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Spoilers: The cricketing saga (part I)

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Roar Guru
23rd December, 2020
7

It was January 1977, and a beautiful winter morning.

It was Sunday – and with the school closed, I accompanied my dad to a small cricket ground at Mohakhali, in North Dacca.

There the Rotary Club of Gulshan was taking on the Rotary Club of Dhanmondi in a charity cricket match.

My dad, a highly devoted Rotarian, was representing the Gulshan team. He had a high reputation as a cricketer in his college days and here he was given the big task of batting at the No.3 slot for his team. As his team started the chase after lunch, he was soon at the crease.

He was short in stature, and as I watched my dad take his stance, he looked a bit like Sunil Gavaskar to me. Ready to bowl to him was Dennis Lillee – or his lookalike.

Not only did the opposition bowler had a fast, smooth run up to the wicket; his hair style was fairly similar to that of the Aussie legend.

And on this day, he was too quick for my dad. After couple of plays and misses outside the off stump, my dad was comprehensively bowled for a duck.

Later on the day, I sold the cookies we brought at a good price. And my dad was able to make a nice contribution to the charity box; but for me his ‘duck’ spoiled the whole day.

This was only a charity match; but ‘spoilers’ are common even in the highest level of the game. Often, a less well known cricketer spoils a great occasion; or spoils the big day of a superstar.

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It’s not always the players- grounds-men (Gabba, 1960) or even vandals (Headingley 1975) can cause the damage. And of course, often the umpires are the ultimate spoilers.

Here, in this two part article, I would be looking back at a few such incidences.

Eric Hollies (Eng)
In his long first class career with Warwickshire and England, lasting quarter of a century, Hollies enjoyed a reputation as a highly accurate leg spinner. His economy rate (2.24) is comparable to that of Clarrie Grimmett (2.16). But, Hollies never had the killer venom of the Kiwi born Aus legend.

Hollies sent down more than 130,000 deliveries in first class cricket. But, just one delivery made him both the hero and the villain at the same time. His well-disguised googly, bowled to Sir Don on the evening of the first day at the Oval in 1948, denied the great Aus a Test average of 100+.

One source says that Sir Don was deeply emotional on the day; and with tears in his eyes he hardly saw the two balls he faced. Of course, not everyone believes it.

The groundsman at the Gabba Dec. 1960: He is a spoiler in the sense that his negligence on the final morning of the Test cost his country a memorable comeback victory. He is a superhero in the sense that the same negligence led to the most famous result in cricket history.

Following an early morning heavy rain, the grounds-man didn’t find adequate time to properly mow the outfield grass.

Richie Benaud, the home team captain, actually noticed this. But at the start of the final day’s play, the West Indies had a lead of ‘only’ 207 with 1 wicket left. The Aussie captain was confident that his batsmen would reach the target with ease.

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Another man who was in a jovial mood on the morning was Allan Davidson, the NSW all-rounder. After bowling Wes Hall on the final morning, he had 11 wickets and a useful score of 44 with the bat in the match.

Richie Benaud

Richie Benaud. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

As the Aussies started their chase of 233, ‘Davo’ was fully convinced that his job for this match was already done.

Before the tea break, Benaud and Davison were out there in the middle facing the music of Wes Hall. The late afternoon saw a back to the wall fight-back by the Aussies.

At the beginning of the penultimate over, the two were still there as Aus looked on course for a famous victory. Davo had already got his name in the record-books as the first player to do the double in a test- 100 runs and 10 wickets.

Then the drama really started.

A misjudgment in running – brilliant fielding by a little Guyanese – Halls fast bouncer-Benaud’s failed attempt of a hook shot- dropped catch under pressure by the Windies- desperately run byes; all these led to this equation -Australia need 3 runs from 3 balls with 2 wickets in ahdn and the No.10 Ian Meckiff on strike.

Meckiff powerfully hit the sixth ball of the over towards the midwicket boundary.

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In normal circumstances, that would have been a sure boundary- but here, due to the uncut grass (thanks to the grounds-man), the ball stopped a yard short of the rope. This gave the opportunity for Conrad Hunte to pick up the ball just as Meckiff was turning for what would have been the third and the match winning run.

The rest – as they say – is history.

Probir Sen and Nirode Chowdhury (Ind): With only 16 Tests in between them during the early days of Indian Test history neither are particularly familiar names to modern day cricket lovers.

Comilla born Probir had the honor of being the first Bengali Test cricketer, when he made his Test debut at MCG on the new year’s day of 1948.

A fine wicket–keeper, especially against spin- Sen had 20 catches and 11 stumpings in his 14 Test career.

But, he always considered his stumping off Don Bradman during the tour match against South Australia in the 1947-48 tour as the biggest achievement of his life. Vinoo Mankad was the bowler.

Right arm medium pacer Nirode also regularly represented Bengal in Ranji trophy. But, he was born in Jamshedpur, now part of Jharkhand. He was a natural swing and seam bowler, but in his two Tests for India he only managed one victim, Jeffrey Stolemeyer (WI) at Chennai and ended with a bowling average of 205.00. But most people remember the Chennai Test for a different reason.

Sir Everton Weekes, the WI legend, went in to this match at the top of his batting form. He had started the series with 128 at Feroz Shah Kotla, and then added 194 at the old Brabourne Stadium at Bombay.

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On to the Eden Gardens, he did even better with centuries in both innings. Add the 141 at Sabina Park earlier in the year – when he was a very very late replacement for the legendary George Headley; he had five centuries on the trot. And no one was betting against him getting a sixth at the Chepauk in Madras.

Generic cricket ball

(Steven Paston – EMPICS/Getty Images)

After spending the whole of the first day in the dressing room, watching both the openers smashing hundreds, Weekes came to the crease early on the second morning; Nirode Chowdhury had just taken his only Test wicket.
More success for the home bowlers followed, and it seemed that India was fighting back as WI reached 4-339.

But out there in the middle, Weekes was in total control. And he looked set for yet another Test ton until disaster struck with WI on 5-472 and Weekes himself on 90.

He cut a delivery from Indian left arm spinner Vinoo Mankad and immediately set off for a run. Gerry Gomez, the non-striker rightly sent him back, but it was too late. Debutant Nirode Chowdhury, fielding in the gully region had reacted much quicker than anticipated.

He sent a fine return to the keeper Sen and Weekes was adjudged to be run out.

Weekes wasn’t happy about the decision- and to his dying days always maintained that he had comfortably made his ground. Unfortunately, no video footage is available to support his claims.

Vaughan Brown (NZ): Like Chowdhury, Christchurch born Vaughan took only 1 wicket in 2 Tests. His bowling average of 176 is only marginally better than that of Chowdhury. I should mention that Brown was no rabbit with the bat and had a first class average of almost 30.

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Just like the Chepauk test, the main drama here also came on the second day. The weather affected first day saw the home-side finish on 4-146 with the opener Kepler Wesells and WK batsman Wayne Philips starting a recovery act after Sir Richard Hadlee had ran through the Australia top order.

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But the second morning belonged to the New Zealand great. Wessels was dismissed without any further addition to the score; and when local boy Craig Mcdermott was dismissed- caught and bowled by Hadlee, history was beckoning the Kiwi legend. He had taken all the 8 wickets in the innings thus far.

At the other end, Brown the young offie was keeping things nicely quiet. But with 8 wickets already down; Geoff Lawson decided to attack the offie in a bid to start a late rally. Neither Dave Gilbert at the non-striker’s end nor Bob Holland, the No. 11 had any great reputation as batsmen.

But Lawson only managed to give a catch at the deep where Hadlee took the chance. Thus Hadlee himself played a big part in ending his own chances of a 10 wicket haul in a Test innings.

Australia were bowled out for 179 with Hadlee finishing with 9-52 and Brown with 1-17.

After failing to impress on a turning track at SCG in the next match, Brown’s Test career ended.

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