Cricinfo XI September 5, 2006

Disappearing acts

Steve Pittard
Steve Pittard on cricketers who went missing in action

Mike Gatting: in the duck house © Sarasota CC
Mike Gatting Melbourne, 1986-87
On the 1986-87 Ashes tour England were facing Victoria but their captain Mike Gatting had overslept after a late night drinking port. When Gatt arrived 20 minutes late, the temporary captain David Gower punished him by whipping him on as first-change bowler. Gatt soon removed three Aussie internationals - Jamie Siddons, Simon O'Donnell and Tony Dodemaide all hooking to Neil Foster at long leg. Gatting finished with 4 for 31, only one wicket short of his career best, but the press were furious, Blowers even comparing him, somewhat bizarrely, to Adolf Hitler.

Marcus Trescothick Baroda, 2005-06
The acting England captain departed suddenly for Blighty during the President's XI match in Baroda, with no candid explanation given. A mysterious virus was much later proffered. He had also disappeared to attend his daughter's birth while captaining Somerset in April 2005. As Yorkshire piled on 501, Somerset suffered post-natal depression, losing by an innings. As Fred Trueman once commentated on a similar incident, "Did he not realise the missus were pregnant when t'match started?"

Middlesex Tunbridge Wells, 1963
Middlesex's strong position was wrecked when only three of their players turned up for the start of the second day. One not-out batsman, Robert White, was present but he could not be partnered by Sidney Russell, previously dismissed, or 12th man Ted Clark. The umpires, therefore, closed the innings at 121 for 3. Kent then batted, organising fielding subs for those Middlesex players still absent. After three overs the whole Middlesex side had turned up, having been delayed by traffic in the London Bridge area. By then Kent's John Prodger had dispatched his team-mate Brian Luckhurst with a brilliant slip catch.

Lionel Lister Northampton, 1939
Lancashire's popular amateur captain, notionally a batsman, was padded up at Northampton in August 1939 when suddenly called up by his territorial regiment. Recorded "absent ... 0" the duck was his eighth in 22 innings. A brigade major in the Normandy landings, Lister survived but played no more first-class cricket as, in a country with a new Labour government, the era of captains with more initials than centuries faded.

Ian Peebles South Africa, 1927-28
In 1927 the 19-year-old leg-break bowler made his England debut against South Africa. On that tour he was also picked for a one-day match against Constantia. MCC's innings was going well, so Peebles, a tailender, decided to join some local lads taking a dip in the river. Losing track of the time, he returned to see his team, now in the field, being soundly berated by captain Ronald Stanyforth. The following day, reading the Cape Times, Peebles was surprised to see the scorecard showing "Peebles absent bathing 0".

Runako Morton Sri Lanka, 2002
Morton, an aggressive West Indian Test batsman, returned home early from Sri Lanka during the 2002 ICC Champions Trophy, upset because his grandmother had died and wishing to attend the funeral. However, it turned out that one grandmother had died 16 years earlier and the other was alive and well in Antigua. An unimpressed West Indies board banned him for a year. His sensitive family-man image was further enhanced when he stabbed his cousin.

Billy Midwinter: kidnapped © Cricinfo
Billy Midwinter Lord's, 1878
Although Gloucestershire-born, Midwinter lived in and played for Australia before moving back to England, and in 1878 his adopted country enticed him to play a tour match against Middlesex. His snubbed county captain WG Grace, now a man short against Surrey, assembled a snatch squad including 'Frizzy' Bush and 'The Coroner'. Together they kidnapped the padded-up Midwinter, bundling him into a taxi. The Aussies gave hot pursuit to The Oval where a noisy standoff ensued. Grace held sway but it was a bleak Midwinter performance; he made 4 and 0 as Gloucestershire lost their first match in two years.

Vasbert Drakes East London, 2002-03
The West Indian fast bowler appeared on the scorecard for Border against Free State in 2002 while still lost in transit from Colombo, where he had been touring with West Indies. Border, opting to bat, crashed to 172 for 9 inside 58 overs. With no sign of Drakes, he was timed out, only the third occurrence in first-class cricket. After he finally arrived Free State hit 244 runs before he took a wicket and his side lost by an innings

WG Grace The Oval, 1866
The 18-year-old Grace was playing for England against Surrey and after a day and a half was undefeated on 224. With no boundaries in place he had to run all of the 431 scored while he was at the crease - or over 8,000 yards. Lesser men might have been flagging but not WG. On the second afternoon, having received permission from his captain, he took part in the 440 yards hurdles at the National Olympian Association meeting at the Crystal Palace. WG tackled the 20 hurdles in 1min 10sec to win the race.

Craig Evans Harare, 1994-95
The Zimbabwe Test batsman and scratch golfer was playing for Mashonaland Select XI against Northamptonshire in 1994-95. Four not out overnight he was unavoidably detained the following morning in court, charged with a traffic offence, and recommenced as last man in, finishing on 6 as his side crashed to 83. Later Mashonaland needed 417 to win in less than a day, the highest fourth-innings score ever in Zimbabwe. But soon Evans was motoring, steering one ball over a swimming pool and on to a squash court roof as he raced to 102 in 76 balls and Mashonaland won by six wickets.

Geoff Boycott Calcutta, 1981-82
Boycott had his spleen removed when young after an accident with a mangle and as a result worried about his health. In 1982, having recently overhauled Garry Sobers' record 8,032 Test runs, Boycott became too ill to field during the Calcutta Test. But instead of resting he decided 14 holes of golf would be just the tonic. After the angry England management refused his request to be treated by a British doctor, he flew home.

This article was first published in the September issue of The Wisden Cricketer.
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