It is an undeniable fact that a Bradman, a Trueman, a Richards or a Tendulkar representing their countries very successfully at the highest level of the sport, is a sufficient condition to mark them for greatness.
But is it a necessary condition for evoking greatness that you have had to have played internationally for your country?
For there are many factors that prevented some of the most remarkable cricketers we have seen from performing before a global audience. – Apartheid for one. Unfortunate circumstances for another. Inexplicable selection decisions for a third.
This article looks at a few such wonderful cricketers, but I concentrate here on bowlers and look at some remarkable spells of bowling they put in. Under normal circumstances, these spells should, at the very least, have got them a call up for the national team, but sadly, that was not to be.
Charles Kortright (England) – Essex v Surrey, Leyton, 1893
Charles Jesse Kortright would have fit right into the modern game as a quintessential fast bowler – aggressive, fond of a good eyeballing and a good sledge, with a Jeff Thomson-like run up, and an intense dislike for any batsman who dared to confront him and his bowling.
Educated at Brentwood and Tonbridge, Kortright played from Essex from 1889 to 1907, taking 489 wickets at an average of 21.05.
He had a private income and played cricket as an amateur, being in the happy situation that he didn’t need to work for a living. But, most unusually for the time, he trained extremely hard and bowled fast off a long run up. By all contemporary accounts, he was the fastest bowler of his time.
Some of Kortright’s run-ins with the most famous batsmen of his day are a part of cricketing lore. One with WG Grace in particular merits re-telling.
It is an Essex versus Gloucestershire match in 1898, with WG Grace and Gloucestershire requiring 148 for victory on what contemporary accounts describe as a “filthy pitch”.
WG Grace is playing the fiery young bowler well, when there is a LBW appeal with Grace caught plumb in front. WG looks at the umpire who remains unmoved.
There is a snick the next ball and he is caught behind. The umpire gets another look from WG, and remains unmoved.
Kortright doesn’t utter a word and goes back to his bowling mark. The third ball is a veritable bullet that hits the middle stump and two of the stumps go cartwheeling.
With an impassive face, Kortright goes up to WG Grace who is walking back, and says, “Surely, you’re not moving, Doctor? There’s still one stump standing.” WG Grace claimed that he had never been so insulted!
There are other interesting episodes Kortright was involved in.
In county cricket, he caused fear in the batsman’s mind. Once when he was playing for the Army side, he was annoyed to see an officer facing him with a raised left toe, and told the batsman that he allowed no one but WG Grace to cock his toe at him. When the army officer remained unmoved, Kortright bowled yorker after yorker at him, until he broke the toe with a direct hit.
He also remains perhaps the only player in the history of the game to have bowled six byes (if the rules of the game had permitted it, which sadly it didn’t, restricting it to a 4) with a bouncer at a club game at Wallingford, which rose straight from the wicket and went to the boundary on the full.
But Kortright’s finest bowling spell or rather spells (for he bowled unchanged in both innings of the match), came in an Essex versus Surrey match in 1893.
Essex win the toss and decide to bat first. Things don’t quite go to plan, and with only two batsmen getting into double figures, Essex are bowled out for a paltry 62 in only 29 overs.
Surrey spot the opportunity to take a good lead, and go out to bat with confidence with their three top batsmen being a part of the England Test team. Charles Kortright, however, is a young man who is not easily impressed.
He is involved in nine of the 10 dismissals that afternoon, catching England player and Surrey Captain Henry Wood off the bowling of Walter Mead. From the other end he bowls a stunning 13 over spell in which he gets eight wickets for 29 runs, clean bowling seven of his hapless victims.
Essex then score 170 in their second innings before their stunned opponents recover their poise. Kortright then bowls another spell of 16 overs alongside Mead, and they take five wickets each to bundle out the hapless Surrey for 76.
In two stunning spells of brutally effective fast bowling, Charles Kortright takes 13 wickets for 64 runs inside two days of cricket.
The Cricket Archives show two cold facts about the match – “Essex won by 102 runs, and the match was scheduled for three days but completed in two.” A fitting epitaph indeed.
It’s with good reason that John Arlott included Charles Kortright in his Best XI never to play Test Cricket for England, and Wisden described him in his obituary, as “probably the fastest bowler in the history of the game”.
Padmakar Shivalkar (India) – Bombay v Tamil Nadu, Madras, 1973
To be born and play cricket at the same time, and have exactly the same bowling style as one of the greatest spinners in the world is a quirk of fate that few can fight.
Padmakar (Paddy) Shivalkar, was an exceptional left arm spinner, but alas, he was not an exception to what fate had in store. He was born in the same age as a certain Bishan Singh Bedi, and he spent his whole career in the wily spinner’s shadow, unable to get a break into the Indian Test side despite a phenomenal first class career.
In a story as different financially from Kortright’s as is possible, Paddy became a cricketer by chance when he was a young man and desperate to find a job to make ends meet.
The tale goes that he had gone along with a friend to his cricket nets session, and until then had never held a cricket ball in his hand, all his cricket so far being played with a tennis ball. He bowled two balls, hitting the net on either side.
Then his friend shouted at him to bowl on the stumps, and that’s what he did for the third ball and hit the stumps with what he would learn later was left arm orthodox spin. A man who had been observing him, walked up to him and asked, “do you want a job”?
That man was the great Indian cricketer, Vinoo Mankad.
Mankad, a very accomplished left arm spinner himself, got him a job, so he could continue playing cricket, but with one word of caution – “Don’t copy me. If you copy me, you will be finished.”
Paddy developed his own style, and over the next 20 years, became the best spinner who never played for India.
In his years playing for Bombay, Paddy on numerous occasions bowled his side to victory, virtually by himself. But the occasion that made the deepest impression on all those lucky to watch the match, was the final of the Ranji Trophy played at Madras (now Chennai), in 1973.
Tamil Nadu prepare (or rather do not prepare) a pitch that is a rank turner from the first morning. Bombay boast of a batting line up that is more than half the Indian Test team, with Sunil Gavaskar, Ajit Wadekar, Ashok Mankad (the son of the man who gave Paddy his first break), Dilip Sardesai, Sudhir Nayak and Eknath Sholkar turning out for the prestigious Ranji Trophy final.
Tamil Nadu’s plan is simple. They have in their ranks, India’s second best off spinner, S. Venkataraghavan, and VV Kumar, one of the best leg spinners in India at the time, so they intend to spin Bombay out of the Ranji Trophy.
Bombay know exactly what Tamil Nadu’s plans are, but with the stalwarts of the Indian team at their disposal, and Paddy and Solkar in the team, they are quietly confident of their chances.
Bombay bat most of the first day, but not with noticeable success. The pitch, as advertised, takes spin, Venkat and Kumar do their job. Venkat’s deliveries in particular, rear up like bouncers with one even flying over the wicketkeeper’s head, and Bombay are bowled out for 151.
Bombay take two wickets quickly, but Tamil Nadu play out until close of stumps without further damage at 62 for 2.
The next day is unusually a rest day, Paddy tells his partner Solkar, that he is going to take a chance when play restarts and flight the ball more than he did the previous night.
When Paddy comes in to bowl on the second day of play, the first ball turns and bounces sharply.
With Tamil Nadu only two wickets down, the No. 11 batsman, VV Kumar turns to Kalayanasundaram, the No. 10 and says, “Change into whites. Both of us will be batting within an hour.” And they were.
Paddy hits the perfect length and line and runs through the Tamil Nadu batting line up. While Solkar picks up Venkat’s wicket, Paddy at the other end, continuing his spell from the previous night, takes 7 wickets to add to his overnight wicket, and Tamil Nadu are bowled out within the hour adding 18 to their score for the loss of the other eight wickets.
In an inspired spell of bowling, Padmakar Shivalkar has taken eight wickets for 16 runs to give his team a crucial 71 run lead.
Bombay bat for the second time in two days and struggle to score 113 with the medium pacer Kalyansundaram running through the tail with a hat trick while Venkat takes three
Tamil Nadu need to score 205 to win, but Paddy puts on another magnificent spell of bowling to take five wickets for 18 runs and Solkar takes 5 for 23 to dismiss their opponents for 61 and leave Bombay victorious by 123 runs.
Paddy Shivalkar has put on the performance of his life to bowl two unchanged spells taking 13 wickets for 34 runs.
With 589 wickets from 124 first class matches and an average of 19.69, there has never been a bigger travesty of justice in Indian cricket than the omission of Padmakar Shivalkar.
The standard argument always was that with Bishan Bedi in the side, there was no place for Paddy. But as former India captain Ajit Wadekar said, “”Had I been the chairman of selectors, on most occasions I would have convinced the captain to play both in the team depending on the nature of the pitch. If Prasanna and Venkat could be in the team, why not Bedi and Paddy?”
Why not indeed? Alas that was not to be.
Vince van der Bijl (South Africa) – Natal v Western Province, Pietermaritzburg, 1972
The years of South Africa’s sporting isolation because of Apartheid, and Vintcent Adriaan Pieter van der Bijl’s entire cricketing career were, unfortunately for both, completely simultaneous. And as a result, one of the best fast medium bowlers in the world at the time, never got to play Test Cricket.
At 6 feet 7 ½ inches tall, this awesomely accurate bowler with deceptive pace and bounce, and stamina that was out of proportion with his size, was made for fast bowling.
Very unusually for a fast bowler, however, he didn’t have an aggressive streak at all between deliveries, or off the field. There has seldom been a fast bowler like this gentle giant who could be apologetic after bouncing, and good-humoured after being hammered, and deliver an unplayable ball right after to dismiss the batsman with a smile.
At his peak in the 1970s he held numerous records for Natal – the most wickets for Natal, the most wickets in a South African season, most wickets by any South African bowler, and most wickets in domestic One Day competitions. Some would say, he was also the world’s leading fast medium bowler of his age.
He played just one year internationally when he partnered Wayne Daniel with the new ball for Middlesex, taking 85 wickets at an average of 14.72, and became one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year for 1981.
Few cricketers, if any, have made such an impact in their only season of English County Cricket.
But the match which remains etched in the memory of every cricket fan who followed South African cricket in those dark years, is the Currie Cup Final played between natal and Western Province at Pietermaritzburg in January 1972.
With the supremely talented Barry Richards at the top of the order, Natal fancy their chances. But the India-born fast bowler Robin Jackman (who would later go on to play for England) and Rhodesia-born Peter Swart are clearly not overawed by their opposition. They put on an inspired performance and bowl Natal out for 76 in all of 28 overs with Robin Jackman taking a hat-trick.
Western Province are naturally full of confidence when their opening pair of Budge and Rookledge come out to bat with the plan to put up a big score.
But they haven’t reckoned with a certain 6 feet 7 ½ inches tall gentle giant called Vince van der Bijl.
In a sublime spell of fast bowling, van der Bijl runs through the Western Province batting line up like a knife through butter. And before they know it, the team is all out for 121 and Vince has taken eight wickets for 35 runs in a deadly spell of 22 overs.
Natal then come back to bat, and this time there is no denying Barry Richards. He scores a brilliant 73 and is involved in a 122 run opening stand with Arthur Short, before Jackman and Swart again get into the act. But it is a trifle late this time, and with a couple of other batsmen scoring 30’s, Natal reaches a respectable 263, taking a lead of 218 runs.
219 is a gettable score and Western Province are quietly confident this time around, that if they can negotiate van der Bijl, victory can be theirs.
Vince however is in no mood to give up the match he has worked so hard to dominate. He comes up with another magical spell, taking five wickets for 18 runs from 14 overs, helping to bundle Western Province out for 60.
Natal win the Currie Cup Final by a huge 158 runs, after being bundled out for 76 in their first innings. Vince van der Bijl has played a pivotal role with the best bowling performance of his career. Two deadly spells gets him 13 wickets for 53 runs.
The Proteas (or the Springboks as they were known then) have been back playing international cricket for over two decades now, but Vince van der Bijl is still the leading wicket-taker in the Currie Cup with 572 wickets. Second on the list is the more famous, and almost as unfortunate fast bowler, Garth Le Roux with 365 wickets.
It’s a remarkable factoid that among all Post World War I bowlers who didn’t play Test Cricket, and took more than 200 wickets, Vince van der Bijl has the most wickets, and the best bowling average in the world in First Class Cricket.
Vince van der Bijl – a massive talent that the world didn’t get to see.
Franklyn Stephenson (West Indies) – South Africa v West Indies XI, Durban, 1983
Franklyn DaCosta Stephenson from Barbados could have been anything he wanted, with
– A successful First Class cricket career in each of the four continents where he played.
– One of only two cricketers (along with Richard Hadlee) to achieve the all-rounder’s double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets in one season in the English County Championships.
– Wisden’s Cricketer of the Year in 1989.
– One of only two golfers to ever get a Birdie at the Extreme 19th in South Africa, the highest (400 metres) and longest (361 metres) Par 3 golf hole in the world, located at the Legend Golf andamp; Safari Resort in Entabeni.
But instead, he ended up being the best all-rounder that West Indies never had.
He was one of the most ebullient middle order batsmen whose stroke making could rival any of the great all-rounders playing during his time. But for the purposes of this piece, we concentrate on his phenomenal bowling abilities.
Stephenson ran in with an easy action that looked almost clumsy, without any of the Malcolm Marshall or Michael Holding finesse, bowled from wide of the crease, and generated fiery pace (bowling at around 90mph) and bounce.
But at a time when T20 cricket was still a couple of decades away, his most potent weapon was the quintessential T20 weapon – the slower ball. And no one before, and no one since, has developed a slower ball quite like Franklyn Stephenson’s.
Stephenson found a way to change his seam-up grip to an off-cutter one, halfway through his delivery stride, without slowing down his run up or arm action. The ball was then delivered with a high loop, and as the batsman ducked thinking it was a beamer (this was often the case), the ball arrived as slowly as a spinner would have delivered. It then, spun, and usually crashed into the stumps.
Remarkably, a full quarter of all Stephenson’s 1240 first class and List A wickets were taken with this delivery.
The dismissal of Derbyshire’s Allan Warner in 1988, firmly put Stephenson’s slower ball in the realm of legends. Warner ducked very low to what he thought was a beamer. The ball went agonisingly slowly over his head, dipped, spun and took out his stumps.
John Hardle of Essex in 1989 fared no better, ducking into what he thought was a fierce bouncer which eventually landed 18 inches outside his off stump, spun and took out the off, while Hardle still had his eyes on the ground.
Stephenson could not initially make it into the Barbados side, let alone the West Indies. With Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Ezra Moseley and Collis King to get by with, Barbados had no need for Franklyn Stephenson.
So he made his First Class debut for Tasmania in 1981-82 at the MCG against Victoria. And what a debut that was to be.
Tasmania score 215 with Stephenson contributing a modest 26. Victoria reply with 191 with a 46 from Graham Yallop, Stephenson making an immediate impact by picking up four wickets for 27 runs from his 18 overs.
Tasmania reply with an even more modest 155, Woolley top scoring with 37, and Max “Tangles” Walker bowls well but with no success. Victoria are set an easy 180 runs to win at home.
When Victoria come in to bat, however, they are faced with young Franklyn Stephenson in top form. He bowls Graham Yallop for three to send Victoria reeling at 2 for 11. And then he proceeds to clean them up with some magnificent fast bowling, interspersed with his soon to be trademark loopy slower ball. By the time Victoria are bowled out at home for an ignominious 83 runs, Stephenson has taken six wickets for 19 runs from his 15 over spell.
Franklyn Stephenson has announced his arrival on the big stage.
Stephenson was to go on to play Gloucestershire, Nottinghamshire, Sussex, Orange Free State in South Africa, and briefly for Barbados in a long career spanning 15 years. But it was his decision to join a West Indies XI tour of apartheid stained South Africa in 1983/84 that was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, consigning him to the back pages of cricket history books.
Stephenson was only 23 years old when he took the fateful decision to join that tour with several other players who already had the best years of their careers behind them – Collis King, Sylvester Clarke, Lawrence Rowe, Brendan Julien, David Murray and Alvin Kallicharran to name a few.
Ironically, his best bowling performance ever was to come on that tour.
The West Indies XI are playing South Africa at Durban in a 50-Over match, on a warm February day in 1983.
Even with the formidable batting line up, and a 60 from Collis King, the Windies can only score 155 and are bowled out in 36.5 overs. Stephenson remains not out while Vince van der Bijl runs through the tail.
South Africa’s formidable batting attack expects to overhaul this score quite easily with the stalwarts in their ranks.
West Indies, however, have other ideas.
Sylvester Clarke and Brendan Julien (bowling in the last List A match of his career) make the early breakthroughs with some hostile fast bowling, and South Africa are three down for 8 when Graeme Pollock gets out.
And things get a whole lot worse as Stephenson comes in to bowl.
With the surface already generating pace and bounce, Stephenson’s extra weapon of the looping slower ball, is just too much to handle for the Springboks.
Stephenson starts by bagging Ken McEwan. He then bowls opener Steve Cook with his trademark delivery for 29.
He runs through the whole line up in a remarkable 6.5 over spell picking up six wickets for 9 runs. Franklyn Stephenson has once again shown the world what he is capable of.
Alas, this tour, despite the performance, was to cost him dearly. Stephenson had thrown away his international career at the age of 23.
Officially, he never expressed regret for his decision.
In an interview to The Advertiser, he said, “People were breaking into houses to steal tickets for our matches and I felt we started the change of thinking (in South Africa) that we (black sportsmen) were a lower form of animal. I still feel officials should apologise for banning us and I don’t believe West Indies cricket has ever recovered from it. They have been crap ever since.”
In another interview to CNN Stephenson later said: “I knew the tour was more important than being just cricket. I believe that cricket can make a difference, and I’m going to be a part of that team.”
Yet another brave man, fighting for what was right, consigned to the footnotes of history.
These men, and many others like them across the major cricketing nations, did everything within their power to showcase their immense talent before the wider world. They put in some superlative performances throughout their careers. And yet the world doesn’t talk about their exploits.
This does not mean they failed.
Perhaps it’s appropriate to say, that the system, and we, the cricket lovers of this world, failed them.
This article is a tribute to those Few Good Men.