Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Excerpts from Indra Vikram Singh's book 'Don's Century' ..... 15 - Chapter 7 : PEERLESS RUNGETTER AND OTHER MASTERS OF THE WILLOW (17. Australian left-hander Neil Harvey)

In Bradman’s penultimate Test series against India in 1947-48, a short-statured brilliant left-handed batsman, Neil Harvey, made his debut. At 19 years he became Australia’s youngest Test player as well as centurion. He went on to notch up the highest aggregate as well as centuries for the country - after Bradman, that is - 6149 runs (average 48.41) and 21 hundreds in 79 Tests. Statistics, though, neither interested him unduly, nor told his real tale.

Not surprisingly for a small man, Harvey was quick on his feet, at the crease as well as in the field. He would regularly skip down the wicket to the spinners, and these attributes made him a wonderful player on turning tracks. He was not loath to advance forward at times even to the pacemen. A terrific strokeplayer on the off-side, Harvey was not one to leave alone too many deliveries outside his off-stump. To short-pitched bowling, he employed the Bradman method of Bodyline vintage, of stepping away, allowing himself a free swing of his arms and smashing the ball through the covers.

Doubtlessly a joy to behold, Harvey was extremely swift between the wickets and in the covers. He prowled around a vast expanse of turf, darting to the ball and making lightning right-handed returns bang on top of the stumps. During the later stages he excelled in the slips. Neil Harvey was a thrilling sight on the field.

So abundantly talented was he, that he scored a century in his first club match, first outing for Victoria and second Test, a brilliant 153 at Melbourne. On the 1948 Invincibles tour, Harvey got his chance only in the fourth Test at Leeds after Sidney Barnes dropped out due to injury. The youngster promptly hit up a hundred on first appearance against England. With Australia reeling at 68 for three, Bradman having been dismissed for 33, Harvey and Miller launched a terrific counter-attack on the English bowling. Harvey scored 112, and never looked back thereafter.

Harvey’s best, though, came in two Test series against South Africa. In 1949-50 he hit up 660 runs at an average of 132, with 4 hundreds. He was even more prolific when the South Africans made a return visit three years later. Amassing 834 runs at an average of 92.66, Harvey again logged up four centuries, including his top Test score of 205 at Melbourne. Only Bradman had hit four hundreds in a series thrice. Clyde Walcott became the lone batsman to slam five tons in a rubber in 1954-55, a series in which Harvey too thrived. Herbert Sutcliffe and Sunil Gavaskar are the only other batsmen to score four hundreds in a series twice. Harvey’s aggregate of 834 in 1952-53 was the third-highest ever after Bradman’s 974 in 1930 and Hammond’s 905 in 1928-29. Australia’s Mark Taylor amassed 839 in the 1989 Ashes series.

When Frank “Typhoon” Tyson decimated Australia in 1954-55, Harvey was one batsman who stood up to the frightening pace. He scored a superb 162 at Brisbane, and then in the Sydney Test battled for four-and-a-half hours in adversity, grinding out a courageous and skillful 92, rated as one of his best knocks.

The tour to the Caribbean islands that followed would then have been a big relief. Harvey scored 650 runs at an average of 108.33, with 2 centuries and a double century as Australia continued their dominance of the West Indies.

Like Everton Weekes, Harvey was rarely at his best when facing England, barring the flying start in 1948 and the gutsy displays against Tyson. In 37 Tests over 15 years, he never scored more than one hundred in any of his eight series against the Old Enemy. As if to emphasise the point, Jim Laker handed him a pair in that famous Test at Old Trafford in 1956. Neil Harvey, nevertheless, was one of the most delightful left-handers the game has seen. 

(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email singh_iv@hotmail.com).

Friday, April 19, 2013

Excerpts from Indra Vikram Singh's book 'Don's Century' ..... 14 - Chapter 7 : PEERLESS RUNGETTER AND OTHER MASTERS OF THE WILLOW (Great English duo 15. Len Hutton and 16. Dennis Compton)

The last two great batsmen to make their Test debut before the Second World War were the Englishmen Len Hutton and Dennis Compton. Hutton, the boy from Pudsey, Yorkshire, was in his own words, “an unashamed hero-worshipper of Jack Hobbs.” He wrote in his Fifty Years in Cricket: “My first meeting with Sir Jack literally left me tongue-tied. I gaped and no words came. I shudder to imagine what he must have thought of me.” As a lad of fourteen, Hutton had the privilege of watching Don Bradman score 300 in a day in the Headingley Test of 1930. Never could he have dreamt at the time that eight years later he would go on to surpass that Ashes high of 334 by Bradman and Hammond’s record Test score of 336 not out. Hutton notched up 364 at the Oval, a mark that was to remain for two decades until Gary Sobers went one better.

That monumental score so early in his career was to remain the centerpiece of Hutton’s career at the highest level, though he made three other double centuries besides 15 more hundreds. His unbeaten 202 at the Oval against the West Indies in 1950 was a lone hand, as he carried his bat in the face of a humiliating defeat. He was a dasher - by Yorkshire standards - before the war, but later became the archetypal new age opener, intent first on seeing off the shine of the ball as much as getting his eye in.

During the war he suffered a debilitating injury, not by enemy fire, but ironically in the friendly environs of a gymnasium. A series of operations caused his left arm to be shortened by an inch. In 1952 he became the first professional to captain England. At the helm he showed the same caution that had crept into his batting. In many ways he was predecessor to Sunil Gavaskar, curbing his early aggressive instincts to become a staid opener as well as leader, intent on first securing his position before seeking any valour that might come his way. As Learie Constantine stated, “Hutton made a fetish of the textbook.” In his 79 Tests Hutton scored 6971 runs, averaging 56.67.

The change in Hutton’s approach to batting was also a result of extenuating circumstances. Batting had become rather easy in the inter-war period because of the flat wickets that had been rolled out. An early reaction to this, and the rampaging Bradman, was Bodyline, but that was soon stamped out. In 1935 the lbw law was amended whereby a delivery pitching outside the off-stump but coming in to hit the batsman’s pad in line with the stumps could be given out if, in the opinion of the umpire, it would have gone on to hit the stumps. Batsmen adjusted to this soon enough.

In 1948, a new provision permitted requisitioning of a new ball after 55 overs. It worked to the advantage of Bradman’s team which had a top-class fast bowling pair in Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller, aided by the swing of the tall left-armer Bill Johnston. Not all captains, though, were lucky enough to have high quality pace attacks, and in fact the season after was one of the highest scoring ever. While the perpetually hard ball flew quicker off the bat all the way to the fence, the 55-over new ball regulation was proving to be the bane of spin bowling.

To bring back the balance between bat and ball, there was now only one option left before the game’s administrators, that of preparing sporting wickets. The process began around 1950 in England. Pitches started bearing a greenish tinge, and rolling was less intensive. The ball was now seaming considerably, its shine retained for longer periods on the lush outfields. Australia followed suit, and the 1935 lbw law began to yield rich dividends for the bowlers, with the ball cutting in sharply off the grassy surfaces. If the batsmen were a blessed lot between the two great wars, the decade of the 1950s was the most testing for them than at any time since the First World War.

If prodigious scorers like Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Hammond, Ponsford, Bradman and Headley thrived from the 1920s to the 1940s, latter day stars like Hutton had to battle hard for their runs. Wickets in the West Indies, though, continued to favour batsmen. It is significant that of the non-West Indies batsmen who played much of their cricket in the 1950s, only Hutton and Compton averaged above 50 in Tests, and they had the benefit of playing some of their cricket in the 1930s and 1940s.

The flamboyant Compton rattled up 5807 runs at an average of 50.06 with 17 centuries in 78 Tests. He was debonair as he was gutsy, which was never more evident than in that Old Trafford Test of 1948. He was hit on the head by a Lindwall bouncer and had to leave the field to get stitched up. He came back and stood up manfully to the pace assault, remaining unconquered on 145, while none of his teammates could reach 50. 

Incredibly talented, Compton was left-winger for Arsenal and also represented England at soccer eleven times during the war, though those matches were not recorded as official internationals. Indian fans were fortunate to see Compton in action during the war years. He scored an unbeaten 249 for Holkar in the 1944-45 Ranji Trophy final against Bombay. His highest in first-class matches was 300 for MCC against N.E. Transvaal at Benoni in 1948-49.  

In the popularity stakes, Compton was a winner all the way. His running between wickets was either ridiculous or hilarious, depending on which side you were on. In the field no one could be sure what to expect, brilliant one moment, hopelessly lost the next. He was the captain’s delight, and despair, depending on what seized him, one of cricket’s unforgettable characters.

(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email singh_iv@hotmail.com).  

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Excerpts from Indra Vikram Singh's book 'Don's Century' ..... 13 - Chapter 7 : PEERLESS RUNGETTER AND OTHER MASTERS OF THE WILLOW (South African star batsmen 13. Bruce Mitchell and 14. Dudley Nourse)

With the South Africans having put aside the matting and laid flat turf wickets, enabled the development of classy batsmen of the likes of Bruce Mitchell and Dudley Nourse. They could now go on the front foot without having to deal with the springy, often spongy, bounce, or vicious turn, that were caused by the ball gripping the mat. Turf wickets facilitated the straight bat technique with the ball going through, as against matting pitches on which it stopped and jumped. Trusting the true bounce, they were now able to build long innings.

Mitchell was a talented allround cricketer, elegant opening batsman, fine spinner and brilliant slip fielder, having taken 6 catches in the Melbourne Test of 1931-32. His first wicket stand of 260 with Ivan Siedle against England at Cape Town in 1930-31 was a record for South Africa. Until almost the year 2000 when the Proteas were well into their second stint in international cricket, Mitchell remained their highest rungetter in his 42 Tests, having notched up 3471 runs at an average of 48.88 with 8 hundreds. He scored a century in each innings against England in the Oval Test of 1947, hitting 120 and an unbeaten 189, his top score at that level.

Long before the Pollocks made their appearance, Dave Nourse, the Grand Old Man of South African cricket, and his son Dudley were their country’s stalwarts. Nourse senior, born in Surrey, England, was a delightful personality, ever-smiling and immensely talented. A left-handed allrounder, his spin bowling and catching close to the wicket made him a great asset. In a long first-class career spanning 40 years until he retired in 1935 at the age of 57, he hit up a highest of 304 not out for Natal against Transvaal in 1919-20. He played 45 Tests for South Africa from 1902-03 to 1924, and though he scored a hundred, his most defining innings was the unbeaten 93 at Johannesburg in 1905-06 that clinched South Africa’s first win over England. His first-class retirement coincided with his son Dudley‘s Test debut.                  

Dudley Nourse was a belligerent strokeplayer who breached the cherished average of 50 in Test cricket. In his stint of 34 Tests, Dudley Nourse scored 2960 runs at an average of 53.81, logging up a record nine tons for South Africa. His highest Test score of 231 against Australia at Johannesburg in 1935-36 was, however, put in the shade by Stan McCabe’s superb unbeaten 189. A monumental third-wicket stand of 319 with Alan Melville against England at Nottingham in 1947 was bettered only by the pair of Bill Edrich and Dennis Compton until the 1980s. Dudley Nourse came close to emulating his father with his first-class best of 260 not out, also for Natal versus Transvaal in 1936-37. When he bid adieu to the first-class game in 1953, his average of 65.85 in the domestic Currie Cup was the highest ever.

(Author Indra Vikram Singh can be contacted on email singh_iv@hotmail.com).

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Two years on, images of India's triumph in the ICC World Cup 2011 still twinkle brightly

India’s second cricket World Cup triumph in 2011 was much anticipated, but when it came on that sparkling night of 2nd April, it was as exhilarating as the country’s surprise first title win on a glorious mid-summer evening at Lord’s in 1983. The 2011 victory was the crowning glory for an Indian Team that had striven hard to reach the no. 1 spot in Test cricket the previous year. It was also the missing jewel in the amazing career of Sachin Tendulkar, a fairy-tale come true.

Crowning Glory is a special 44-page supplement that brings forth the highlights of the ICC World Cup 2011 and its stars, illustrated with colour photographs and detailed records :
ISBN 978-81-901668-6-7
Price Rs. 200
It is also available complimentary with the collector’s edition The Big Book of World Cup Cricket.

The Big Book of World Cup Cricket is a 544-page fully illustrated, definitive work on the premier tournament in One-day cricket since its inception in 1975. It recounts the story of the World Cup, its highlights and sidelights, exciting matches and brilliant individual performances, the legends of the event, interviews with captains, records and statistics, full scorecards of all the matches, batting and bowling averages and fielding details of every player who appeared in the World Cup from 1975 to 2007, and about 200 photographs, mostly in colour. The piece-de-resistance is a hand-written letter from the immortal Sir Donald Bradman. The book also carries a preview of the ICC World Cup 2011 :    
ISBN 978-81-901668-4-3
Price Rs. 4000  

The Big Book of World Cup Cricket and Crowning Glory are published by Sporting Links, and distributed in India by Variety Book Depot, Middle Circle, Connaught Place, New Delhi, Phones + 91 11 23417175 and 23412567, and are available in leading bookstores and online on several websites, many of which are offering attractive discounts.

Any queries may be directed to singh_iv@hotmail.com.