Welcome to my latest variation on the ‘All Time XI‘ theme. Today our XI are linked by born in ‘non-cricketing’ countries – which is to say countries not generally associated with the game, since the ICC, the sport’s global governing body has over 100 members and affiliates. After introducing the XI I will share some of my own thoughts on the relevance or otherwise of birthplaces. I will look at a couple of current cases in detail. Before moving in to the main body of this post I would like to thank the pinchhitter (latest post here), who you can also visit on twitter @LePinchHitter for including links to a number of my recent posts in their own efforts.
THE NON-CRICKETING BIRTHPLACE XI
- Paul Terry – right handed opening bat, born Osnabruck, Germany, 16,427 first class runs at 36.66. He played for Hampshire and briefly England. Even by 1980s standards his treatment by the England selectors was utterly disgraceful – he was pitched in at the deep end against the 1984 West Indies who were en route to a ‘blackwash’ of their hapless hosts (whether the 1980 or 1984 fast foursome was the more awesome combo is discussion topic for another post – in terms of pitching a debutant in against them it is a bit like asking whether a punch from Muhammad Ali or Jack Dempsey would do more damage), got horrifically injured and was callously cast aside, never to be heard from again at international level.
- Archie Jackson – right handed opening bat, born Rutherglen, Scotland, 4,383 first class runs at 45.65. I covered this man in the ‘what might have been XI‘. Although it has been the birthplace of some talented cricketers down the years, Scotland is not widely thought of as a cricket hot spot.
- Ted Dexter – right handed bat, right arm fast medium bowler, born Milan, Italy, 21,150 first class runs at 40.75, 419 first class wickets at 29.92. A swashbuckling no 3, a fine fielder and his bowling is by no means negligible. You can find out more about him in my Sussex post.
- George Headley – right handed bat, born Colon, Panama, 9,921 first class runs at 69.86 (he averaged 60.83 in test cricket, with 15 fifty plus scores, of which he converted ten into centuries, a conversion rate ahead of everyone other than Bradman. Also the progenitor of a cricketing dynasty that at the time of writing spans three generations (son Ron and grandson Dean) and two test teams (the West Indies and England), and may yet go to on to join the Cowdreys (all five players shown are of the same family) in producing a fourth successive generation of first class cricketers.
- Mike Denness – right hand bat, born Ayr, Scotland, 25,886 first class runs at 33.48. A fine batter for Kent and later Essex, his test average was actually six runs per innings higher than his first class, in spite of a horror run in the 1974-5 Ashes which induced him to drop himself as captain.
- Natalie Sciver – right hand bat, right arm medium, born Tokyo, Japan, 3,538 international runs at 31.87 and 104 international wickets at 23.23. A genuine all-rounder, her wickets tally looks low because of her internationals have been limited over and T20s. She is also an outstanding fielder. She also has a shot anmed after, the ‘Natmeg’ where the ball is played under the batter’s leg (descriptions of the ‘draw’, a shot favoured by some 19th century batters suggest she may not have been quite such a pioneer as this suggests, but there is no doubting the stroke’s value).
- *Freddie Brown – right hand bat, leg spin and occasional right arm medium, born Lima, Peru, 13,325 first class runs at 27.36, 1,221 first c;ass wickets at 26.21. He played county cricket for Surrey and Northamptonshire. After being part of the 1932-3 Ashes winning party but not playing a test match on tour, he next went on tour when he captained the 1950-1 Ashes tour party (the tour is sympathetically chronicled by Bill O’Reilly in “Cricket Taskforce” and Jack Fingleton in “Brown and Company”, two excellent reads both penned by Aussies). Brown’s team went down 4-1, dogged by injuries and ill luck, but his efforts as captain (third choice – George Mann and Norman Yardley were both offered the job but already had commitments they could not renege on) were universally appreciated. It was on that tour that with an already ill equipped bowling unit hit by injuries he turned to medium pace in an attempt to plug a gaping hole and did not fare badly. I reckon that with the combination I am giving him he would be both a good and a winning captain.
- +Geraint Jones – Wicket keeper and right hand bat, born in Papua New Guinea, 9,037 first class runs at 32.45, 599 first class catches and 36 first class stumpings. I mentioned him briefly in my Kent post, and also gave him a place in my ‘Tried and Untrusted‘ XI.
- John Barton ‘Bart’ King – right arm fast bowler and right hand bat, born Philadelphia, USA, 415 first class wickets (in 65 appearances at that level) at 15.66, 2,134 first class runs at 21.34. The original ‘King of swing’ – the first bowler to deliberately use swing as a weapon. Various first class counties tried to persuade him to settle there and play for them, including one county who tried an ‘out of the box’ approach – they offered to set him up with a wealthy widow who was a fan of the club if he would come and play for them. The very first international game of cricket was between the USA and Canada in 1844, while the first documented tour to leave English shores in 1859 was also to North America, and the first of WG Grace’s three overseas trips (in 1872-3) was to Canada and the USA. At one time the possibility was entertained of the USA joining England, Australia and South Africa as a test playing nation. Philadelphia was the strongest cricketing outpost in those parts, with the Newhall family also boasting impressive records. It would seem likely that King developed the technique of swinging the ball from baseball (as the slightly later Australian Frank Laver did, with remarkable effects in the test arena). The game of course did not build on these promising beginnings in that part of the world, although maybe with Liam Plunkett heading that way it will experience a rebirth there.
- Ole Mortensen, right arm fast medium bowler, right hand batter, born Vejle, Jutland, 434 first class wickets at 23.88, 709 runs at 8.97. Part of a Derbyshire bowling unit of considerable effectiveness, but one that was also decried by nativists (yes, USians, we have them too, although not usually in high office) because as well as him it featured Devon Malcolm, born in Jamaica, and Alan Warner who was actually born in this country but who was often assumed by those who judge on physical appearance not to have been.
- Ian Peebles – leg spinner, right hand bat, born in Aberdeen, Scotland, 923 first class wickets at 21.38, 2,213 first class runs at 9.13. Peebles did play a few games for England, and numbered Bradman among his test victims, but was largely victim of endemic English mistrust of wrist spinners. He had a distinguished county career with Middlesex. After his playing days were done he turned to writing and achieved arguably even greater success there, with “Woolley: Pride of Kent”, “Batter’s Castle”, “Spinner’s Yarn”, “The Fight For The Ashes 1958-9” and “Batters Castle” among his considerable and very readable output, which also includes a chapter on Pelham Warner in “Cricket: The Great Captains”. I would expect him to turn out a splendid chronicle of this team’s endeavours!
My team features a strong top five, two genuine all rounders, a keeper who can bat and three superb specialist bowlers. The bowling has five front liners plus Dexter, with spin options in Peebles and Brown, so that won’t let it down. The keeping, with Jones having the gloves is not of the very highest standards, and someone would have to make it clear to Jones that he is expected to stand up not just for the spinners but also for Sciver (some of whose wickets have come by means of stumpings) and possibly even Dexter.
SOME THOUGHTS ON THE (IR)RELEVANCE OF BIRTHPLACE
I am far more concerned about the quality of a cricketer than where they are born. If you can hire a top player do so regardless of their origins. What I object to is the use of second string foreign born players who qualify as ‘English’ on a technicality while having neither the intention nor the skill to play for England. Apart from anything else it has a record of proven failure – Leicestershire, one of the most notorious followers of this policy have been stone last five times in the last ten seasons. If somebody is good enough they might hail from a lunar colony (read Andy Weir’s “Artemis” for one version of how such a thing might work – come to think of it I could imagine Jazz Bashara faring pretty well as a crafty spinner!) for all that it matters. That said, there are a couple of current cases I am going to touch on…
After playing five tests for his native South Africa with some success, Harmer, not thinking he was getting picked regularly enough decamped for this country, and a contract with Essex. He has been wonderful for Essex, a fact that I have acknowledged by naming him in my ‘All Time Essex’ XI, and that this year’s Wisden has acknowledged by naming him as one of the ‘five cricketers of the year’. He has now been based in this country for long enough to qualify by residence, and of course that means that thoughts are turning in some circles to whether to pick him for England. My answer is in the negative, not from lack of respect for Mr Harmer, nor from any worry over someone representing two countries – has happened before and probably will again, but because with Bess looking established in the off spinner’s spot for England and young Virdi doing brilliantly at Surrey I believe it would be a retrograde step and a slap in the face for the two players I have just named to select Harmer at this juncture. I will finish this subsection by re-emphasising that this is not anti Harmer in any way – both his play and his on-field conduct have been impreccable, it is about the best interests of England looking forward, which I consider to lie in developing and encouraging the young spinning talent that we have. That leads on to…
This young quick bowler made waves in his native South Africa, and like Harmer has actually played for them at international level, but he has now decided to make a life and a career for himself in England, and good luck to him. In a few years from now he will qualify for England, and the question will be whether to pick him or not. My answer will depend on the situation regarding English fast bowling at that time – if picking him means blocking the career development of a home grown talent then the answer should be “no”, but if the fast bowling situation is less rosy then there would be a serious case for picking him.
OVERSEAS AND ‘KOLPAK’ TYPE PLAYERS
On overseas players my feeling is straightforward: if you can get one of genuinely top class standard go for it, but don’t sign any old overseas player just for the sake of having one. With the ‘Kolpak’ types I would ask myself two questions: first, are they of top class or possessing the obvious potential to become top class?, second, am I sure that they offering me something that the players I already have cannot provide? If the answer to either of the foregoing is a no, then don;t do it, and if the answer to the first of the two questions is only a ‘maybe’ I would be strongly disinclined to proceed.
Our look at cricketers with non-cricketing birth places is done, and it now remains only for me to provide my usual sign off…