Hail to the Chief

In Some Cricketers.. by Bill Ricquier

The election of Donald Trump as the forty – fifth President of the United States has caused, if not global alarm and despondency then at the least widespread consternation.

There is, however, one consolation in these difficult times. We can now put together a credible team of first – class cricketers with the names of US Presidents.

Not surprisingl , there are few recorded instances of actual engagements between American Presidents and cricket. In December 1959, however, President Eisenhower was visiting Pakistan , and he attended the fourth day of the third Test against Australia in Karachi. This gave the famed war hero the chance to watch Hanif Mohammed score a century, much of it being complied on that fourth day. But the Little Master, as Wisden politely put it ” failed to sparkle”. Indeed , only 104 runs were scored during the entire day. Ike’s reaction is not recorded but one is reminded of another famous American’s attendance at a cricket match: after sitting patiently for an hour or so at Lord’s Groucho Marx turned to his host and enquired “When do they start ?”

Anyway, here’s the team.

Mark TAYLOR was one of the most significant cricketers of the late twentieth century. He made a sensational Test debut in England in 1989 and formed formidable opening partnerships first with Geoff Marsh and then with Michael Slater. As a batsman the left- handed Taylor was solid rather than spectacular. He was a brilliant slip fielder, his comfortable figure belying speedy reflexes. It was as captain that he made his most vital contribution to Australian cricket. Taking over from Allan Border in 1994, he took a great side to unprecedented heights, exhibiting considerable tactical and man- management skills. His batting suffered periodic declines and he was under pressure to drop himself before scoring a hundred in a losing cause against England at Edgbaston in 1997: Australia went on to win the series three – one . At Peshawar in 1998 he declared when he had reached 334, declining the opportunity to pass Don Bradman’s then record score for Australia. He is now one of the shrewdest of TV commentators.

G C “Jackie” GRANT played twelve Tests for the West Indies and was captain in every one of them. This was not so much because he was very good at it as because he was a member of an influential and appropriately patrician Port of Span dynasty. Grant attained cricket and football blues at Cambridge and led the West Infies on their tour of Australia in 1930-31. It was a tough tour , Australia winning the first four Tests, with Bradman making a double century in the third match and 152 in the fourth. But the visitors won the fifth, in Sydney, thanks largely to Grant’s inventive captaincy: he declared twice-highly unusual in those days – enabling his bowlers to exploit helpful conditions. West Indies won by thirty runs with Bradman falling for a duck in the fourth innings. Grant also led his team to a home series victory over England in 1934-35.

Archie JACKSON is one of the tragic heroes of Australian cricket : the Phillip Hughes of his day. At the age of nineteen he made a century on debut – 164 in all – against England at Adelaide in 1928-29, opening the innings with Bill Woodfull. England, who dominated the series, had a fine attack , including Maurice Tate, Harold Larwood and J C ” Farmer” White , but Jackson mastered them all. Many observers were put in mind of his mentor , the great stylist Alan Kippax, as he cut and glanced exquisitely. Jackson toured England with Woodfull’s side in 1930, but , although he made 73 at The Oval, putting on 243 with Bradman, he was dogged by ill health. He died of tuberculosis on the day Englained regained The Ashes in the Bodyline series in February 1933: he was twenty three.

There should be an honourable mention of FS ( later the Right Honourable Sir Stanley) JACKSON , one of the great figures of cricket’s Golden Age. A middle- order batsman and medium paced bowler , he was at his peak in 1905, when he led England to victory against Australia and headed both batting and bowling averages. He had a long and distinguished career in public life, becoming Governor of Bengal.

On his day, few batsmen in England looked better than the Lancashire right-hander Frank HAYES. Fair haired and of medium height he was a class act , especially impressive off the back foot on the off side. One of those days was the final day of the first Test against the West Indies at The Oval in 1973 , when he made a magnificent hundred on debut. He was also a brilliant fielder , especially in the covers . But he never recaptured that magic at international level, failing to pass thirty in any of his other Tests. He was unlucky in only being selected against the West Indies ( for the last time in their rampant 1976 summer). As they got better and better he seemed to get worse and worse. He remained a fine performer for Lancashire. He is now a schoolmaster at Oakham in Rutland.

Chris ADAMS was a tall, positive right handed batsman who forged a considerable reputation with Derbyshire in the 1990s. In 1998 he joined Sussex, as captain. The following year he won selection in Nasser Hussain’s England side to tour South Africa. This was not a success. Playing in all five Tests Adams did just enough to demonstrate that he did not quite cut the mustard at international level. He continued, however, to be a formidable performer at county level. And Sussex, helped by shrewd recruitment, we’re getting better and better .In 2003 they won the county championship for the first time in their long history. Two more titles came in 2006 and 2007. Much was owed to the brilliant Pakistani leg spinner Mushtaq Ahmed but nobody has doubted that without Adams – a genuine, inspirational leader – those titles would not have been won.

At number six we have GARFIELD st Aubyn Sobers. I know , I know – but did I say they had to be surnames ? ( I have actually been very strict: I refused to pick Fred Trueman.) And it is not straightforward to pick a balanced team of people named after US Presidents. But with Sobers that problem disappears: Sobers was virtually a balanced team on his own. He did everything. He started as a left- arm orthodox spinner. He came to bowl left arm fast medium and also slow left arm ‘ chinamen” the left armer’s equivalent of the leg break, turning from off to leg. He was a brilliant fielder. All these things were done to the highest standard . But ut was as a batsman that he will be most vividly recalled. Tall and free flowing of stroke, he defied description. The nearest modern comparison is Brian Lara. To bat the way he did and average 58 in Test cricket is genuinely astonishing. I saw his last Test century , at Lord’s in 1973. It was worth the gate money just to see his inimitable lope from the Pavilion to the middle. Let’s not beat about the ( Presidents) bush ( Stop it – Ed) : we will never see a better cricketer than Gary Sobers.

Jimmy ADAMS ( there were two Presidents named Adams) was a West Indian left-hander of a very different type. Angular and adhesive while Sobers was lithe and fast scoring, Adams made a spectacular start to his Test career as bowlers tried to work out his quirky style. The second half was less successful , and he had a difficult time when he succeeded Lara as captain in 2000. He was a useful slow left arm bowler.

There are a number of wicketkeepers to choose from. The best was probably Bob Taylor, highly skilled but unlucky to coincide with Jim Parks and then Alan Knott, both of whom were better batsmen (though Knott was at least as good a keeper). But he did play 57 Tests. But we already have a Taylor.

Wicketkeepers are of two types- the unobtrusive ones , and the ones who do a lot of shouting (” Bowled Warnie!!!”). Taylor was one of the former; Paul ” The Badger” NIXON was undoubtedly one of the latter. Hugely energetic, he gave yeoman service to Leicestershire in two separate spells , playing vital roles in two Championships and three T20 titles. He was a highly inventive left -handed batsman. He never let England down in nineteen one-day internationals, including nine in the 2007 World Cup.

Hanson “Sammy” Carter was one of Australia’s great early keepers. Staring out of black and white team photos with his thick moustache he looks a little like the silent comedian Ben Turpin. He was an undertaker by profession and would occasionally turn up to the cricket in a hearse. He toured England twice, in 1909 and 1921. He had been born in Halifax, and when Australia played England at Headingley in 1921 he was the only Yorkshireman in the match.

Mitchell JOHNSON was the most exciting all round cricketer of his time. In truth he was a bowler who batted , but when his batting came off he was great to watch , and an especially strong driver. But it is for his fast left arm bowling that Johnson will always be remembered. An apparently fragile temperament meant that he seemed peculiarly inconsistent. When he was bad – as at times in England in 2009 – he could be very, very bad. But when he was good….. I saw him at one of his peaks, perhaps the highest, at the Adelaide Oval in December 2013. Nobody who was there – over thirty thousand – will forget his dismissal of Alastair Cook, the England captain’s bat still on its way down as the ball shattered the stumps. Sport has few more exhilarating sights than a genuine fast bowler on the hunt.

Don WILSON was one of the last of a line of great slow left armers who played for Yorkshire , a line that included Wilfred Rhodes and Hedley Verity. Wilson was a fixture in the great team that won the Championship seven times between 1959 and 1968. He would walk into the England team now but he had to compete with Tony Lock and then Derek Underwood and only played in six Tests , five of them in India in 1963-64. He became a revered coach at Ampleforth College and at the indoor school at Lord’s.

And , lastly, we have Harvey TRUMP. A highly promising off spinner he played in three Under 19 Tests for England against Sri Lanka and made a promising start at Somerset. But despite occasional quality performances – notably fourteen wickets in a match against Gloucestershire in 1992 – he never really fulfilled his early promise. To be honest, most people will be startled by his selection at this level.

Of course, we must have a twelfth man, somebody who can’t quite make it to the top table. Ours will be Yorkshire’s Scotsman , the talented all rounder Gavin Hamilton, who , like Chris Adams, won selection for Hussain’s tour of South Africa.

His namesake, Alexander,  is regarded by many as the most gifted of the founding fathers. But he never became President: his life ended in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr.

Hamilton ‘s career at the highest level terminated perhaps less painfully but with scarcely reduced trauma; he bagged a pair in his only Test.

Bill Ricquier, 3/2/2017

The article was published in Scoreline Asia: https://scoreline.asia/you-must-remember-this/

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