When the batsman’s off the pitch, maybe it’s worth having a crack at the stumps?
As the paralympics get underway in Rio this week, I thought it’s an appropriate time to look at some great cricketers that overcame some potentially debilitating physical conditions to inscribe their names in the annals of cricketing history.
From the famous 364 against Australia at The Oval in 1938 to Commando training during WW2, a young Len Hutton had taken it all in his stride. Unfortunately, that training was to go very wrong for him, as a gym accident left him with a badly reset broken left arm, that became 1 ½ inches shorter than the right, permanently.
A lesser man would have rued his luck and moved on with his life. Len Hutton was made of sterner stuff than that.
He came back from the war more determined than ever, adjusted his stance and style of play, and went on to score 14 more Test centuries, including three doubles. Hutton captained England between 1952 and 1955 leading the team to an Ashes victory in 1953 and another in 1954-55.
With a Test average of 56.67 from 79 Tests with 19 centuries, Len Hutton remains one of the best batsmen the world has ever seen.
Mansur Ali Khan ‘Tiger’ Pataudi
Tiger Pataudi was a schoolboy batting prodigy at Winchester (where he beat Douglas Jardine’s record for most number of runs scored in a season), played for Sussex at the age of 16, and became the first Indian to captain Oxford University.
Playing for Oxford in 1960 against the mighty Yorkshire, he flayed the county attack led by Fred Trueman, to the extent they didn’t know where to bowl. The next year, he was involved in a car accident, where he lost his right eye.
Like Hutton, where others would have given up, he adjusted his stance to make it squarer, pulled his cap over his right eye, and six months later made his debut for India against England in Dec 1961.
In March 1962 Pataudi became India’s youngest captain at the age of 21. He played 46 Tests for India between 1961 and 1975, captaining 41 of them, scoring 2793 runs with an average of 35 and six centuries. He led India to her first overseas Test victory in 1968 against New Zealand.
Eiulf ‘Buster’ Nupen
Avid quizzers will have faced the question about the One-Eyed Norwegian cricketer at least once in their lifetimes. Buster Nupen from South Africa (of Norwegian descent) was this unusual man who lost sight in one eye at the age of 4, but became a very effective medium pacer. He was a master at bowling on the matting wickets used in South Africa, and had an impressive record taking 184 wickets in 28 Currie Cup matches for Transvaal at less than 13 on average.
In 1930-31 he took 11 wickets in the first Test and nine in the fourth against England, but didn’t play in the rest. He just could not adjust to bowling on Turf wickets and slowly faded from the international scene, while continuing to bowl successfully on matted wickets domestically.
Bert ‘Dainty’ Ironmonger
Nicknamed ‘Dainty’ because he wasn’t, Dainty Ironmonger lost the top of his left forefinger in a farm accident. But he turned this misfortune into his strength. He learnt to use the stump of this finger to give appreciable spin to the ball, and became a match winning slow left arm spinner.
He made his debut at the age of 46 against England in 1928 and played 14 Tests for Australia. In 1931-32, at the age of 50, he took an incredible 11 for 24 against South Africa at Melbourne to dismiss them for 36 and 45 on a wicket that helped spin.
Bhagwat ‘Chandra’ Chandrasekhar
Chandra was a much loved character who suffered from polio as a child. It left his right arm withered. This contributed to a very unwieldy, unbalanced action when he bowled, with this thin, whippy right arm.
He was a superb bouncy leg break bowler with a killer top-spinner and an excellent googly. There was only one problem. Most of the time the batsman had absolutely no idea what he would bowl, and as he famously admitted, in many instances, neither did he!
Chandra could be expensive for this reason. But he was also the most likely, among India’s famed quartet of spinners, to be the one who produced something unplayable. His 6/38 against England at The Oval in 1971 which paved the way for India’s first series win on English soil, was a classic example of his effectiveness. He was also instrumental in India’s first victory in Australia in 1978, when he took 12/104 in Melbourne.
A not so well known fact about the phenomenal Wasim Akram (who I had the privilege of crowning the greatest fast bowler of all time in another article on The Roar recently), was that he suffered from diabetes, which for a top tier athlete, can be a career-ending disease, given the high levels of energy needed to perform at that level.
Akram was diagnosed with diabetes in 1997 when he was 29. He was devastated, but decided to fight the disease, change his lifestyle and food habits, and continue playing at the highest level. Akram played on until 2003. By the time he hung up his boots, the ‘Sultan of Swing’ had played 104 matches and taken 414 Test wickets.
These men are shining examples of how one can overcome, ignore, and even use to one’s advantage, as in the case of Chandra and Dainty, one’s physical misfortune, and rise to the pinnacle of one’s calling in life.
And there are thousands of Huttons, Tigers, and Chandras in show in Rio this month, across sporting disciplines.
As we honour and celebrate all these brave men and women, I recall one of the most incredible moments of the London 2012 Paralympic Game. A Paralympic Gold medal-winning sprinter with no arms is asked how he overcame his misfortune of losing his arms in an accident as a teenager.
His response – “To succeed, all I need to remember is that I have one disability, but hundreds of abilities.”