The gnome of Essex

Rob Smyth

May 20, 2003

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All Today's Yesterdays - May 20 down the years

1944
The Gnome is born. The popular Keith Fletcher was a fine batsman and captain of Essex, and though his Test career was a success, he sometimes struggled to impose himself at the top level. He averaged only 19 after 17 Tests, but then came a steady stream of matchsaving, and occasionally matchwinning, centuries, including 146 at Melbourne as the fraught 1974-75 Ashes tour ended on a high note. The Centenary Test two years later seemed to be Fletcher's last, but he returned to captain England in India in 1981-82. England lost the first Test and players and spectators were bored to tears as the remaining five snoozed to draws. Fletcher was captain in Sri Lanka's inaugural Test straight after, but was then dumped, this time for good. India wasn't a happy place for Fletcher: he began his career as England coach there in 1992-93, and after dismissing the threat of Anil Kumble - "I didn't see him turn a single ball from leg to off. I don't believe we will have much problem with him" - saw England spinwashed, the beginning of a difficult two-year reign.

1943
In Trinidad, one of West Indies' finest wicketkeepers is born. Deryck Murray was a soothing presence behind the stumps in 62 Tests between 1963 - when he made his debut at Old Trafford aged 20, and snared 24 scalps in the series - and 1980. When he was left out of the Trinidad Test the following winter, locals boycotted the match and the pitch was vandalised. As well as being undemonstrative, efficient, and totally reliable with the gloves on, the boyish Murray turned himself into a useful batsman. Though he never managed a Test hundred, he made 11 fifties, four of them in Australia in 1975-76 when more illustrious batsmen were being blown away by Lillee and Thomson. He later became a significant administrative figure.

1965
A shock for the members at Middlesbrough, as Yorkshire were skittled for their lowest-ever total, a pathetic 23, by Hampshire. The side included some big names: Boycott, Hampshire, Close, Sharpe, Illingworth and Trueman, but after a sound start Yorkshire tumbled from 7 for 0 to 13 for 8. Yorkshire had also been 47 for 7 in their first innings, and only a rumbustious 55 from Trueman got them anywhere near eventual first-innings parity. Hampshire needed just 20 to win; they scraped home in eight overs with 10 wickets to spare.

1911
A remarkable day at Hove, where Ted Alletson and William Riley added 152 for Nottinghamshire's tenth wicket against Sussex. That only tells half the story, though, because when the carnage ended Riley was left on 10 not out. Alleston smeared 189 - his only first-class hundred - in 90 minutes of mayhem.

1956
Birth of the Australian opener Andrew Hilditch, a qualified solicitor but one who lacked the IQ to cut out the hook, a stroke that consistently brought about his downfall. Both his Test centuries came in the space of three innings, against West Indies and England in a purple patch in 1984-85, but his penchant for the fatal hook shot soon became a standing joke on that England tour of 1985. He played only one Test after that - and he was out twice hooking Richard Hadlee. Hilditch had no reasonable defence, and was dumped for good as Australia turned to Geoff Marsh and David Boon. It was strangely out of character: Hilditch was generally a composed batsman, and a responsible character - he was made captain of New South Wales after only two first-class games. He was also Test cricket's second handled-the-ball victim: at Perth in 1978-79, Hilditch was the non-striker when he returned a loose throw to the bowler, Sarfraz Nawaz. Sarfraz appealed and Hilditch was given out.

2000
Nineteen-year-old Ramnaresh Sarwan's classy 84 not out, made in his first Test innings against Pakistan at Bridgetown, led Ted Dexter to predict that he would end up with a Test average of 50.

Other birthdays
1947 Gopal Bose (India)
1963 Dipak Chudasama (Kenya)
1974 Sajjad Ahmed (Bangladesh)
1982 Imran Farhat (Pakistan)

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