Celebrating the ‘Bearded Ones’ in Test cricket

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South African cricket captain Graeme Smith, left, shares a laugh with teammate Dale Steyn, right, as teammate Hashim Amla looks on after they won the first cricket test match against India in Nagpur, India, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

Rain interrupting cricket is annoying, but has its advantages. During the one-dayer between Australia and the West Indies at the SCG on Friday, I had interesting chats with the ABC radio team.

“I have an idea for a book for you, Kersi,” said Jim Maxwell, tongue-in-cheek. “Why don’t you write a book on tattooed Test cricketers.”

“It will be the shortest book ever written as I can think of only Michael Clarke,” I wisecracked.

“What about bearded ones?” I counter-queried. “We had Pakistan captain Mohammad Yousuf here till last week. And South Africa’s Hashim Amla, who was Man of the Match in the Nagpur Test a few days ago with a double century. He can match Yousuf inch by inch in beard length.”

As a rule media men from different news papers and radio stations do not agree on anything, but all acknowledged England’s legendary batsman Dr. WG Grace as the patron saint of bearded cricketers and the pioneer of a rare breed.

And the breed is getting rarer. Forget the 19th and the early 20th centuries, and you can count bearded cricketers on one finger.

How many other bearded ones can you name? Two Pakistanis leaped to my mind, classy opener Saeed Anwar and Saqlain Mushtaq, the inventor of ‘doosra’. They kept flowing beards later in their career.

But who else would figure in the Flowing Bearded Club among Test cricketers? Remember, the catchwords are flowing and heavily bearded.

The likes of Greg Chappell, Viv Richards, Allan Border, Ian Botham, Dennis Lillee, Vic Marks, Peter Willie, Malcolm Marshall, Mike Gatting who kept smallish beards off and on do not qualify. Nor does Bishan Bedi.

They may be bearded, but not in the WG, Amla, Yousuf master class.

I had to go through many old books and magazines to spot the enormously bearded Test cricketers, but I agree the research is scratchy, like some of the unkempt beards!

WG Grace will captain and open the innings of the Bearded Ones. Australia’s first ever captain Dave Gregory was richly bearded and will be the vice-captain.

Saeed Anwar will open with WG, followed by Amla and Yousuf. Australia’s Jack Blackham will keep wickets. Harry Boyle of Australia will open the bowling, Saqlain Mushtaq will be the off-spinner and another Aussie, William Henry Cooper, will be the leg-break and googly specialist. WG also bowled round-arm spinners.

So, here is my Bearded team – warts and all – in batting order: WG Grace, Saeed Anwar, Hashim Amla, Mohammad Yousuf, Dave Gregory, Jack Blackham (WK), Saqlain Mushtaq, William Cooper and Harry Boyle.

That is only nine flowing bearded ones spanning three centuries, from 1877 till now. We still need two more.

Despite his name, clean-shaven Graeme Beard (3 Tests for Australia in 1980s) does not qualify.

But I’ll allow the late Bill Frindall, the eminent cricket statistician nicknamed “Bearded”, to do the scoring.

I am sure I have missed out quite a few. Will Roarers (rookies, gurus, columnists from red or blue corner and commenters) please help me out?

Kersi is an author of 13 cricket books including The Waugh Twins, Cricket's Great All-rounders,Six Appeal and Nervous Nineties. He writes regularly for Inside Cricket and other publications. He has recently finished his new book on Cricket's Conflicts and Controversies, with a foreword by Greg Chappell.
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