May 19, 2014

The lightweights

Cricketers who didn't trouble the weighing machine

Matthew Elliott
Tall, thin and angular, with a face to match, left-hander Elliott was briefly a prolific presence at the top of the Australian batting order: at Headingley in 1997 he enjoyed ecstasy (an Ashes hundred) and agony (out for 199). But that face never quite seemed to fit in the powerful Aussie sides of the time, and Elliott played only 21 Tests in all, despite amassing 50 first-class centuries.

Mushtaq Ali
One of the most graceful of all Indian batsmen, Mushtaq was also one of the most slender. At 21, the pencil-slim Mushtaq made India's first Test century overseas, 112 at Old Trafford in 1936. Keith Miller called him "The Errol Flynn of cricket - dashing, flamboyant, swashbuckling and immensely popular wherever he played."

Another Indian - although he played Test cricket for England - KS Ranjitsinhji was all silk-shirted wristy elegance at the crease. He added a bit of avoirdupois in later years, but early on - if the Vanity Fair cartoonist can be believed - the great Ranji was as thin as a rake.

Greg Chappell
Possibly because he was often in indifferent health, Chappell always appeared to be model-slim, an impression accentuated by his military strut and cool presence at the crease. If there has been a better batsman to watch in the last 40 years, I haven't seen him. Collar turned up and wide-brimmed sunhat on, he didn't miss much at slip, either.

Mohammad Azharuddin
The Azharuddin who astonished England in 1984-85 with centuries in each of his first three Tests was another magician with the bat - and another batsman in need of the slim-fit trouser range. He remained lithe and wristy throughout his 99-Test career, never better than at Lord's in 1990, when his beautiful hundred achieved the improbable feat of upstaging a triple-century (Graham Gooch's 333).

Douglas Jardine
Our skipper (despite the probability of a clash with the captain of the Calorie-Challenged XI) is best remembered for masterminding Bodyline - but he was in that strong 1930s England side on merit, an imperturbable, defensive-minded right-hander without an ounce of spare flesh. That flesh took a pounding when the West Indians tried out Bodyline in 1933, but Jardine was unfazed: "You get yourself down this end," he told his partner, "I'll take care of this bloody nonsense." He made 127, his only Test century.

Jack Russell
Possibly because he existed on a peculiar diet involving baked beans or Weetabix steeped in milk for a prescribed number of minutes, Russell was, in keeping with his canine name, as thin as a whippet. It helped him keep wicket to an impeccably high standard into his forties - and only Alec Stewart's superior batting stopped Russell from clocking up significantly more Test caps.

Fred Spofforth
Cricket's original Demon bowler was also stick-thin, if his "Spy" cartoon is to be believed. It makes him look like a vulture - and he certainly preyed on the England batsmen in the 1882 match at The Oval that spawned the Ashes legend. Spofforth followed 7 for 46 in the first innings with 7 for 44 in the second, as England were shot out for 77, just eight short of their lowly target.

Sikander Bakht
Bakht, a slim speedster from Sind, took 67 wickets in 26 Tests for Pakistan, including 8 for 69 (and three more in the second innings) against India in Delhi in 1979-80, when he bowled almost unchanged after Imran Khan broke down. Apart from his eight wickets, he also ran out Gundappa Viswanath. Wisden decided: "Although India batted very poorly, Sikander deserved great credit for exploiting their errors through his unerring direction on or just outside off stump."

Lance Gibbs
Fighting off opposition for the offspinner's spot from the angular Egyptian-Zimbabwean John Traicos, the equally toothpick-slim Gibbs was the first slow bowler to reach 300 Test wickets. He gambolled in off a short, bouncy run, and fielded brilliantly too. Gibbs' cousin, Clive Lloyd, was pretty slimline in his early days too.

Bruce Reid
Tall and painfully thin, left-armer Reid often looked as if he might snap in half - which he did in one of the Twelfth Man's wickedly funny pastiches. In real life the 6ft 7in Reid took 113 wickets in 27 Tests between the almost inevitable injuries, including 13 England scalps in Melbourne in 1990-91.

12th man: Venkat
International cricket's ultimate jack of all trades, the Indian offspinner Srinivasaraghavan Venkataraghavan followed 156 wickets in 57 Tests - some as captain - with spells as manager, coach and referee - before, most famously, a lengthy stint as an international umpire, which included officiating in 73 Test matches. And all of it with a frame as slender as a clothes horse.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2014