October 11, 2015

Victims of circumstance

A look at four players whose Test careers and ambitions were thwarted by cancelled tours

Clive Rice's best years coincided with South Africa's sporting isolation © Getty Images

The recent postponement of Australia's tour of Bangladesh is unfortunate on many levels, with locals missing an opportunity to watch high-quality cricket and administrators losing considerable revenue. What remains unclear at the moment is the impact it will have on the players from both countries, and whether this decision will prove to be a pivot point in the careers of current fringe players.

Both sides, Australia in particular, are going through a period of considerable change. This tour was to be an opportunity for younger players such as Cameron Bancroft and Joe Burns to show they belong at Test level, and for others on the longer-term periphery of the team, such as Shaun Marsh and Steve O'Keefe, to push for a permanent position. O'Keefe, in particular, would seem to be one of the biggest "losers" among the touring squad, as Australia selector Mark Waugh has already indicated that the left-arm spinner is unlikely to push for selection again in the near future.

Cancelled tours are not a new phenomenon, of course, and it's appropriate to reflect upon the top four players whose careers were most affected by series being called off.

One of the first series to be cancelled was the proposed tour to South Africa by an Australian team in 1914-15. Most readers will recognise the significance of the dates, but it wasn't just the outbreak of World War I that caused problems. Many first-class and Test players from around the world fought in the war, and some, sadly, were either seriously injured or died in the conflict.

Robert John "Jack" Massie was a left-arm fast bowler for New South Wales, and the son of former Australia Test captain Hugh Massie. After two stellar seasons in the Sheffield Shield, he had been chosen in the squad to South Africa for his first tour. Massie was considered one of the brightest bowling prospects in Australia, having taken 59 wickets at 18.66 in the 1912-13 summer, and then followed that with 37 wickets at 16.32 in the subsequent season.

The stress and pressure of the "D'Oliveira affair" had a permanent impact on the man himself © Getty Images

When the 1914-15 tour was abandoned, Massie enlisted with the Australian Imperial Forces and took part in many famous campaigns in World War I, including the disastrous beach landing at Gallipoli, and then later in the Battle of Lone Pine. He was seriously injured on two separate occasions during the war, sustaining permanent damage to both his left (bowling) shoulder and right foot. While Massie was lucky not to be killed, these injuries meant that he never played cricket at first-class level again and his sole chance of playing for Australia had disappeared.

While there was some domestic first-class cricket played during the wars, Test cricket ceased. There were no international matches played between 1914 and 1919, and the outbreak of World War II resulted in a similar void in competition. This time, it was to be England's proposed tour of India in 1939-40 that was cancelled. India had only started playing Test cricket in 1932, and had featured in just seven Test matches by 1939. The MCC, which chose the touring party, did not consider India to be a serious threat and selected a team that was not perhaps the strongest available. Many of the English cricketers chosen ultimately did not get the chance to play in a Test due to the war, but the player most affected by the tour being cancelled was the man nominated to lead England - Jack Holmes. He had been named captain in spite of not having played a Test match, something that's unthinkable in modern times. Holmes had a long but not particularly spectacular first-class career as an amateur, having debuted for Sussex as a batsman 17 years earlier. This tour of India was to be a reward for many years of faithful service to English cricket. The cancellation saw the end of Holmes' career, as he retired from all cricket after it was abandoned.

Possibly the most famous cancelled tour of all time was the proposed England tour of South Africa in 1968-69. In what is now commonly referred to as "the D'Oliveira affair", politics got in the road of cricket. The man central to the tour being abandoned, and the one most impacted by this situation, though entirely not of his own making, was Basil D'Oliveira. A talented allrounder, D'Oliveira was a man of colour from South Africa, who had moved to England in 1960 to pursue a cricketing career after being denied by the apartheid policies of his own country. D'Oliveira quickly established himself as a fine hard-hitting middle-order batsman and miserly medium-pacer. Having only moved to England when he was approximately 30, and then waited to become eligible, he was not selected for his adopted country until 1966, when he was in his mid-30s. His actual date of birth remains a bit of a mystery, with D'Oliveira himself evidently muddying the waters to avoid being considered "too old".

Police arrest anti-apartheid demonstrators at the SCG during the 1971 South African rugby union tour of Australia. The cricket tour, which was to follow, was cancelled © Fairfax Media via Getty Images

His non-selection, then subsequent re-selection, for the 1968-69 series ultimately created a major schism in world cricket. He was dropped during the 1968 Ashes but recalled for the final Test and made a brilliant 158. However, when the squad for the South Africa tour was announced a few days later, he was not picked. While the English authorities claimed this decision was purely based on cricketing merit, the South African government had been both publicly and privately campaigning to ensure D'Oliveira was not selected. They were undoubtedly happy with the outcome initially, although there was considerable outrage in England. However, following the withdrawal of Tom Cartwright due to injury, D'Oliveira was named as his replacement. Ironically, South African prime minister John Vorster claimed this selection was being influenced by politics, and that an English touring party featuring D'Oliveira would not be welcome. In spite of considerable negotiation and attempts to compromise, the tour was cancelled and South Africa's exile from Test cricket was imminent. The man undeservedly at the centre of the entire debacle continued playing Test cricket until 1972, but the stress and pressure undoubtedly had a permanent impact on D'Oliveira.

The political issues surrounding the D'Oliveira affair were still evident in the background of South Africa's proposed tour of Australia in 1971-72. Sporting boycotts of the apartheid regime had already started, but Australian cricket had not yet completely cut its ties with South Africa. A party was announced for a 17-week tour of Australia, and it was considered to be probably the strongest cricket team in the world at that point. It featured a wonderful selection of dashing batsmen, like Graeme Pollock and Barry Richards, and a wonderful fast-bowling pair in Peter Pollock and Mike Procter.

However, while the Australian Cricket Board seemed to be very welcoming of the South African tourists, the wider public was not. A diverse range of churches, political groups and trade unions, who would not normally be in alliance, banded together and indicated that they would collectively boycott the tour. In the face of this resistance, it was clear the tour would fail; it was cancelled and ultimately South Africa did not play Test cricket again for decades. The cricketer possibly most affected by this was a young man called Clive Rice. A top-order batsman and fast bowler, Rice was seen as a rapidly emerging contender to Eddie Barlow and Procter for the title of the world's best allrounder. Unfortunately, his entire career was to overlap almost exactly with South Africa's exclusion from the ICC. While he was recognised as being on a par with other legendary allrounders of his era, such as Imran Khan, Ian Botham, Richard Hadlee and Kapil Dev, his international career was limited to three one-day internationals at age 42.

Stuart Wark works at the University of New England as a research fellow

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