April 1, 2008

Three dazzlers and one dour old pro

Headley and Sathasivam take on Barnes and Marshall

Clockwise from above Barnes, Sathasivam, Headley, Marshall © Getty Images, PA Photos

George Headley scored ten hundreds and five fifties in Test matches and was at his best on difficult pitches. "I have met very few men who could concentrate on anything as George concentrated on batting," said CLR James, who dedicated a marvellous chapter to the genius in Beyond a Boundary. Compact, balanced, light on his feet, Headley read the ball out of the bowler's hand and, it is said, played as late as anyone ever has.

Mahadevan Sathasivam was Sri Lanka's premier batsman of the 1940s and fifties; once at Chepauk he scored 215 in 248 minutes, an innings described as the greatest ever played on the ground. Rakish, relaxed, a flamboyant amateur who scored his runs with a minimal flick of the wrist - how Sathasivam's wicket would have been coveted by that dour, proud professional, SF Barnes.

Barnes' record of 189 wickets in 27 Tests at an average of 16.43 remains incomparable, and his style of bowling unique. He deployed seam, swing, and both finger- and wrist-spin, often all in the same over, and could extract radical movement from the most placid pitch. At the height of the Golden Age of English amateurism, he carried on a one-man class war against the cricket elite.

I'm still saddened when I think of the death of Malcolm Marshall, the best fast bowler I've ever seen. His pace was ferocious and he was a master of all the angles. When he pitched short from around the wicket, he could terrify the best batsmen. To have seen Headley and Sathasivam, both insistent hookers, deal with his skidding bouncer would have been a joy.

Mike Marqusee is the author of Anyone But England and War Minus the Shooting among other books. This article was first published in the print edition of Cricinfo Magazine