Friday, May 18, 2018

Test cricket needs a four-year, not two-year, championship, and with all 12 teams participating

WG Grace and KS Ranjitsinhji walking side by side in 1899. Test cricket is our great heritage that must be preserved carefully.

I don’t claim to be wiser than all the accomplished cricket administrators of the world or the great cricketers who have ventured into cricket administration. But I am surprised at the sloth of cricket administrators, and their apathy towards Test cricket which is inarguably the highest form of the game and from which stems every subsequent format. The administrators have been quick to truncate the game into One-dayers and Twenty20 to suit the times, but they have paid mere lip service to Test cricket which is timeless, and a charm very much its own.

I also do not wish to indulge in one-upmanship, turn around and say I told you so. But back in 1990, I wrote in my first book ‘Test Cricket: End of the Road?’ about the issues that are still being bandied about in cricketing circles. After the manuscript of this book was gone through by the publishers Rupa & Co., their boss R.K. Mehra told me that it should carry a foreword by either Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi or Sunil Gavaskar. I approached Tiger Pataudi in Delhi. He read the manuscript but declined to pen a foreword. Apparently, my book did not meet his standards. Rupa & Co. then sent the manuscript to Gavaskar but he too refused. Gavaskar was clearly irked by a chapter in the book about the Lord’s Test of 1990 when he and his former India teammate Bishan Singh Bedi, the then manager of the Test side, had had an acrimonious exchange through the media. Be that as it may, for Pataudi and Gavaskar were Indian captains and folk heroes, and I just a school, college and club cricketer - albeit with a fair amount of allround talent - and young first-time author. That though did not mean that I had no insight into the game, and certainly I had no less passion for the sport.

Those were the days when there was a debate whether Test cricket was dying and One-day cricket was the way forward. Wills, in fact, made a video on this anchored by none other than Tiger Pataudi. In the video Pataudi remarked whether One-day cricket was the future of the game. It was in this backdrop that I wrote my first book. I argued that Test cricket would not die but there were some changes required. Nearly three decades on, Test cricket continues to be played. Since then newer countries have earned Test status, two of which are making their respective debuts this year. It is, in fact, One-day cricket that is under threat from Twenty20, and indeed there are already talks about 100 balls a side and even ten over a side games.

So whither Test cricket? The traditional Ashes series between England and Australia continue to draw crowds at the grounds. In other countries, especially India, spectators are seen at the stadiums when the cricket is interesting. Obviously, times have changed. Earlier there were less forms of entertainment, there was no live telecast, and a Test match came to one’s city once every year or two. So people thronged at the venues. Crowds may have thinned at the grounds but there are still millions watching on television. And the nature of Test cricket is such that it allows companies to advertise liberally at reasonable rates. The problem really, as I mentioned earlier, is apathy of the administrators, and lack of proper marketing of Test cricket.

Clearly, this concept of rolling championship and ranking system is not working. I never thought it would. Who cares whether Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal is no. 1 in tennis at a particular time. But everyone wants to know who won Wimbledon, US Open, French Open, Australian Open….. and everyone wants to watch these tournaments.

Test cricket needs a long duration championship. A triangular tournament between England, Australia and South Africa was tried more than a century ago in 1912, and it was not a success. More recently in the 1990s an Asian championship was attempted but made no headway. I am convinced that Test cricket needs four-year championships between two One-day World Cups, not two-year ones as scheduled by the International Cricket Council (ICC) after the 2019 World Cup. When there are twelve Test-playing nations, why are only nine going to participate in the Test championship? And why are these nine teams going to play three series at home and three series away in this two-year period? If we have all twelve teams participating in a four-year championship, they can easily play each other home and away in this time. The series can be of two, three, four or five Tests, as decided mutually by the respective boards. An interesting points system can be devised. Top batsmen, bowlers, allrounders, wicketkeepers and fielders will emerge over these four years, which is a reasonable period to decide such things. We will have a champion Test team at the end of four years. Why, isn’t there a champion One-day team every four years? Isn’t a soccer World Cup held every four years? Aren’t the Olympics held every four years? Why should a long game like Test cricket be confined to two years? The logic of ICC confounds me. A saying in Hindi goes thus: “der aaye durust aaye” (they came late but arrived in fine fettle). Here they came very late but not in good shape at all. There is no need for a final either. How can ONE Test match decide the fate of such a prestigious championship?

Again, as I wrote above, I presented these views in my book ‘Test Cricket: End of the Road?’, and also in an article in 2014 on one of my blogs. A link to it is given herewith:
https://indravikramsingh.blogspot.in/2014/02/world-championship-of-test-cricket.html
I sent a copy of it to the ICC. They acknowledged receiving it with the comment that ICC would consider it.

I also wrote about day-night Test matches and the need to do away with the toss in ‘Test Cricket: End of the Road?’. Of course, day-night Test matches should be played whenever and where the respective boards deem fit. Naturally, there will be more spectators at the stadiums, and television viewership will grow, especially in home series.

There is no need for the toss. The option of batting or fielding first should be with the visiting captain. The same ritual of the two captains and the match referee striding to the middle should be followed. There, after looking at the pitch, the visiting skipper could inform his opposite number about his preference, and they can exchange the list of teams as now. This will ensure that pitches are not doctored to suit the home side, and will be more sporting. It will lead to good cricket and a more level field (no pun intended!).

Test cricket will not just disappear. It is our heritage, a way of life. More books have been written on Test cricket, than on all other sports combined. It has more stories, tales and legends, as also intricacies, than any other sport. It has evolved over the last 141 years to what it is now. How we preserve it is up to us. More care is needed than is being shown. This is time for much more introspection.

Test Cricket – End of the Road?

ISBN 81-7167-080-6

Pages: 141

Published in India by Rupa & Co., 1992

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Some iconic cricket pictures

Gary Sobers hitting 6 sixes in an over

Dennis Lillee bowling to 9 slips and gullies

Glenn McGrath bowling to 9 slips and gullies

World Cup 1999 tie - Australia versus South Africa

Even spinners can fence in batsmen

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Recap of Don Bradman’s phenomenal Ashes tour of England in 1930. Excerpt from Indra Vikram Singh’s book ‘Don’s Century’



It was a momentous tour. Having played a pivotal role in winning the Ashes, Bradman scored an unprecedented 974 runs in the series, still unequalled to this day, at an average of 139.14. He got all these runs at 40 an hour without hitting a six. Rarely did Bradman loft the ball. Some felt that this aggregate was the equivalent of Sydney Barnes’ feat of 49 wickets in four Tests against South Africa in 1913-14, but against better opposition. No other batsman from either side got even half of Bradman’s tally, nor even more than one hundred. Mammoth scores kept coming repeatedly from his willow like giant waves slapping the shore – a century, two double centuries and a triple century. The double hundreds decided the series. Without doubt the English would need to introspect deeply. C.B. Fry, himself a man of many parts and incredibly talented, was enchanted with Bradman’s display: “I wish I could have used my bat like Don. He is a gem of a batsman. I just love his finished technique and inevitable surety.”

As much as the runs that he scored, Bradman filled the counties’ coffers as never before. Jon Stock related a tale, perhaps apocryphal, in The Week: “Don was the bane of every bowler’s life, but he was also a commercial opportunity. Dai Davies, a Glamorgan player, recalls how he once came close to bowling Bradman in 1930. He was flabbergasted when instead of encouraging him, his captain Maurice Turnbull told Davies that his services wouldn’t be required that day. ‘But I’ll get him out the next over,’ Davies pleaded. ‘That’s what we don’t want,’ Turnbull replied. ‘Can’t you see, we’ve got to keep him in for Monday (the August bank holiday)?’ Glamorgan made a small profit at the end of that year thanks entirely to that game’s proceeds.”

By the final Test, his ninth, Bradman had reached an average of 100, and had as many as six three-figure knocks. His aggregate now stood at 1442 runs, the average 103. In all first-class matches during that tour of 1930, Bradman hit up 2960 runs, the most any visiting batsman has done, and notched up 10 hundreds. He topped the averages among all batsmen during that season at 98.66, which he did on all his tours to England. If anybody had lingering doubts about Bradman’s ability to cope with English conditions, they had been dispelled in the most vehement manner possible. From now on batting had only one don, perhaps forever. That Wisden selected Bradman as one of its cricketers of the year in its 1931 edition is only stating the obvious. A most telling comment came from the great allrounder Wilfred Rhodes, a shrewd judge of the game, and not one to shower praise lightly: “I bowled against all the best from 1900 to 1930 - Hobbs, Trumper, Grace and Ranji among them and many, many more - but Bradman was the greatest.”          

Ian Peebles, who bowled to Bradman during this series, wrote in the World of Cricket: “It was not until the series got underway that the cricket world gradually realised that this young man Bradman had inaugurated a new era and somewhat reinterpreted the old adage that ‘bowlers win matches’. Never before had an individual batsman so consistently given bowlers the opportunity of winning matches by the speed and extent of his scoring.”

Financially, the tour brought Bradman a bonanza. In addition to the ₤ 600 paid by The Board of Control for the six-month effort, which was easily double an average annual wage at the time, and the reward of ₤ 1000 bestowed on him by Arthur Whitelaw, was the contract for his first book Don Bradman’s Book of Cricket and its serialisation in the press. Bradman’s earnings came to a whopping ₤ 5000.

Don Bradman was now a folk hero in Australia, and he began receiving several offers for commercial endorsements. ‘Bradmania’ had besieged the minds of his countrymen. Whenever word spread that Bradman was at Mick Simmons, huge crowds would congregate outside. It was not long before a musical tribute was paid to him. ‘Our Don Bradman’ was an affectionate tune that became popular in the 1930s. Described as a ‘snappy fox trot song’, it hailed ‘Australia’s batting phenomenon’. Deft pianist that he was, Bradman himself composed a song ‘Every Day is a Rainbow Day for Me’.

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

Don’s Century
Published by Sporting Links
ISBN 978-81-901668-5-0, Fully Illustrated
French Fold 21.5 cm x 28 cm, 188 Pages
Price Rupees 995

Indra Vikram Singh’s latest books published by Sporting Links:
A Maharaja’s Turf  ISBN 978-81-901668-3-6
The Big Book of World Cup Cricket  ISBN 978-81-901668-4-3
Don’s Century  ISBN 978-81-901668-5-0
Crowning Glory  ISBN 978-81-901668-6-7

Distributed in India by:  Variety Book Depot, AVG Bhawan, M-3 Middle Circle, Connaught Circus, New Delhi-110001, India. Tel. + 91 11 23417175, 23412567, Email varietybookdepot@gmail.com.

Available on amazon.in: https://www.amazon.in/s/ref=sr_hi_eb?rh=k%3AIndra+Vikram+Singh%2Cn%3A976389031&ie=UTF8&qid=1516365638&keyword=Indra+Vikram+Singh

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Making of a legend. Excerpt from Indra Vikram Singh’s book ‘Don’s Century’. Remembering Sir Donald Bradman on his 17th death anniversary



Such were his feats with the willow that ages ago someone coined a new word: Bradmanesque. Even after so much water has flowed down the Torrens since young Don scorched the turfs of Australia and England, none has been able to commit the sacrilege of emulating Bradmanesque deeds. Herculean tasks might be achieved, but a Bradmanesque average remains well nigh unattainable.

Don was precociously talented and completely focused. Though he never received any formal coaching, it is well chronicled how he would practise all by himself, endlessly hitting a golf ball against a circular brick tank stand with a stump, a kerosene can serving as the wicket. Such a single-minded endeavour helped develop strong powers of concentration and a keen sense of timing. He learnt how to hit the ball coming at him at various angles, different speeds and varying degrees of bounce. The exercise also helped build up physical strength and footwork. Anyone who has tried out this routine would know how difficult it is. But Don with his perseverance, keen ball sense and hand-eye co-ordination - much touted today - mastered it.

Such exertion made it so much easier for him to strike the much larger and considerably less volatile cricket ball with a significantly broader blade of the much-simpler-to-handle cricket bat. The sheer diligence and dedication, and the resolve to excel and to achieve perfection were apparent from a tender age, and impelled Don Bradman to take one giant stride after another in his cricketing journey.

Years later, A.G. Moyes, well-known cricket writer and New South Wales selector when Bradman made his way into the team, wrote in his book Bradman: “He was richly endowed in skill by nature, but he did not rest on that, for he wanted earnestly always to build on the foundation. His batting rested on the sound basis of common sense, and there were few riddles he did not know the answer. He practised consistently and methodically, as does the professional pianist who knows that his success depends on the suppleness of his fingers and certainty of his touch. No man can reach the dizzy heights without this painstaking devotion to his art, and in cricket’s long pilgrimage no one has striven harder to reach perfection.”      

Don’s carpenter father George was a keen cricketer, an allrounder who played regularly in local matches around Bowral. He spurred Bradman junior’s interest in the game, and it is reckoned that the youngster played a proper match in 1919, showing his prowess by scoring 55. He hit his first hundred the next season, when he was a little over 12 years, for his Bowral Public School against Mittagong School. It was, in fact, a brilliant allround performance, an unbeaten 115 out of a total of 150, and eight wickets to his name.

A two-day trip in February 1921 to Sydney with his father to watch his first Test match was in every respect a cricketing pilgrimage. It must have been enthralling for the impressionable mind to see Australia’s awesome side led by the imposing Warwick ‘Big Ship’ Armstrong hand out a drubbing (the series ended 5-0) to Johnny Douglas’ touring English team. That Test witnessed hundreds by home heroes Charlie ‘Governor General’ Macartney, Herbie Collins and skipper Armstrong, whose power-packed knock was reckoned to be his best. Also in action was the greatest batsman of the time Jack Hobbs. Don must have come away satiated. He vowed that he would never be satisfied until he played on this magnificent ground. Armstrong next led his team on a triumphant tour of England the same year. Little was Bradman to know then that this champion Australian side would be compared to his own ‘Invincibles’ 27 summers later.

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

Don’s Century
Published by Sporting Links
ISBN 978-81-901668-5-0, Fully Illustrated
French Fold 21.5 cm x 28 cm, 188 Pages
Price Rupees 995

Indra Vikram Singh’s latest books published by Sporting Links:
A Maharaja’s Turf  ISBN 978-81-901668-3-6
The Big Book of World Cup Cricket  ISBN 978-81-901668-4-3
Don’s Century  ISBN 978-81-901668-5-0
Crowning Glory  ISBN 978-81-901668-6-7

Distributed in India by:  Variety Book Depot, AVG Bhawan, M-3 Middle Circle, Connaught Circus, New Delhi-110001, India. Tel. + 91 11 23417175, 23412567, Email varietybookdepot@gmail.com.

Available on amazon.in: https://www.amazon.in/s/ref=sr_hi_eb?rh=k%3AIndra+Vikram+Singh%2Cn%3A976389031&ie=UTF8&qid=1516365638&keyword=Indra+Vikram+Singh

Friday, January 19, 2018

K.S. Ranjitsinhji as seen through the eyes of some writers. Excerpts from Indra Vikram Singh’s book ‘Don’s Century’





The very thought of Ranji conjures images of the leg-glance. He was the inventor of the shot, one that was patently his own and an early glimpse of the suppleness of wrists that characterised the batting of later Indian stalwarts Gundappa Viswanath, Mohammad Azharuddin and V.V.S. Laxman.

Ranji worked hard to hone his talent, hiring professional bowlers from Surrey while he was at Cambridge. Simon Wilde wrote in his biography Ranji A Genius Rich and Strange: “He practised with as much purpose whether he had just been out for 100 or for 0. He was a severe critic of his own game, and if he was indeed a genius it was for his infinite capacity for taking pains, not for becoming a superlative cricketer overnight. He enjoyed theorizing about the game and putting those theories into practice.”

The outcome was a batting style that was as unique as it was novel, and it perplexed the English. (Neville) Cardus elucidated in Good Days (1934): “In the ‘nineties the game was absolutely English; it was even Victorian. W.G. Grace for years had stamped on cricket the English mark and the mark of the period. It was the age of simple first principles, of the stout respectability of the straight bat and the good-length balls. And then suddenly this visitation of dusky, supple legerdemain happened; a man was seen playing cricket as nobody in England could possibly have played it. The honest length ball was not met by the honest straight bat, but there was a flick of the wrist, and lo! The straight ball was charmed away to the leg-boundary. And nobody quite saw or understood how it all happened.”

(Peter) Hartland summed up the impact of Ranji on the game: “The batting star of the Golden Age in England was Ranjitsinhji, with a first-class average of 56 - virtually as high as any English-qualified player has ever achieved and quite phenomenal for the time, particularly since he scored at around 50 runs an hour. Taking a qualification of ten thousand runs for all English batsmen who faced their first ball in the nineteenth century, Ranji’s first-class average is approached only by Sussex teammate (C.B.) Fry with 50. Test bowling did not slow Ranjitsinhji much, and the combination of his high average and scoring rate in relation to others really does mark him as out of the ordinary.”

Ranji’s first-class average of 56.37 was the highest for a full career by an England-based player until as late as 1986 when Geoff Boycott retired with a fractionally higher average of 56.84. And if one considers that Ranji’s career was all but over in 1904; his appearances thereafter were sporadic in 1908 and 1912, and farcical in 1920, his deeds are even more astounding. Upto 1904, Ranji had scored 22,402 runs at an average of 58.49 with 65 hundreds in 267 matches, really in less than a decade. That is the true reflection of his genius.

To the outside world Ranji was an exceptionally gifted prince who toiled diligently in the nets to emerge as the finest batsman of his era. Yet not many realised the inner turmoil that he undoubtedly underwent during his best years at the wicket, what with the drama of his adoption that never was, the machinations over his succession as ruler and his financial woes at the time. And he was laid low by illness for long periods. One has to marvel at the fact that he excelled at the game under these trying circumstances. Or more likely, he used them as a spur to motivate himself and to prove to those who mattered that he was fit to be king.

Yet his charm transcended all the elegant runs that he made. As (Gilbert) Jessop wrote: “From the moment he stepped out of the pavilion he drew all eyes and held them. No one who saw him bat will ever forget it. He was the first man I ever knew who wore silk shirts, and there was something almost romantic about the very flow of his sleeves and the curve of his shoulders. He drew the crowds wherever he went, and at the height of his cricket days the shops in Brighton would empty if he passed along the street. Everyone wanted to see him.”

There was little doubt that Ranjitsinhji had transformed batting forever. As late as 1944, Pelham Warner wrote in The Book of Cricket: “With his wonderful eye and wrists, he could play back to almost any ball, however good a length, and however fast. Like Bradman, he seldom played a genuine forward stroke, for, again like Bradman he found that balls to which he could not play back he could, with his quickness of foot, get to and drive.” This ‘play back or drive’ method, however, could only be used by one with a sharp eye and quicksilver footwork, like a Ranji or a Bradman. English batsmen attempted to copy it with disastrous results. It takes someone extraordinary to play in an extraordinary way. Ranji scored more profusely than anyone had done before, just as Bradman was to do three decades later.

Don’s Century
Published by Sporting Links
ISBN 978-81-901668-5-0, Fully Illustrated
French Fold 21.5 cm x 28 cm, 188 Pages
Price Rupees 995

Indra Vikram Singh’s latest books published by Sporting Links:
A Maharaja’s Turf  ISBN 978-81-901668-3-6
The Big Book of World Cup Cricket  ISBN 978-81-901668-4-3
Don’s Century  ISBN 978-81-901668-5-0
Crowning Glory  ISBN 978-81-901668-6-7

Distributed in India by:  Variety Book Depot, AVG Bhawan, M-3 Middle Circle, Connaught Circus, New Delhi-110001, India. Tel. + 91 11 23417175, 23412567, Email varietybookdepot@gmail.com.

Available on amazon.in: https://www.amazon.in/s/ref=sr_hi_eb?rh=k%3AIndra+Vikram+Singh%2Cn%3A976389031&ie=UTF8&qid=1516365638&keyword=Indra+Vikram+Singh

Monday, December 4, 2017

The conditions under which W.G. Grace played and why he was such a great batsman. Excerpt from Indra Vikram Singh’s book ‘Don’s Century’


W.G. Grace's last Test match, Nottingham, June 1899.

Inarguably, the first great batsman was W.G. Grace. He is credited with developing batting technique as we know it today. Another wizard who joined Grace during the later stages of his career, K.S. Ranjitsinhji wrote in The Jubilee Book of Cricket (1897): “He revolutionized batting. He turned it from an accomplishment into a science….. Before W.G. batsmen were of two kinds; a batsman played a forward game or he played a back game….. It was bad cricket to hit a straight ball; as for pulling a long hop, it was regarded as immoral. What W.G. did was to unite in his mighty self all the good points of all the good players and to make utility the criterion of style. He founded the modern theory of batting by making forward and back play of equal importance, relying neither on one nor the other, but both….. I hold him to be, not only the finest player born or unborn, but the maker of modern batting. He turned the old one-stringed instrument into a many chorded lyre.”

The emergence of Grace saw significant developments in the game. In 1864, over-arm bowling was approved. Grace was then able to develop batting technique that countered this revolutionary over-the-shoulder style of delivering the ball. Cricket received the impetus it required. County cricket began the same year, as was Wisden first published.

The popular image of Dr. William Gilbert Grace is that of the Grand Old Man, portly, ageing, with a flowing grey beard. But his best came very early in his career. It is reckoned that he was at eighteen years the best batsman in England, and consequently the world. That was in 1866 when, as Vic Marks wrote in The Wisden Illustrated History of Cricket: “W.G. was creating new standards that no one else could reach.” Playing for an England XI against Surrey, Grace scored 224 not out in a crushing victory of an innings and 300 runs. Marks recounted: “On the last afternoon his captain gave him permission to pop off to Crystal Palace to run in a 440-yard hurdle race - he won. Three weeks later he scored 173 not out for the Gentlemen of the South against Players of the South at The Oval, having already taken seven wickets whilst bowling unchanged throughout the Players’ innings.”

Grace’s halcyon days were in the pre-Test cricket era. Peter Hartland reflected in his book The Balance of Power in Test Cricket 1877-1998: “Picture him in 1873 as a 25-year-old, already known for prodigious feats in track and field athletics. At this stage he scored more runs in his short cricketing career - over 10,000 - than anyone else in history to date, at more than double the average. His career average was now 61, the next best being (reputedly the best professional batsman of the 1860s and 1870s) Richard Daft’s 29. Grace was literally twice as good as anyone who had ever played. With a step-change in broad-batted technique, if not in style, he was the first to show that cricket could be a batsman’s game; that bowlers could be forced on the defensive for long periods. The remarkable thing to remember about Grace is not so much his cricketing longevity, remarkable though that was, but the fact that he established a lead over his contemporaries which has never been equalled.”

It must be remembered that Grace had to play on pitches in the 1860s that were terrible for batting. Hartland continued, “….. pitches, still rough and ready with scant regard for evenness or slope, had barely improved. The only tool in regular use was the scythe, complementing the work of rabbits, sheep and, on one reported occasion at Lord’s a brace of partridges.”

Batting was a hazardous exercise as W.G. Grace’s own observation on wickets bears out: “Many of the principal grounds were so rough as to be positively dangerous to play upon and batsmen were commonly damaged by the fast bowling. When the wickets were in this condition the batsmen had to look out for shooters and leave the bumping balls to look after themselves. In the sixties it was no unusual thing to have three shooters in an over.” And there were only four deliveries in an over in those days!

Later the tracks did improve somewhat, and it is no coincidence that in 1871, around the time the heavy roller came to be used, Grace became the first batsman to score 2000 runs in a season - 2739 runs at an average of 78.25 with 10 hundreds, including two double centuries. That was an age when there was a clear demarcation between the amateurs and the professionals, or the Gentlemen and the Players, as they were called. The Gentlemen were the aristocrats of the game and invariably batsmen, while much of the hard labour, bowling, fell to the lot of the Players. Most of the time it was the Players who triumphed but as Marks recorded “Only during the Grace era did the Gentlemen dominate the fixture. W.G. seemed to save his best performance for the occasion, which serves to emphasise the fact that it was the most important game in the cricket calendar.”

That awesome hitter Gilbert ‘Croucher’ Jessop wrote in the July 1923 edition of The Cricketer International: “In the early days the success of the Gentlemen depended almost entirely on the ‘Old Man’. Fifteen centuries in all did he collect against the ‘Professors’ and on two of the occasions he exceeded the double century. His brightest and best patch occurred before I was born, when in consecutive innings from 1871-73 he took toll of the Players bowling to the extent of 217, 77 and 112, 117, 163, 158 and 70. And in those days, mind you, the wickets, to say the least, were not quite up to the standard of modern days. Yet against ‘rib-roasters’, ‘nose-enders’ - yes, even ‘shooters’ - did the Old Man keep his end up and calmly pursue the path which leads to centuries. Rare indeed was the occasion when ‘W.G.’ gave his wicket away, and yet few balls in the course of a long innings passed his bat.”  

W.G. also bowled accurate medium-paced to slow leg-cutters and became the first to perform the double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets in a season in 1873.

Grace came up with a stupendous performance in The Gentlemen versus The Players match at Lord’s in 1876. Opening the batting, he scored 169 out of the team’s total of 449. He then bowled 97 four-ball overs, taking three for 81 and six for 41 as The Players collapsed for 219 and 132 in their two innings. That year he became the first batsman to score a triple century in first-class cricket and, as if to celebrate, hit another, two innings later. His sequence of scores were 344, 177 and 318 not out, and in the month of August piled up 1279 runs. 

The 1870s were a golden period for Gloucestershire in the County Championships, W.G. and his brothers, Edward Mills and George Frederick, with a team composed entirely of amateurs won the title jointly with Nottinghamshire in 1873, and then on their own in 1874, 1876 and 1877, and never thereafter.

Hartland continued, “When the Test match era began in 1877, the process of allowing the batsman as fair a chance as the bowler, though reasonably advanced, still had a long way to go.” In the early 1880s, the heavy roller was complemented by the grass mower, which were used over tended soil. This made life a bit easier for batsmen. Given the awesome stature that he had already acquired, it seemed almost inevitable that W.G. would score a hundred on his Test debut. He did, at the Oval in 1880, the second such distinction after Charles Bannerman’s feat in the inaugural Test at Melbourne in 1876-77. Grace’s 152 helped England win by five wickets. Australian terror Fred Spofforth was injured during that Test, but Grace was at his best against fast bowling.

His duels with Spofforth were exhilarating, one such occasion being in what came to be known as ‘Spofforth’s match’ at the Oval in August 1882 when Australia lost at home for the first time. It was this Test that led to the creation of the Ashes. On a treacherous wicket rendered well nigh unplayable due to rain, England were set 85 to win. At 51 for two, with Grace still at the wicket, victory seemed in sight. But he holed out to mid-off for 32, and England collapsed to 77 all out. Spofforth took seven wickets in each innings, and the rest is history.

In 1886 Grace performed the astounding feat of scoring a hundred and capturing all ten wickets in an innings in the same match. He hit up 104 in MCC’s only innings, and bagged two for 60 and ten for 49, against Oxford University.

As late as 1895, at nearly 47 years, Grace was a rejuvenated man. He resurrected his career by becoming the first to score over 1000 runs in May, a cherished achievement at the beginning of the English season when it is generally cold and damp, and the ball darts around; and to notch up 100 first-class hundreds, achieving the coveted landmark in the game against Somerset at Bristol. As if to celebrate, he went on to hit up 288 out of a total of 474. Grace was the lone man to achieve these two distinctions in the 19th century. He topped the run tally for the season with 2346 runs. The next year he made his third triple century, two decades after he had compiled his first two.    

Amazingly, Grace was captain of Gloucestershire from 1871 to 1898. He led England in 13 Tests, playing 22 in all and scoring 1098 runs at an average of 32.29 with two centuries both at the Oval against Australia, 170 being the highest in 1886. Though he played his last first-class match in 1908, when he was sixty, the same year that Bradman was born, W.G.’s career was effectively over by the close of the nineteenth century. His final appearance at Lord’s for The Gentlemen was in 1899. He was still captain but did not bowl, and batted only at no. 7, instead of his customary position at the top of the order. He scored 78 before being run out, his age and bulk unable to meet the demands of sprinting up and down the pitch with youthful partners.

As Marks noted: “The Gentlemen won by an innings, which was hardly surprising since the side contained many of the men who were to become legendary figures of the Edwardian era (Archie) MacLaren, (C.B.) Fry, (K.S.) Ranjitsinhji, and F.S. Jackson. On the Players side was a 21-year-old Yorkshireman Wilfred Rhodes, who was to have the rare privilege - and pain - of bowling to both W.G. and his Australian counterpart of the next generation, Donald Bradman.” Grace aggregated 6008 runs for the Gentlemen against the Players - more than twice the next man - and also took 276 wickets.

In addition to his three first-class triple centuries, Grace knocked up 10 double centuries in his tally of 126 three-figure knocks. He made up 1000 runs in a season 28 times, the only other player to achieve it so many times being Frank Woolley. Grace scored a hundred in each innings of a match thrice. His career aggregate of 54,896 runs at an average of 39.55 was then a record. It is remarkable that in such a long career played on uncovered wickets of dubious quality, Grace did not bag a single pair. Lord Harris paid his tribute later: “Grace was just as watchful when his score was 200 as when he was on 0 - and just as reluctant to leave the wicket on dismissal.” He also took 2876 first-class wickets at an average of 17.92 and, as was only to be expected from a man of his temperament, a brilliant fielder off his own bowling. Amazingly, even a century later, W.G. Grace is still fifth in the all-time rungetters list, and sixth among the wicket-takers, in the first-class arena.  

Vic Marks, in The Wisden Illustrated History of Cricket, summed up the career of cricket’s first superstar: “W.G. Grace was to dwarf all others in the period 1865 to 1900. He became as celebrated as Queen Victoria herself. Unwittingly Grace carried the game of cricket into the modern era almost single-handed.” There is indeed little doubt that he transformed the game and the public’s awareness of it. Perhaps appropriately, the last word on Grace should come from his memorial biography published under the auspices of the MCC. Sir Home Gordon eulogised, “That he will never have an equal in the future is to us equally an axiom because never again will the conditions under which it is played be so difficult as they were when he built up his reputation by demonstrating his superiority alike over them and over his contemporaries, a position he holds for decades.”

Don’s Century
Published by Sporting Links
ISBN 978-81-901668-5-0, Fully Illustrated
French Fold 21.5 cm x 28 cm, 188 Pages
Price Rupees 995

Indra Vikram Singh’s latest books published by Sporting Links:
A Maharaja’s Turf  ISBN 978-81-901668-3-6
The Big Book of World Cup Cricket  ISBN 978-81-901668-4-3
Don’s Century  ISBN 978-81-901668-5-0
Crowning Glory  ISBN 978-81-901668-6-7

Distributed in India by:  Variety Book Depot, AVG Bhawan, M-3 Middle Circle, Connaught Circus, New Delhi-110001, India. Tel. + 91 11 23417175, 23412567, Email varietybookdepot@gmail.com.

Available online at amazon.in:
https://www.amazon.in/s/ref=sr_hi_eb?rh=k%3AIndra+Vikram+Singh%2Cn%3A976389031&ie=UTF8&qid=1508325652&keyword=Indra+Vikram+Singh

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The legendary writer Neville Cardus’ comments on some great cricketers

Sir Neville Cardus (1888-1975) was a famous English cricket writer, music critic and long-timecorrespondent of The Manchester Guardian. His comments on some great cricketers make interesting reading.







On W.G. Grace and K.S. Ranjitsinhji, in his book Good Days (1934): “In the ‘nineties the game was absolutely English; it was even Victorian. W.G. Grace for years had stamped on cricket the English mark and the mark of the period. It was the age of simple first principles, of the stout respectability of the straight bat and the good-length balls. 
And then suddenly this visitation of dusky, supple legerdemain happened; a man was seen playing cricket as nobody in England could possibly have played it. The honest length ball was not met by the honest straight bat, but there was a flick of the wrist, and lo! The straight ball was charmed away to the leg-boundary. And nobody quite saw or understood how it all happened.”


On Victor Trumper, Charles Macartney  and Don Bradman: “Macartney, perfect of technique, none the less used his bat with an unmistakable pugnacity. He was less courtly in his stroke-play than Trumper, whose masterful innings had a certain effortless charm. Sir Donald Bradman annihilated all bowlers as though he was just performing the day’s work with a deadly efficiency. Macartney slaughtered bowling quite rapaciously. If he was obliged to bat through a maiden over he looked annoyed with himself at the end of it; and he would gnaw his glove. His forearms were formidably strong, his chin was aggressive and his eyes perpetually alive. They looked you in the face; they looked the best bowlers in the world in the face. Macartney employed a defensive stroke as a last resort. Nothing could daunt him. Before the start of a Lord’s Test match he came down to breakfast in a London hotel, looking through the window at the June sunshine and said:- ‘Lovely day, Cripes, I feel sorry for any poor cove who’s got to bowl at me today’.”


On Don Bradman’s 334 in the Leeds Test of 1930, in his book Play Resumed with Cardus: “At Leeds Bradman announced his rights to mastership in a few swift moments. He made 72 runs in his first hour at the wicket, giving to us every bit of cricket excepting the leg-glance. Every fine point of batsmanship was to be admired; strokes powerful and swift and accurate and handsome; variety of craft controlled with singleness of mind and purpose. Bradman was as determined to take no risks, as was to hit boundaries from every ball the least loose. And his technique is so extensive and practised that he can get runs at the rate of 50 an hour, without once needing to venture romantically into the realms of the speculative or the empirical.”

On Don Bradman: “People say ‘Oh, but he hasn’t the charm of McCabe, or the mercury of MacCartney, or the dignity of Hammond’; the objection is a little unintelligent, as though a lion was criticized for lacking the delicacy of the gazelle, the worrying tenacity of the terrier and the disdainful elegance of a swan or a camel.”

On Don Bradman: “Bradman’s achievements stagger the imagination. No writer of boys’ fiction would dare to invent a hero who performed with Bradman’s continual consistency. His batsmanship delights one’s knowledge of the game, his every stroke is a dazzling and precious stone in the game’s crown.”









On Gary Sobers: “He makes a stroke with moments to spare. The sure sign of mastery, of genius of any order, is absence of strain, natural freedom of rhythm.”











(These comments are reproduced in Indra Vikram Singh’s book ‘Don’s Century’, written in the centenary year of Sir Donald Bradman, celebrating his life and cricket career, and also presenting a panorama of batting from the 1860s to present times).  


Don’s Century
Published by Sporting Links
ISBN 978-81-901668-5-0, Fully Illustrated
French Fold 21.5 cm x 28 cm, 188 Pages
Price Rupees 995

Indra Vikram Singh’s latest books published by Sporting Links:
A Maharaja’s Turf  ISBN 978-81-901668-3-6
The Big Book of World Cup Cricket  ISBN 978-81-901668-4-3
Don’s Century  ISBN 978-81-901668-5-0
Crowning Glory  ISBN 978-81-901668-6-7

Distributed in India by:  Variety Book Depot, AVG Bhawan, M-3 Middle Circle, Connaught Circus, New Delhi-110001, India. Tel. + 91 11 23417175, 23412567, Email varietybookdepot@gmail.com.

Available online at amazon.in:
https://www.amazon.in/s/ref=sr_hi_eb?rh=k%3AIndra+Vikram+Singh%2Cn%3A976389031&ie=UTF8&qid=1508325652&keyword=Indra+Vikram+Singh