Cricinfo XI February 22, 2007

Fat bats and roly bowlers

Cricinfo has set out to demonstrate with this list of (mostly) talented and well-rounded cricketers

In the same week that Australia's sporting fortunes took a nosedive, a health expert has warned that the nation is in the grip of an obesity epidemic, with "the number of overweight children set to rise to 60 per cent within 30 years." Still, it need not be all doom and gloom, as Cricinfo has set out to demonstrate with this list of (mostly) talented and well-rounded cricketers

Obelix-ul-Haq? © RenĂ© Goscinny, Albert Uderzo

Gentle, powerful and touchingly sensitive about his weight, Inzamam is cricket's equivalent of the cartoon Gaulish warrior, Obelix, who forever denied that he was fat, insisting instead that his chest "had slipped a bit". But beware the wrath of the mighty "Aloo". At Toronto in 1997, after being tormented incessantly as a "fat potato" by an Indian fan with a megaphone, Inzamam launched himself into the stands like his cartoon alter-ego into a phalanx of Roman Legionaries. Ahead of the 2003 World Cup Inzy did attempt to transform his ways and shed 17 kilos in a bid to become a lean mean batting machine. He was so miserable as a result he managed 19 runs in six innings, and has vowed never to compromise his gut ever again.

Benjamin Aislabie
Aislabie was remarkable on two fronts. Not only was he a quite dreadful cricketer - in 56 first-class matches as a specialist batsman he averaged 3.15 with a career best of 15 - but he was also one of the fattest. The two are quite possibly connected. So large was he towards the end of his career that he had to have someone to run for him, and he was also utterly immobile in the field, to the extent he needed another person to field in his place. A wine merchant by trade, he wasn't much cop as secretary of MCC, the club lurching from one financial crisis to another under his tenure.

Ramesh Powar
There's fat obese and fat plain roly-poly. India's offspinning allrounder, Ramesh Powar, is defiantly in the latter category. "I've never thought that being fat was a negative point," he told Cricinfo last year. "Why can't people realise that my extra strength is because of that? I don't want to lose weight for the sake of it, to look like a model. I am not a Mohammad Kaif or a Jonty Rhodes. And neither of them bowl offspin." This last point is the most valid of all. Powar is quite possibly the slowest bowler in international cricket, but that's hardly a criticism when he is tweaking his flighty pies high into the air, but landing them on a perfect length over after over with improbably sharp side spin. "I have been fit enough to play for a competitive side like Bombay for six to seven years," he added. "I've never missed a game owing to fitness problems."

Jimmy Ormond
At the age of 24 and on his first England tour, the Surrey swing bowler, Jimmy Ormond, should have been at the peak of his powers. He certainly had the talent, and an attitude to match, as Mark Waugh discovered on Ormond's debut at The Oval in 2001. After enquiring about his right to a Test cap, Waugh was informed: "at least I'm the best player in my family." But Ormond managed just one more Test, at Chandigarh the following winter, before incurring the wrath of Duncan Fletcher for his slovenly fitness standards. Instead of taking the hint and beefing himself up during the one-day leg of the winter, he morphed steadily into a tub of lard and rejoined the Test squad with what appeared to be a sack of spuds strapped round his midriff. This was memorably depicted in a gruesome training-ground photo that was flashed onto the back pages of every newspaper in England, and there ended a budding international career.

Warwick Armstrong: The Big Ship © The Cricketer

Warwick Armstrong
Slim in his early career, Armstrong piled on the pounds as readily as he antagonised opponents and the authorities. By the time he was appointed Australian captain after the Great War, the man known as "The Big Ship" was almost 22 stone, his bulk largely due to his appetite for whiskey. On the way to tour England in 1921 he spent the six-week voyage helping to stoke the ship's boilers to get fit. It worked, but he hardly shed a pound. The Sportsman noted that he was "so greatly increased in bulk, without becoming the least bit corpulent, that he dwarfs all his neighbours."

Bill "Fatty" Foulke
Without much doubt the fattest allround sportsman of all time, Foulke established a fearsome reputation as one of the top goalkeepers in England in the first decade of the 20th century, playing for Chelsea and Sheffield United among others. He was a massive man by modern standards - standing over six feet tall and topping the scales at well over 20 stone - but in his day he was a Goliath. He played four times for Derbyshire in 1900.

Mike Gatting
Gatting was plagued throughout his career by jibes about his weight, but while few would deny he carried an extra pound or two, he remained deceptively fit. He wasn't helped by playing his home matches at Lord's, where the old-fashioned, no-nonsense cooking of Nancy Doyle contributed to his downfall. He often started the season lighter after a winter of training, but within a month or two Doyle's pudding had taken their toll. When he was bowled by Shane Warne's ball of the century at Old Trafford in 1993, The Independent's Martin Johnson wrote: "How anyone can spin a ball the width of Gatting boggles the mind." Graham Gooch, the non-striker at the time, added of Gatting's baffled expression: "He looked as though someone had just nicked his lunch."

Dwayne Leverock: bigger than Bermuda © ICC

Dwayne Leverock
A throwback to a long-lost era, Bermudan policeman Dwayne Leverock is large by any standards, and one of the politer observations from a journalist at the recent World Cricket League was that he was "massive". A talented and naggingly accurate left-arm spinner, he struggles with the bat in that he cannot really run more than a single, and hiding a man closing in on 20 stone in the field is a captain's nightmare.

Arjuna Ranatunga
Ranatunga was the pint-sized pot-bellied general who transformed Sri Lanka from a team of mild-mannered whipping boys into a side with sufficient strut to win the 1996 World Cup. But he wasn't the most popular man with his opponents - least of all the Australians whom he beat on that memorable evening in Lahore. Once, when Shane Warne was pondering out loud how to draw Ranatunga out of his crease, Ian Healy piped up from behind the stumps, "put a Mars Bar on a good length, that should do it." And it was Healy again, during a day-nighter in Sydney, who was overheard on the stump microphone informing Ranatunga, "You don't get a runner for being an overweight, unfit, fat ****!" Warne, at a press conference in 2004, suggested that his overweight nemesis had "swallowed a sheep", although Ranatunga had the last laugh on that occasion, remarking that he'd sooner swallow a sheep than the diuretic pills that had led to Warne's one-year drugs ban.

Mark Cosgrove
Nicknamed "Baby Boof" for the uncanny similarities he holds with his South Australian captain and fellow ample-girthee, Darren Lehmann, Cosgrove underwent a very public humiliation in September 2005, when - after a sojourn in English club cricket - he was deemed too fat to play by his state side, and suspended for a month. He responded in outstanding fashion, clobbering 736 runs at 66.90 in the Pura Cup and another 591 at 73.87 in Australia's domestic one-day competition, a tally that earned him the accolade of One-Day Player of the Year. Still only 22, and still rounder than your average international athlete, a bulky future is in prospect - both in terms of runs and pounds.

Colin Milburn: he had 'the power of a small elephant' © The Cricketer
Colin Milburn
One of the most popular players with team-mates and the public, Milburn was a hard-hitting batsman who despite carrying several stone of excess baggage was remarkably light on his feet. "He had the charisma of a film star, the humour of a stand-up and the power of a small elephant," noted Lawrence Booth. One winter Milburn was sent away by his county to get trim and he returned weighing in at 16 stone, two stone below his usual fighting weight. Within a month or two he had regained all he had worked so hard to lose. He was dropped for the last Test of 1966 because the selectors felt he was a liability in the field - he responded with a double hundred for Northants. His career was effectively ended when he lost an eye in a car accident.

Martin Williamson is managing editor of Cricinfo, Andrew Miller is UK Editor