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The hook's the draw

McCabe and Harvey against Ambrose and O'Reilly

Peter English

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Clockwise from above: McCabe, Ambrose, O'Reilly, Harvey © PA Photos, Getty Images

The excitement of the hook has, disappointingly, disappeared from the Test arena. Steve Waugh became the world's steeliest batsman after abandoning the shot, preferring to fend or be struck than risk a careless dismissal. For most of Australia's cricket history, though, the hook was an essential, a means of intimidation.

Stan McCabe's status was built on his fearless horizontal strikes during the local highlight of the Bodyline series, his 187 not out against the life-threatening Harold Larwood and an imposing leg trap. Sometimes in that innings he charged the fast men and on other occasions waited to hook boundaries till the ball was millimetres from his forehead.

How would Curtly Ambrose, the most fearsome of modern bowlers, have dealt with the challenge of McCabe at his most flowing? McCabe would have been dwarfed by the 6ft 7in Ambrose, but it is exciting to dream of the eye-to-chest contest between two of the game's coolest characters.

Neil Harvey was another master of the short ball, and his encounter with Ambrose would also be riveting, if less explosive. But watching him deal with Bill O'Reilly would be more intriguing. Apparently Harvey's footwork was borrowed from Fred Astaire, and he could well have skipped down regularly to O'Reilly's medium-paced legspin. Harvey, a glorious and versatile batsman, missed O'Reilly in first-class cricket by a season, but he defused Hugh Tayfield and Jim Laker, and may have been capable of taming Tiger, the best bowler Don Bradman saw.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo

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