Cricket lovers are obsessed with “lists” and the like: left-handers versus right-handers, the best Asian team of all time, or a World Xl from the inception of the game to now (as the website Cricinfo has put out just the other day and which has spread like a vi: rus in the digital world).
At its most unimaginative, such lists can be banal; if thought out well, they can be engaging, often sparking off inquiry which can be extremely educative too. For instance, the younger generation might be intrigued to see Jack Hobbs and Len Hutton as first-choice openers in Cricinfo’s World Xl list, but that could lead to a study on why they are considered so great.
My column this week lists a cricket team comprising players who overcame serious injuries or diseases to leave their impression on the game. All of them played at the international level and, I dare say, would have given some champion sides a run for their money.
He looked to be arguably England’s best batsman in 2006 till he suddenly flew back home in the middle of a tour of India in a veil of secrecy. After protracted speculation, it was revealed that he had been suffering from stress-related problems for some time. He made a comeback to county cricket in 2007 and was even shortlisted to play in the T20 World Championships that year, but his nerves let him down again. In 2008, he retired from international cricket, but continues to play for Somerset.
Mind games: Trescothick tried to overcome his stress-related problems but could not continue in international cricket. AFP
Milburn lit up grounds in England and elsewhere with his powerful strokeplay. Built like a sumo wrestler, he was nevertheless quick to get into position for flowing drives in front of the wicket or the hook and pull strokes. A car accident in 1969 sadly left him blind in the left eye and affected the right too. Milburn strived to return to competitive cricket after recovering, but his prowess was so considerably diminished that he faded out of even county cricket fairly soon.
Rowe was a strapping Jamaican who whistled when batting. But more than such idiosyncrasy, it was his strokeplay that earned him greater renown. With scores of 214 and an unbeaten 100 on debut, and 302 a couple of years later, Rowe looked set to conquer the world till an eye problem on the 1974 tour of India stymied his career.
Subsequently, he also developed an allergy to grass. He played sporadically for West Indies but never quite became the world’s best batsman. That mantle passed on to Vivian Richards, while Rowe redefined his destiny to lead a rebel team to South Africa.
Greig lived with epilepsy almost throughout his playing career though this was never evident in his extrovert ways. He would make friends and foes equally quickly. Indians, in particular, remember him with fondness for his showmanship as well as his all-round skills on the 1972 and 1976 tours. Greig, who suffered his first attack as a schoolboy, used sport and medicines to combat the illness, gradually learning to cope, and ended up becoming one of the game’s best practitioners.
Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi
Tiger Pataudi lived out his entire international career playing with just one eye. A car accident in 1961, when he was only a few months past his 20th birthday, left him badly injured and handicapped; a few months later, just past his 21st birthday, he was leading the Indian team against the West Indies, the youngest captain in cricket history. At his best, he was a dashing batsman and brilliant fielder, leaving spectators and opponents wondering just how good he would have been with two eyes.
Overcoming the odds: Tiger Pataudi (Hindustan Times) (right) and Jonty Rhodes (AFP) excelled despite their handicaps through sheer willpower.
The South African was arguably the greatest fielder the game has seen. He would cover the arc between cover and gully with such athleticism that batsmen would be petrified of attempting even an easy single. His run-out of Inzamam-ul-Haq in the 1991-92 World Cup is still regarded as the best piece of fielding ever seen. Rhodes was always a bundle of nervous energy, batting or fielding, which could be traced to the fact that he too suffered from fits of epilepsy like Greig. Thrust into sport to fight the ailment, Rhodes excelled at hockey too, but chose cricket as his career to become one of the most admired players of all time.
The Sultan of Swing, who was included against heavy odds in the World Xl in the Cricinfo list, has had type 1 diabetes for almost a decade and a half. He was 31 and at the top of his game when blood tests revealed the disease. The fact that he played on till his late 30s and finished with more than 400 Test wickets is testimony to Akram’s successful battle against diabetes, using a happy-go-lucky disposition along with medication to overcome this condition and retire in 2003 as one of the best to have set foot on a cricket field.
The flamboyant wicketkeeper batsman from New Zealand died of cancer less than six months after playing against India in a Test match in 1976. It is believed that he had known his condition for a while but wanted to play on till the end. He had toured India in 1969; a pugnacious 69 at the Brabourne Stadium was one of the highlights of that tour. He could bat in low gear as well if the occasion demanded but it was as a wicketkeeper that Wadworth often touched brilliance.
Briggs was a skillful slow left-arm bowler who could also bat well enough to score a century in only his second Test. He was to play 31 more matches for England, earning greater recognition for his bowling, which fetched him 118 wickets at an impressive average of only 17.75. He suffered from epilepsy almost throughout. In a Test in 1899, he suffered a seizure from which it was thought he would never recover. He did, but only to live till 1902; he died a few months short of his 40th birthday.
The left-arm fast bowler was chosen as a replacement for the injured Imran Khan in 1983 and made way for Wasim Akram in 1985. Not a patch on either of the great Pakistanis, he nevertheless won admiration for his big-hearted effort, considering that he was born with two fingers of his right hand missing. He was a decent fielder, robust batsman and strong bowler capable of putting in long spells. In Lahore in 1984-85, he brought India’s strong batting to its knees when taking 6 for 46.
Chandra, who took 6 for 38 at the Oval in 1971 to mark one of the more memorable moments in Indian cricket history, was afflicted by polio in his childhood. It left his right arm withered, but that did not prevent him from becoming one of the most dangerous leg spinners the game has seen.
Bowling at near medium pace with an unorthodox action, Chandra could make the ball fizz, hiss and bite even on placid tracks. One-fourth of the famed Indian quartet of the 1960s and 1970s, he was a captain’s delight and a scourge of opponents.
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.
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