Welcome to another variation on the all-time XI theme. This one requires a little preliminary explanation to set the scene, but first before getting into the main body of the post it is time for a…
CORRECTION AND APOLOGY
Some observant readers will have observed, as did one James Carroll on twitter that in yesterday’s post about New Zealand I somehow contrived to leave out Kane Williamson. So, following my usual ‘reverse tabloid’ policy in such matters I take this opportunity to redress the wrong: Williamson replaces Rutherford in the NZ My Time team and if absolutely mandated to do so I could accommodate him in the NZ All Time by dropping Martin Crowe. My thanks to Mr Carroll for being civil about making the correction and my apology to Mr Williamson for an inexcusable oversight.
EXPLAINING THE CLR JAMES TROPHY
The CLR James Trophy gets its name from the question at the heart of that classic cricket book “Beyond a Boundary”, “what do they know of cricket who only cricket know?” I pit two teams against each other of top level cricketers whose names give me non-cricketing links, with brief explanations of those links. I did consider honouring a former cricketer with a famously broad range of interests, Ed Smith and a polymath in Peter Medawar, but decided to stick with the CLR option. It is time to meet the first of our two XIs…
WG GRACE’S XI
- *William Gilbert Grace – right handed opening batter, right arm bowler of various types. The scorer of 54,896 first class runs and taker of 2,876 first class wickets, his parents’ eighth child and fourth son was named in honour of William Gilbert, Royal Physician to Queen Elizabeth I. He was among other things a pioneer in the field of magnetism, author of “De Magnete”, and subject of “Latitude” by Stephen Pumfrey. Another Gloucestershire physician, Dr Jessop, named his 11th child Gilbert, because it was WG’s middle name, while ‘The Champion’ had several cricketing cousins surnamed Gilbert as well.
- Alec Stewart – right handed opening batter. His average when picked for England in this specific role was 45 per innings. Here he gets in in order to publicize Professor Ian Stewart, author of a stack of books about mathematics, including a series of books of curios “Professor Stewart’s Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities”, “Professor Stewart’s Hoard of Mathematical Treasurers” and “Professor Stewart’s Casebook of Mathematical Mysteries”, and many others such as “Does God Play Dice?”, “Nature’s Numbers” and “Taming the Infinite”.
- Kepler Wessels – left handed batter. The only man to score over 1,000 test runs for each of two different countries. In his case the connection is by way of his given name, to ground breaking astronomer Johannes Kepler.
- Bill Bruce – right handed batter. A successful Aussie of the 1890s. His analogue is Colin Bruce, author of “The Strange Case of Mrs Hudson’s Cat” and “Conned Again Watson”. These two books use stories featuring Baker Street’s most famous duo to explore mysteries of science, mathematics and logic.
- Merv Wallace – right handed batter. The Kiwi averaged 44 in first class cricket, but his few appearances at test level were not so successful. The non-cricketing link is Alfred Russel Wallace, co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection. The Wallace line, which runs (among other places) between Lombok and Bali marks the geological and zoological divide between Asia and Australia.
- David Hookes – right handed batter. The scorer of the fastest first class hundred by any Australian batter, in just 43 minutes. He is the only one whose name needs altering to create the non-cricketing links – deleting the final s gives Hooke, as in Robert Hooke, the great 17th century scientist, author of Micrographia, and well covered in John Gribbin’s “Science: A History 1543-2001”, while deleting the e from that surname provides a connection to philosopher Bell Hooks, who I learned a little bit about while studying philosophy as one of the modules of my degree.
- Franklyn Stephenson – right handed batter, right arm fast medium bowler. Our all rounder, one of only two since the reduction of first class fixtures in 1969 to have done the double of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in an English season, and appropriately he is doing double duty. George and Robert Stephenson were both eminent engineers, among the pioneers of railway development. The most famous Stephenson design with a railway connection was of course ‘The Rocket’. Robert Louis Stephenson, a relative of the engineers, is famous as a novelist. I have read most of his books, the first one I read being “Kidnapped”, while I studied “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” at degree level.
- +Jack Russell – wicket keeper, left handed lower middle order batter. His ‘alter ego’ is philosopher Bertrand Russell, author of many books, and one of the writers featured in “Portable Atheist”, edited by Christopher Hitchens.
- Xenophon Balaskas – leg spinner, capable right handed batter. His brief test match career does not look that impressive, but in 75 first class matches he scored 2,696 runs at 28.68 with a best of 206 and took 276 wickets at 24.11 with a best of 8-60. The original Xenophon was an Athenian who went to Sparta when his situation in his home city became untenable, signed up as a mercenary solider there and travelled to Persia as part of an army attempting to overthrow King Artaxerxes and place his brother Cyrus on the throne. After a battle in which Cyrus was killed, Xenophon and his men found themselves in deepest Persia under sentence of death, but managed to escape, and Xenophon eventually returned to Greece, writing up his adventures in a book he called Anabasis. This has been novelized by Conn Iggulden as “Falcon of Sparta”. Much later one Xenophon of Cos served as physician to the Roman Emperor Claudius, being mentioned in Suetonius’ “The Twelve Caesars” and also in the fictional setting of Robert Graves’ “I Claudius” and “Claudius The God”. Finally, to complete Balaskas’ ancient historical links his middle name was Constantine, linking him the first christian Roman Emperor.
- George Dennett – left arm orthodox spinner. Over 2,100 first class wickets and no England cap. He claims his place as second spinner by virtue of his surname, shared by philosopher Daniel C Dennett, among whose books are numbered “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea” and “Breaking The Spell”, both of which adorn my shelves.
- Danny Morrison – right arm fast medium bowler. He was one of the Kiwis best bowlers of the 1990s and his presence creates two splendid links. Toni Morrison won the Nobel prize for Literature for “Beloved”, and is also the author of a number of other hard hitting books – anything with her name on the cover will be worth reading. Boyd Morrison writes novels that combine action, adventure and elements of science and history – I have a copy of “The Noah’s Ark Quest” and can also recommend “The Tsunami Countdown”.
This team features a good top six, a genuine all rounder in Stephenson, a keeper who can bat, and three varied specialist bowlers. With Grace also worth his place as a bowler the bowling has depth and variety, with Stephenson and Morrison to take the new ball and Dennett, Balaskas and Grace to provide alternatives.
GREVILLE STEVENS XI
- Harold Dennis ‘Dickie’ Bird – right handed opening batter. Best known as an umpire, but he was a successful opening bat for Barnsley, and ultimately amassed two first class hundreds, with a best of 181 not out. David Bird is a prolific writer of books about Contract Bridge. He is particularly noted for his humorous stories featuring the monks of St Titus, the nuns of St Hilda’s and latterly staff and pupils alike at Cholmeley and Channing schools, located at opposite ends of the same village.
- Alan Melville – right handed opening batter. The South African had a splendid test record, including four successive centuries straddling World War II. His ‘alter ego’ is Herman Melville, author of “Moby Dick”.
- Hugh Massie – right handed attacking top order batter. He scored 55 in the original ‘Ashes’ test at The Oval in 1882, made out of 66 in under an hour – and had kicked off that tour with an innings of 206, a record first innings in England for an Aussie until 1930 when Bradman opened his English account with a score of 236. His non-cricketing counterpart is historical novelist Allan Massie, author of a series of Roman history themed books including “Augustus”, “Tiberius”, “Caesar” and “Nero’s Heirs”. “Augustus” features a wonderful spoof foreword taking on the persona of master of Michaelhouse College, Cambridge, one Aeneas Fraser-Graham, and declaring that ‘even a glimpse of a photostat is sufficient to assure one of the authenticity of these memoirs’.
- HJH ‘Tup’ Scott – right handed bat. Scott was one of three Aussie centurions at The Oval in 1884. He is not in fact here as an analogue for Captain Scott, although I commend to your attention the books about the ‘Captain Scott Invitational XI’ by Marcus Berkmann (“Rain Men” and tangentially “Zimmer Men”) and Harry Thompson (“Penguins Stopped Play”). No he has two ‘alter egos’ for my purposes, Walter Scott, prolific 19th century novelist and someone from whom Emily Bronte of “Wuthering Heights” fame drew inspiration, and Eugenie Scott of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who was one of the contributors to “Scientists Confront Creationism”, edited by Andrew Petto and Laurie Godfrey and highly recommended by me.
- Colin Munro – left handed big hitting batter. The Kiwi averages over 50 in first class cricket, though he has only played a couple of tests and those unsuccessfully. He owes his place in this XI to Hector Munro, aka ‘Saki’, a master writer of short stories.
- *Greville Stevens – right handed batter, leg spinner. 10,376 first class runs at 29.56, 684 wickets at 26.84. At the close of the 1920 season it was he who ensured that the curtain would descend on Plum Warner’s career with an appropriately grand finish, by clean bowling Herbert Strudwick to settle the destiny of that year’s County Championship. He is here as a tribute the detective work of Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong, and the writing of their amanuensis Robin Stevens, who has created the ‘Murder Most Unladylike’ series to chronicle their exploits.
- Alonzo Drake – middle order batter, left arm orthodox spinner. The first Yorkshire bowler ever to take all ten wickets in an innings – 10-35 v Somerset in 1914, the outbreak of World War 1 finished his career. Although he is a namesake of Sir Francis Drake who famously played bowls on Plymouth Hoe it is actually another Drake, Frank Drake of SETI fame who gets him into this team. Frank Drake co-authored with Dava Sobel a book titled “Is Anyone Out There?” about the search for extra-terrestrial life. Sobel has a stack of other credits, including “Longitude”, “A More Perfect Heaven”, “The Planets” and “Galileo’s Daughter” all of which I recommend.
- +Ian Gould – wicket keeper and right handed lower order batter, later a successful umpire. ‘Gunner’ Gould just about merits his place as a keeper/batter, which makes it possible for me to bring in Stephen Jay Gould, USian scientist, science writer and master essayist. I own a number of his books, including “Questioning The Millennium”, “The Richness of Life”, “Life’s Grandeur”, “Bully for Brontosaurus”, “Ever Since Darwin”, “Dinosaur in a Haystack” and “Urchin in a Storm”. Given the amount of baseball that features in Gould’s oeuvre it seems quite appropriate to find a way a slipping him into a cricket themed post.
- Mitchell Johnson – left arm fast bowler, left handed attacking lower order bat. The Aussie’s claims for a place need no further elaboration, and he allows me two connections. Samuel Johnson, author of the first recognized dictionary is one. There was a road not massively far from where I lived as a child in south west London called Dr Johnson Avenue, and it had that name because he used to cycle that way when going to visit his friend Mrs Thrale, who also has a road named in her honour that is even closer to my old family home. I used to walk along Thrale Road very frequently because if one was using either Streatham or Streatham Common stations it was the natural way to go. The second connection is Charles Johnson, an African American writer whose books include “Oxherding Tale” and “Dreamer”, the latter based on the life of Martin Luther King.
- Max ‘Tangles’ Walker – right arm fast medium. He was a magnificent third string to Lillee and Thomson in the mid 1970s, gaining big movement in the air and off the pitch on occasions. At Edgbaston in 1975 when Mike Denness put Australia in and they scored 359 Walker matched Lillee’s five wickets in the first England innings with five of his own, before ‘Thommo’ turned chief executioner in the second dig. His ‘alter ego’ for my purposes is Alice Walker, well known as author of “The Color Purple”, and also the author of a collection of what she calls “Womanist Prose”, both of which come highly recommended. She became radicalized by her experiences as a student at Spelman College (although she left that institution and moved north the New York where she studied at Sarah Lawrence College), where she met the historian Howard Zinn, someone any of whose books will be worth reading. There is a quote from her which appears on the back cover of “The Zinn Reader”: “What can I say that will in any way convey the love, respect and admiration that I feel for this unassuming hero who was my teacher and mentor, this radical historian and people-loving ‘troublemaker’, this man who stood with us and suffered with us? Howard Zinn was the best teacher I ever had and the funniest.”
- Harry Boyle – right arm medium pacer. FR Spofforth’s regular bowling partner. He earns his place as one half of the first great Australian bowling duo. His ‘alter ego’ is Robert Boyle whose contribution to science is covered on pages 126-42 of John Gribbin’s “Science: A History 1543-2001”.
This team has a decent top five, a couple of genuine all rounders, a keeper who can bat, and three fine and varied bowlers. Johnson, Walker, Boyle, Drake and Stevens is a bowling attack that should not struggle overmuch to take 20 wickets.
WG Grace’s XI are the stronger in batting of the two, although no side who can send Johnson in at no9 can be considered deficient in that department. But I suspect that the bowling resources of Greville Stevens’ XI are stronger overall. However countering that is the undeniable fact that WG Grace’s XI have the better keeper. I believe this would be a very close and highly compelling contest, and I cannot pick a winner. Note that the presence of Mr Bird notwithstanding I have not selected players solely on the basis of their names – it is always what they offer as cricketers that comes first.
The correction has been made and due apologies issued, the CLR James Trophy has been introduced and the contending XIs have been put through their paces, so all that now remains is my usual sign off:
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