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April 28, 1999


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Cricket's a foony game, innit?!

Prem Panicker

Hey, are we getting a bit too grim, po-faced, for our own good?

Coming back to this site after a bit of a breather, I've been checking out the Forum section, and the articles, and there is a lot of serious debate and discussion about strategies and tactics, and about whether Sachin Tendulkar is a better batsman than Donald Bradman (speaking of which, when Arvind Lavakare, a month ago, visited our office and told us he was going to do this column, I had promised him that I would do a rejoinder. Which promise I'll keep, tomorrow, Arvind, hope you enjoy it as much as I expect I am going to enjoy writing it!)

However, to get back on track, whatever happened to the light-hearted fun that, at its very best, sport is supposed to be all about? I am not suggesting that there is no scope for interviews and analysis, no scope for the frenzied discussions fans have been indulging in, on our Forum section. But surely, there is a bit more? A lighter side to this business of cricket, that we are missing out on?

To remind you of that lighter, flip underside of the game, I'm incorporating in here some of my favourite cricketing stories, by way of getting the ball rolling. Enjoy!

What's up, doc?

We blast -- with some reason, I think -- our selectors for the more bizarre of their selection exercises. But maybe it is time to point out that we don't have a monopoly on selections sans rationale?

Check out a certain Charlie McGahey, picked for the 1901-'02 England side to tour Australia. The reason the selectors gave was that Charlie suffered from the early stages of tuberculosis, and a trip Down Under would be good for his health!

Rather difficult to find kind words for that particular selection -- but it sure does beat going to the sanitarium, doesn't it?

15 seconds of fame

The scene, Melbourne. The year, 1920-'21. A certain Mrs Park was sitting in the VIP enclosure, placidly knitting away. At one point, she fumbled and dropped her ball of wool.

She bent, picked it up, dusted it off, and looked up. And realised that she had missed the entire international career of her husband, Roy Parks!

The poor bloke, debuting in that game between England and Australia, was bowled by the only ball he ever faced in international cricket.

That should make some of India's hopefuls, who have been on tours without getting a look-in, rather happier.

Over the wicket, into gully

Jagmohan Dalmiya has been making a big thing of wanting to spread cricket around the globe, and a most laudable objective it is, too.

A story I read the other day would indicate, though, that Dalmiya has some ways to go, yet, before he quite gets there. This one comes from Italy, where I am told, the captain of the national side was injured recently -- while fielding to the bowling of one of the premier bowlers in the Italian side. Said bowler bowled a wide -- a wide so wide, it hit the bemused captain who was, at the time, fielding at gully!

The umpire must have dislocated his shoulders signalling that one -- if he hadn't bust a gut laughing, that is.

White coat, red face

Umpiring standards have come down in recent times. Or have they?

Go back in time, 19 years, to the England versus India Test, held in Bombay, to celebrate the golden jubilee of the BCCI -- a game famous for Ian Botham's rare double of a century and ten wickets in a match; and for wicket-keeper Bob Taylor's ten catches, another Test record.

What really made the spectators' day, though, was the officiating, by umpires J D Ghosh and S N Hanumantha Rao.

Rao started the ball rolling when he gave Taylor out caught behind, only for Indian skipper Gundappa Vishwanath to confirm that the batsman hadn't got a touch. Then John Lever turned one off his pads for two, got back to his crease and discovered that he had knocked a bail off. He casually picked it up, placed it back on the stumps and carried right on batting, under the benign gaze of the umpires.

The plum, though, belonged to Geoffrey Boycott. The England opener edged one, quite clearly, to Indian wicket-keeper Syed Kirmani. There was an appeal, and it was -- quite correctly -- upheld. Boycs, however, deliberately refrained from looking at the umpire, settled into his stance, and prepared to receive the next ball. The Indian fielders appealed again, rather hysterically.

The umpire gave him not out!

One over, no maiden, 77 runs, no wicket

Ravi Shastri once clouted Tilak Raj for six sixes in an over. That was in 1985. Earlier, Sir Garfield Sobers whacked six sixes off as many balls, in 1968, against the hapless Malcolm Nash. But were these two examples of big-hitting world records?

Not quite sure, but there was this incident in a Shell Trophy match in 1990, when Canterebury took on Wellington. The latter side wanted to keep Canterbury interested in going for a definite result by providing some easy runs, so along came Robert Vance to the bowling crease.

17 no balls figured in perhaps the longest over first class cricket has ever seen. The delighted recepient of Vance's munificience was a certain Lee Germon, briefly captain of the New Zealand side, who clouted 69 runs, including 8 sixes, off the stream of lollipops that came his way.

Altogether, 77 runs were scored in that one Vance over.

The story has a rather odd sequel: Canterbury were left with one run to score off the last ball of the match, to force a win. The batsman played a defensive shot, and the match was drawn.

The funniest part of the whole thing was that Vance only bowled 5 legitimate deliveries in that over -- the umpire (and who can blame him) lost count amidst that welter of no balls, and ended the over before a sixth legitimate ball was bowled.

And now it's over to Giant Bronson

Brian Johnston of the BBC ranks among my favourite commentators -- if only because he provided moments of pure comedy while describing the on-field happenings.

Like the time he shocked all listeners by saying, "Harvey is standing at leg slip with his legs apart, waiting for a tickle!"

Or the time he referred to Asif Masood, the Pakistan pace bowler, as Massif Arsood.

Or the time a huge black cloud floated over the ground, threatening further proceedings in an India-England match, and Brian Johnston -- or is that Giant Bronson? -- warbled, "There is a dirty black crowd here."

But the most hilarious of Johnston's howlers (to enjoy it to the max, get someone to read this line out to you) was when he went, "The bowler's Holding, the batsman's Willey!"

No sex please, this is cricket

There was this bunch of boys playing cricket in the street, and alongside them there was this girl, batting and bowling with the best of them.

A policeman came along, and took down the names of the culprits (this ain't India, where gully cricket is encouraged). But he refused to take the girl's name -- for why? "Girls don't play cricket," said the British bobby.

The girl in question was Rachel Heyhoe-Flint -- future captain of England, and the first captain to lift a World Cup (the women's version of the World Cup, incidentally, predates the men's version by a full two years, women having held their first WC competition in the year 1973).

Do it again, Deano!

Dean Jones, Aussie star and Rediff columnist, has this story to tell, of touring the Caribbean in the year 1983.

Wandering onto the beach one day, he saw his team-mates at fielding practise, in a rather new way -- they were standing neck deep in the sea, throwing the ball to one another. Australia has always come up with innovative methods of practise and Jones always was a fielding fanatic, so he figured on joining in.

Ever flamboyant, Deano didn't simply walk into the sea -- instead, he broke into a sprint over the sand and, when he got to the waterline, he performed a spectacular dive -- only to fall face first in sand covered by very little water.

His team-mates, anticipating that Deano would do some such stunt given some encouragement, had set him up by kneeling in the water, thus making it look like the water level was higher than it actually was, and therefore safe for diving into.

Apparently Jones ended with a very stiff neck. His concerned team-mates rushed him to hospital. And then helped his recovery along by calling out "Hey Deano" every now and again, and cracking up as they watched him turn abruptly towards the sound, to the further detriement of his already hurting neck.

Captain courageous

Tom Goddard, of Gloucestershire, once bowled -- under heat wave conditions -- 42 consequtive overs. Finally, the guy was moved to complain of his unthinking captain. "Why the hell doesn't the bloody bugger take me off?" raved Goddard.

At which point, it was gently pointed out, by amused team-mates, that skipper Basil Allen had left the field hours earlier. Allen had in fact asked a colleague to lead the side in his absence -- said colleague being Goddard himself!

Sunny who?

In 1995, a certain Sunil Manohar Gavaskar applied for a fresh telephone connection, under the sportsmen's quota.

The department of telecommunications, in Bombay, was in no mood to oblige. First, the concerned official told Gavaskar, you have to provide a certificate saying that you are an international sportsman and have played for the country!

So much for fame!

Bitter halves

You may be a hero to the world, but to your wife you are just the bum she married.

Ask the former Mrs Bhagwat Chandrasekhar. While the world raved about her husband's bowling prowess, she was least impressed. And when it came to his batting, she was even less so.

Thus, the story is told of how, once, she called the ground while a match was in progress, and asked for her husband. "Sorry," said the factotum who answered the phone, "Chandra is just walking out to bat." "Oh, in that case," trilled Mrs Chandra, "no problem, I'll wait on the line!"

Another remarkably unimpressed lady was the wife of the Rev David Sheppard, former England Test star. The reverend's catching skills were, certainly, not up there with his batting, but still, he must have gone a nice puce when, on tour to Australia once, he was approached by an English couple settled Down Under with a request: would the Reverend kindly christen their newborn child?

"Oh no," chirped Mrs Sheppard, "not him, he's bound to drop the baby!"

Run with the hounds

Indian batsmen can't run between wickets too well, huh? And the Aussies are the world's best?

Awright, check this out: In the 1950-'51 Ashes series, Australia's last wicket pair of Bill Johnston and Iverson were at the crease. Johnston edged Alec Bedser over the slips and, certain sure he had got a four, stopped halfway down the pitch for a little chat with the bowler.

Iverson, meanwhile, was running up and down for all he was worth. He ran the first, then ran the second, then started off on the third. Meanwhile, Johnston noticed -- belatedly, but what the heck -- that not only had the ball been fielded inside the boundary, but the fielder, Reg Simpson, was in the act of throwing it back to keeper Godfrey Evans.

Startled, Johnston began running back into his crease -- only to find that Iverson was running shoulder to shoulder with him, in the same direction, the whole taking on the appearance of a two-horse race. And what horses they were, too -- the gangly Johnston, famed for his inelegance, and the portly, waddling Iverson.

Realising that disaster threatened, Iverson braked suddenly, turned, and began running back to the bowler's end -- pursued by the ball, which Evans had flung in that direction. He finally made it, just ahead of the ball.

At that point, Iverson had effectively run 4, finishing up where he started from. Johnston had run a half run. And ultimately, no runs accrued to the batsman -- who, interestingly enough, was dismissed off the very next ball.

That should do to be going on with, now it's your turn. Send us your favourite cricket stories -- ranging from the poignant to the bizarre, the pathetic to the bathetic, and every shade in between. We'll publish them, so that in the midst of all the serious stuff, we can stop for a laugh or three. Use the form here to send in your contributions, folks -- and here's to laughter.

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