panache, power and flamboyance were added to pure unadulterated passion and joy for the game. Elquemodo Tonito Willet was not quite in the same class of test cricketers as the others but deserved to be knighted just for that name!
Before this, much of cricket centered around an Australian batting genius, Sir Donald Bradman. CLICK HERE for a You Tube video on him. ‘The Don’ retired from cricket with an incredible batting average of 99.94 from a mere eighty innings. In 1948, age forty, Bradman stepped out on to the Oval pitch in London for his last Test innings. He needed to score only four runs to achieve a perfect 100 Test batting average, but was undone for a score of nought, out to a magical googly, the ‘wrong un’ bowled by an Englishmen, Eric Hollies. God knew what he was doing mate! Some years later, Bradman, a man of impeccable honesty, great stature and integrity, set the record straight. He credited Hollies with a very fine piece of bowling effort. Bradman scotched speculation that he had been temporarily blinded by his own tears from the standing ovation he had been given by the largely English crowd.
English cricketing pride was eclipsed for many a year until the emergence of the un-English batting styles of Ted Dexter, Tom Graveny, Tony Grieg and David Gower. But few could match the combative, never-say-die talismanic Ian Terence Botham. ‘Beefy Botham’ single-handedly destroyed Australia at Headingley and Edgbaston in 1981. But you should not forget lefty Eddie Paynter in that infamous body-line series in Australia in 1932/33. Paynter, hospitalised in Brisbane with high fever, was recalled and forced to bat and managed to score the winning run with a six!
From South Africa came the 1948 story of ‘Cometh the hour, Cometh the man.’ Last man Cliff Gladwin, a bowler, came in to bat when all seemed lost. Gladwin exhibited a degree of coolness and gutsiness not often seen in tail-enders. He managed to stick around to see the last of twelve runs scored as England achieved an unlikely victory.
Cricket was given a shot in the arm with the emergence of the wristy stylish batsmen and cunning bowlers from Pakistan and India. Test cricket became a truly international sport. The spin quartet of Eripalli Prasanna, Bishan Singh Bedi, Srinivasa Raghavan Venkataraghavan and Bhagwat Subramanya Chandrasekhar was legendary. But public imagination was captivated by the googly spinning genius of Chandrasekhar and his polio-withered right arm. Chandra brought a new dimension to the art of spin bowling delivered at fast-medium pace! As great a batsman as IVA Richards spoke of his fear of Chandra.
No less a wily foxy than Oz captain Ian Chappell reckoned Prasanna was the best off -spin bowler he had ever faced. Prasanna was reputed to have employed black-magic to ‘pull back’ a ball in full flight. Sunil Gavaskar was the greatest ever opening batsman in the history of cricket. His portly brother-in-law Gundappa Vishwanath’s wristy elegance and crunching square cuts were unmatched anywhere.
Pakistan brought with them the mystique of the magical Mussulman. Was there ever a group of masterclass batsmen of the calibre of the ‘Little Master’ Hanif Mohammad, Mushtaq Mohammad, the explosive Majid Khan or all rounder Asif Iqbal. But for sheer style, panache, verve, grace, artistry and elegance there was Zaheer Abbas, the ‘Asian Don Bradman.’ Then there was the spin wizardry of the goateed Abdul Qadir who looked every inch a magician. He did pull bunnies - googlies, sliders, leg spin, drifters - out of the back of his hand.
But our story really begins with the 2W’s from Pakistan, Waqar Younis and Waseem Akram. Neither had the pace of legends Dennis Lillee or Michael Holding. Yet they were the main protagonists in defeating England 2-1 in the 1992 test series. There are only four priorities for Indians and Pakistanis when playing a cricket test match against England. First and second were to make at least one appearance at the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) grounds at Lords in St. John’s Woods, London, considered the home of cricket and score a hundred there. Third, to snatch five wickets in an innings. And fourth, to defeat England in a test series in England.
Surprisingly the 2W’s were not congratulated for their fine efforts by the normally sporting English. Instead, they were greeted with such hostility and acrimony as they could never have imagined.
The 2 W’s had perfected a new style of bowling which few had encountered before - the fine art of ‘Reverse Swing’ bowling. Before them, the demon pace bowler Imran Khan had experimented with it, but success was sporadic. The bowler would first dampen one side of a fairly well-used cricket ball with sweat from his forehead. The other side of the ball would be polished smooth by rubbing it vigorously on cricket pants. These two actions are perfectly legal in cricket. When speared in with a well-disguised bowling action, the well-primed ball would move alarmingly towards the batsmen and stumps after pitching. Even the very best Test batsmen found it difficult to cope with Reverse Swing bowling. Many of the best in cricket could not bowl it!
The entire English establishment, players, officials and the Press then decided the Pakistanis had done something that was ‘not quite cricket.’ This was only just so short of calling the Pakistanis cheats to their face. And many did openly call them that. Waseem Akram, a genuine all-rounder with over four hundreds Test wickets to his credit was of course the greater of the 2W’s. But Waqar Younis was the genius at reverse swing.
For many years prior to this, Australian and English teams would return from defeats in India and Pakistan claiming that sub-continent umpires, as a matter of culture, cheated. I watched an English test umpire give the last man out in a crucial Pakistan vs England test match circa 1983. The bat had been nowhere near the ball. Although the faux pas was noted in the national dailies no one accused the English umpire of cheating!
The frightening success of the 2W’s was often met with cocked eyebrows, winking of eyes and shaking of heads by the English establishment.
The 2005-2006 Ashes series between Australia and England produced some of the most scintillating, pulsating and competitive test cricket in the history of the game. It had everything you could ask for in sports. I had watched what was compulsive viewing on Astro pay-TV channel from Kuala Lumpur.
On paper, man for man, Australia should have white-washed England 5-0 in the series. This they only managed later in the return series in Australia in 2006. Of sportsmanship, Michael Vaughan, Freddy Flintoff, Ashley Giles, Simon Jones and Matthew Hoggard from England were outstanding. They were a great credit to the game. The Aussies looked shocked and bitter in defeat. In bowling Damien Martyn, Ashley Giles bowled the ball of the series which had swung left-right-left as though possessed by spirits. This was the left-hander’s equivalent of Shane Warne’s ‘Gatting Ball' for which there is no known defence! CLICK HERE for the 'Gatting Ball of the Century' and HERE for the 'Giles Ball.'
As expected, the Australians steam-rolled the English in the first match. The series was actually won and lost during the second test match. Three factors emerged as the main reasons England then went on to win the series 2-1.
First, Australian captain Ricky Ponting won the toss and made the unpardonable and biggest mistake of his career by asking England to bat. Second, Michael Vaughan’s captaincy then and throughout the series was outstanding. His field placing, change of bowlers and over-all game strategy made Ponting look amateurish and clueless. Ponting retired from all forms of cricket in 2013, and is one of the greatest run accumulators in the history of the game. The 2005-2006 Ashes series would have been a defining moment in his career.
But it was the third factor that made all the difference. Suddenly the English fast bowlers, mainly Simon Jones, but Hoggard and Flintoff too, started to produce a bit of Abracadabra, magic. The cricket ball began to Reverse Swing! The Australians were unable to cope with this mumbo-jumbo voodoo trickery for the rest of the series and capitulated like a pack of cards.
Did we hear of English bowlers illegally unpicking the seam of the ball or the establishment accuse their fellow countrymen of cheating? Nary a word. Overnight, the ‘Art of Pakistani 2W’s Cheating’ metamorphosed into a very respectable and honoured skill, an English science!
An encore to this strange story of ‘Reverse Swing’ bowling was enacted in England later in 2006 when they played Pakistan in a test series. Shockingly, the fourth test match at the Oval in London was for the first time in the history of the game, awarded by default to England. The Pakistan team had refused to take the field after being docked five runs for alleged ‘ball tampering’ by a ‘neutral’ umpire from Australian, Darrel Hair. He made it look as though the Pakistanis were once again up to their old didgeridoo tricks of laying the grounds for "cheating" with Reverse Swing bowling.
Hair was also involved in another controversy some years earlier. He had faulted Sri Lankan Muralitharan for an illegal bowling action. Embarrassingly for Hair, the international governing board of cricket had just before that match given Murali the all clear. Whether intended or not, this enabled Shane Warne, an Australian, to take the lead in the league of most wickets taken by a test bowler in his career.
An inquiry was held by the world’s cricket governing board. The Pakistan captain was fined for failing to take the field. But it was that other finding that one should appreciate, for the conspicuous deafening silence that followed it. Independent Match Referee Ranjan Madugalle concluded that the condition of the ball was as could be expected of one that had been used for the duration of that game. The Pakistanis were absolutely exonerated of any and all charges of ball tampering or cheating!
So, what then prompted umpire Darrel Hair to call as he did? None of the distinguished panel of live match commentators had picked up any untoward behaviour by the Pakistan players. Frame by frame replay of events recorded by several cameras dotted around the stadium revealed nothing illegal taking place. Hair’s conduct after the event when it turned internationally acrimonious became questionable. He wrote in offering to tender his resignation for compensation of US$ 500,000 and then withdrew that letter.
If you think cricket is just a sport, then think again. Think back to the 1932/33 ‘Bodyline Series.’ England captain Douglas Jardine was possessed of a ruthless streak, a no-holds-barred ambition to win. The English were accused of bowling beamers and bouncers with the deliberate intention of causing serious injury to the Australian batsmen. Jardine was ordered to rein in his ‘quickies’ like Harold Larwood who had targeted Don Bradman’s head.
Australia threatened to pull out of the Commonwealth!