Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Forgotten Legends 11

Cricket is a game that often resembles Life in that you have many justifiably get lavished with praise, while others who are worthy of the same limelight are often overlooked. This is so exemplified when a best of Team is chosen with it guaranteed to have comments about who has been left out rather than who is included.

The recently named Cricinfo and ICC best ever Team exemplify this, and though you cannot dispute the merits of the players named. You can certainly come up with a Team of players that could aptly be named as 'The Forgotten Legends 11' in honour of them being constantly overlooked or sincerely under appreciated

Mahadevan Sathasivam ( Sri Lanka )

This Sri Lankan master batsman had everyone wide eyed watching his play and duly jaw dropped at his sublime mastery. He not only had all in raptures due to his skill, but the style that he oozed while displaying this mastery had everyone wax lyrically about him.

'His walk to the middle, with his cap at a rakish angle, had style. The nonchalant way he took guard and his stance had style. His every movement had feline grace.'

'Satha had the eye of a hawk the wrists of a fencer the feet of a dancer. All combined to make a Satha innings a taste of bubbly champagne. '

Truckloads of that 'it factor' that makes up the shiniest of stars, but do not let his sublime manner fool you into believing he was merely a 'pretty player' for the boy could bat in a manner comparable to any. A few handy judges by the names of Sir Garfield Sobers and Sir Frank Worrell on seeing him labelled him 'the greatest batsman ever on earth.'

Huge call, but made to have credibility by the wide ranging view that like with all the greatest the opposition was irrelevant to 'Satha'. For he had that Brian Lara quality of making good bowling look distinctly average. On the back foot or front foot it was irrelevant for when Satha decided to flay balls they would be rocketing to the pickets at a good rate of knots.

This was there for all to see in 1947 at the Chepauk Stadium where his majestically sublime 215 was regarded by many as the greatest innings seen at the ground.

 '...It was well worth going miles to see the beautiful batsmanship of Sathasivam. There was all the art and style in his innings which was played on dancing feet. He played all shots from the prettiest late cut to the fine leg glance which he did as much as wave it away from his presence. He was the complete master.'  

Adding to the mystique attached to the knock was that it was widely understood that when he 120* at the end of the 1st Day. He decided to go out on an all night bender of wine, women and song. Arriving bleary eyed the next morning, but still with enough of his senses intact to flay the bowling to all parts in completing his double ton.

Prompting this reaction from a very accomplished Test spinner and Indian Captain Ghulam Ahmed

'I have bowled at Bradman, Harvey, Hutton, Denis Compton, Keith Miller, The Terrible W s -Weekes, Worrel and Walcott. If you ask me a question, who is the most difficult batsman that I have ever bowled, I will mention a name that some times you will not know. He is M. Sathasivam of Ceylon. I will never forget how he thrashed me in Chennai.'

He sadly never got to play Test Cricket, but as shown in the words of the aforementioned greats you can be rest assured that he would have been a master batsman in that forum as well.

Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji ( India )

A batsman that changed the game forever with his innovations taking the game from a predominantly off side game for batsmen to one where shots were hit all around the game. Coupled with him being the first Indian player of note and indelibly honoured for his place in the game with the Indian First Class Competition the Ranji Trophy named in his honour.

Strangely with all these accolades he is very much a forgotten legend despite these words

Perhaps no cricketer in history has been as romanticised and sentimentalised as Ranjitsinhji. It testifies to his uniqueness that this romance and sentimentality do not significantly enlarge on reality. WG Grace prophesied that there would not be a batsman like Ranji for a hundred years. 

He revolutionised both the late cut and was the inventor of the leg glance that he did with a dexterity and expertise that has seldom ever been replicated. Then to add a further feather in his cap he was widely recognised as being behind the back foot defensive shot as well.

Aside from this the 'Prince' was also a master batsman with him being gluttonous in his covet of runs and a notch above the rest in his time in the game

Rohan Kanhai ( West Indies )

The great West Indies have had a cavalcade of batting stars from Headley to Sobers to Richards and Lara. All genius's of the highest echelon, but one name often gets overlooked in the justifiable lauding of the other great in the guise of one Rohan Kanhai

A batsman that had a real completeness in him that saw him lauded by his team mates and his opposition alike. His technique was pristine, but then he was ruthless, uncaring of the reputations of bowlers, and daring in his strokeplay.

His trademark fall away sweep was one of the most breath taking shots one could witness when he would go down on one knee and sweep the ball high into the long blue yonder in a falling down motion.

Kanhai's Legendary Fall Away Sweep!
Dominant against spin or pace and whatever the conditions he was indeed a master, and some of his daredevil hooking was the stuff that should have had the moniker of kamikaze attached to it. But he never went so far as to crash and burn, rather leaving the bowlers in cindered ashes through him flaying them

He had a feline grace about him, rather like a leopard stalking its prey. Suddenly he would spring into action and devastate a bowler, taking him completely by surprise

His last innings for the West Indies was with his hair greyed in the inaugural World Cup Final, but despite the look of age his cricketing smarts was for all to see with him playing the perfect sheet anchor role allowing the rest to be rampant around him. That rescued the Team from 50/3 with a 149 run partnership he shared with a rampant Clive Lloyd.

Great player that deserves greater dues than he gets

Javed Miandad ( Pakistan )

Universally hated by oppositions because of his antagonistic mannerisms that rankled the most angelic coupled by the fact that he was one hell of a great batsman.

I always thought that he should have been born an Aussie for he had that typical confrontational demeanour that was very un Asian. He gave as good as he got and then gave when he was not even getting and just niggled incessantly driving opposition to distraction. As if he was a mosquito buzzing around you driving you potty in the twilight.

To epitomise his demeanour was the view that he was The equivalent of spitting at the firing squad that's about to shoot you.

I loved him for I could relate by reminiscing on my old boxing days when I used to smile at my opponent even after he had just broken my nose.

What a player he was too with him being characterised by his ability in crisis. He often viewed "cricket was war and I was at war whenever I played" Keeping this ethos in mind, you wanted Miandad in the trenches when bombs were being dropped on you liberally and bullets pinging around your ear-holes.

He not only had a diamond like toughness with this being matched by his skill. In his 124 Test career his average never dipped below 50 in days when that mark was the measure of immortality. Against spin or pace he was masterful whether in defence or blistering attack.

Coupling his legend was his unspoken role behind the glory days of Pakistan Cricket which are most wholly and solely attributed to Imran Khan. Who was indeed the Captain of Pakistan in their heyday that saw them win the World Cup, but Miandad was like the rudder on the ship that guided the Team to their glory

Ken Barrington ( England )

In any age a players greatness is often determined by their ability to perform in all types of conditions.

Having this as a parameter of measure it makes you query as to why this great English batsman never gets greater recognition for his career average of 58.67 is in the top 6 of the games history. Though when you dig a bit deeper into that figure you discover that away from home he averages an incredible 69.18

Making you automatically query about whether there has ever been a player who has similarly been so dominant away from home?

Then it also makes you question as to why most fans would never have heard of the man that was revered as batting with 'The Union Jack draped around his heart'. Such was his courage and relentless determination to succeed, and by golly gee he was almost impossible to get out. With him putting a price on his wicket that had few comparisons with any other batsman ever.

Maybe it was because he was an old style stone walling batsman rather than the glitzy and glamorous stroke players that have people in awe.

Though whatever the reasoning his constant overlooking is an indictment in the game!

Mike Procter ( South Africa )

I often are bemused when the Cricketing conversation gets onto Soutrh Africa and the constellation of stars that we were deprived of seeing during their tragic ban from the game. Most of the focus surrounds two batting legends in Graeme Pollock and Barry Richards with both viewed as two of the best ever. Though with all the justifiable lauding of these two one is always overlooked in the great all rounder Mike Procter.

Who to me was maybe with the exception of the freak of freaks in Garry Sobers the best all rounder in the history of the game.

Supporting my contention are these words from Richie Benaud

Mike Procter was a marvellous all-rounder who would have walked into any test team since the war”.

I was fortunate to see him in his youth, while I was in South Africa between 1964-66, and then in his pomp in English County Cricket in the 1970's for Gloucestershire. Or to show his true calibre, 'Procter'shire as it was known in respect of him.

As a bowler, he had real pace and fire, that sincerely intimidated opposition batsmen. Alternatively, he was also a very refined and wily off spinner, if the situation suited that style of bowler. Just watch this video of him to get a full appreciation of his threat with ball in hand

Did you ever in his great career, see Gordon Greenidge be bowled so comprehensively as here by Procter? I cannot for the life of me think of a time when I did in Greenidge's 108 Test career.

Then to match the fury of his bowling, which was remarked as being as fast as 100mph by many was his equally whirlwind batting. That was of the bludgeoning variety, but supported by the class and technique to share a record with a batsman of the name of Don Bradman in regards to 6 consecutive centuries in First Class Cricket. To support his supreme talent with bat in hand are these words from his team mate at Gloucestershire Zaheer Abbas

 “If I were to pick a World XI, he would be one of the first batsmen I would choose. Mike Procter was one of the best batsmen I have played with.

Supporting this contention was his 203 in 1978, that was widely regard as the best innings in English county Cricket since Wally Hammond's heyday.

Sport is sadly not about dealing in 'ifs', but IF South Africa was not banned, and Mike Procter was allowed a full career. Many thought that he would have been the very best all rounder of all

Jeffrey Dujon ( West Indies )

When you watched the great West Indies Teams play in the 1970's and 80's you swore that in his tenure with the gloves that Jeff Dujon was at any second going to morph from a Clarke Kent like character to be a virtual Superman. 

For you would rarely notice him until he defied gravity as if he was flying to catch a rearing delivery or an edge that was a million miles away from his grasp...

Or that was what we as mere mortals thought and then you would see the ball nestle in one of his out stretched gloves as he was at a full length drive and another miraculous assist was provided by this great glove man.

Truly exceptional keeper, but do not let that make you think that he was a bunny with the willow for he excelled at that as well

Exuding supreme elegance and skill that could have seen him be in most sides on his batting skill alone

Great player and unspoken legend of the game!

Richie Benaud ( Australia ) ( C )

There would be few if any Cricketing fans that would disagree with Richie Benaud being ordained as a Legend, but most would view it in honour of him being the voice of Cricket for the last 50 years

Which indeed is a fact, but it often takes away from him being one of the very best cricketers that the game has seen.

A leg spinning all rounder of the highest calibre and a Captain that was lauded as one of the best in the games history. His mindset whatever endeavour he was undertaking on the field was born out of pro activity, attacking instinct and a good deal of supreme cricketing smarts.

You saw that in his very refined bowling that was characterised by its guile and subtle variations with him out thinking most batsmen.

He took this into his leadership with him basically being the Chess Master with all on his board to be manoeuvred until he had the opposition hopelessly checkmated. Completing his package was his breathtaking pure hard hitting and his expertise as a close in fielder.

Long before he become a commentary doyen he inspired many with his genius skill as a player

Alan Davidson ( Australia )

The views of people are justifiably governed by the age they live in and the stars they have the privilege to view, but one universally accepted view in current day cricketing circles always makes me raise my eyebrows.

In ordaining Wasim Akram as the greatest left arm fast bowler of all time...........

Which can be supported by the exceptional nature of Akram's career, but it gives scant respect to the exploits of the great Aussie left armer in Alan Davidson. Even when you compare the key figures of both you get a greater grasp of how overlooked Davidson is

Wasim Akram: 104 Tests, 414 wickets, average 23.62, strike rate 54.6

Alan Davidson: 44 Tests, 186 wickets, average 20.53, strike rate 62.2 

In no way am I taking away from the great Pakistani and his right to be viewed as the 'best of the best', but my main grievance is the fact that Davo as us old timers knew him rarely gets a mention. This despite his exceptional record that is given greater weight by these further facts

He was especially effective in the last five years of his career, taking 170 wickets at 19.25 in 32 Tests, only four of which were lost. He was the first man to take ten wickets and make more than 100 runs in the same game, a feat he accomplished in the famous tied Test in Brisbane against West Indies, despite a broken finger on his bowling hand 

He was a supreme with the ball and had a real sting with the bat as a hard hitting lower order batsman. Plus a truly remarkable fields man anywhere on the ground

Honestly an Akram clone in every regard, and in my humble opinion better than him or at least on an equal billing to deserve greater mention than what he gets in this age

Andy Roberts ( West Indies )

``Andy Roberts is the finest fast bowler I have ever faced.'' - Sunil Gavaskar.

The first of the feared four man West indies pace battery that terroised batsmen around the Globe from the 1970's onwards, and as seen in these words by the immortal Sunil Gavaskar widely regarded as the best of the lot.

He was the epitome of a combination of bowling smarts and nightmarish in his sincere threat. He had a real reputation for the batsmen he hit and damaged with his variety of bouncers that varied from the slower hit me for 6 sucker ball to the much fast be prepared to be prepared for a trip in an ambulance variety. Some of his more famous hits were a youthful Ian Botham in 1974 and David Hookes in World Series Cricket that saw his jaw broken and a killer blow delivered to his career.

Fearsome indeed, but do not let that diminish his immense skill as a bowler. In all of the greats that bowled with him the new ball was always thrown to Roberts, and boy did he dazzle with his precocious genius.

``I will never forget how Andy, when I was well past a hundred, the ball, 60 overs old, brought so many balls back from way outside the off stump, literally cutting them viciously over the middle stump. He followed that with two perfectly pitched leg cutters in the next over and marvelled at the versatility of the man,''

``He made you play almost all the deliveries. 95 per cent of the deliveries he sent down you had to play and that was the greatness of Andy.''  ( Sunil Gavaskar )

A complete bowler in every regarded and given scant respect for his true Legend

Johnny Wardle ( England )

A conundrum that was never solved by batsman facing his left arm liquorice all sorts varieties of spin on the pitch or by the powers that be off the field dealing with his free spirited demeanour in stringently conservative times

He was described aptly as ' a maverick in a time when conformity was all'

Despite his obvious talent he was ostracised for the most part from the English Team which deprived the game of being told the complete story of unparalleled genius.

His figures tell this truth with him taking 102 wickets in his 28 Tests at a remarkable average of 20.39 putting him in the top seven in the all-time bowling averages as well as the top four by economy-rate. To put his average into further context is seen when you look at the averages of the two spinners regarded as the best in the games history in Shane Warne ( 25.41) and Muttiah Muralidaran ( 22.72)

Like both those legends, Wardle shared the same characteristics of batsmen finding him unplayable when faced with his varieties and unorthodox mannerisms. Whether it be his stock left arm orthodox spin or his revolutionary 'Chinamen' deliveries.

1 comment: