May 10, 2011

The prisoner, and a parliamentary Prideaux

Also, the worst bowling strike-rates, cricketers named "Scrubs" and "Tufty", and most dismissals on first-class debut

I heard about someone who played one Test for England after escaping from a prisoner-of-war camp during the First World War. Apparently, he also wrote a book about his escape. Who was he? asked Mauro Freitas from the United Arab Emirates
This intrepid individual was John Evans, who wrote a book called The Escaping Club after his exploits during the Great War, which included extracting himself from the fearsome Fort 9 (the First World War version of Colditz), which the Germans had considered escape-proof. A former Oxford Blue, Evans played intermittently for Hampshire and Kent, and was picked for the Lord's Ashes Test of 1921 on the strength of an innings of 69 not out for MCC against the tourists three weeks previously. But he was not a success in what turned out to be his only Test, scoring just 4 and 14 against the fearsome pace attack of Jack Gregory and Ted McDonald. Some unkind critics suggested that Evans had displayed rather more courage against the Germans than while batting at Lord's.

I noticed that the Labour party candidate for Barnet in the 1959 General Election was one RM Prideaux. Was this the future England batsman? asked John Canning from London
Mr Prideaux took on distinguished opposition at Barnet in 1959, as he was beaten into second place by the Conservative Cabinet minister (and future Chancellor of the Exchequer) Reginald Maudling. But the man in question was not - despite the unusual surname and identical initials - the one who scored 64 on his Test debut for England against Australia at Headingley in 1968. For a start, Roger Prideaux was only 20 in 1959, and still studying at Cambridge University. I am indebted to Matthew Engel, the former editor of Wisden and an expert on matters political as well as cricketing, for discovering that the parliamentary candidate was one Reginald Prideaux, the principal of a college of further education, who was born in July 1915.

The England spinner Phil Tufnell took 121 Test wickets, but at a strike-rate of 93 balls per wicket. Is that the worst rate for a bowler who has taken 100 wickets in Tests? And who holds the record in one-day internationals? asked Vikas Vadgama from India
Tuffers actually comes in at a reasonably respectable ninth on this particular list: there are three other Middlesex spinners above him, for a start - John Emburey (strike-rate 104.7 balls per wicket), Fred Titmus (98.8) and Phil Edmonds (96.2). Top of the table is the West Indian Carl Hooper, who took his 114 wickets at the rate of one every 121 balls. The only other man over 100, apart from Emburey, is the Indian slow left-armer Ravi Shastri (104.3). For the record, the others with a worse strike-rate than Tufnell are Ray Illingworth (97.8), Trevor Goddard (95.4) and S Venkataraghavan (95.3). The best strike-rate in Tests, for bowlers with 100 or more wickets, is 34.1 balls per wicket, by the 19th-century England bowler George Lohmann. Second, at 39.9, is the current South African paceman Dale Steyn. The worst strike-rate in ODIs (again for bowlers with 100 wickets) is 56.3 balls per wicket by Gavin Larsen, just ahead of another New Zealander, Chris Harris (52.5).

Which Test cricketer was nicknamed "Scrubs"? asked Chris Leigh
I wouldn't have known this one if I hadn't spotted it in a recent edition of the Wisden Cricketer. It was in the obituary of the Surrey and England fast bowler Peter Loader, who died in March aged 81. He had very curly, close-cropped hair which, some of his team-mates felt, looked a bit like a scrubbing brush. Loader was a very quick bowler on his day, although there were occasional whispers about his bowling action. He took 39 wickets n 13 Tests, including a hat-trick against West Indies at Headingley in 1957.

I noticed that GF Grace died two weeks after playing his last (indeed his only) Test match. Has anyone died more swiftly after playing a Test? asked Edward Howard
WG Grace's younger brother Fred, who caught a chill (reputedly from a damp hotel bed) and died just two weeks after his only Test match, against Australia at The Oval in 1880, does indeed stand at the head of this sad list. Next comes Jock Cameron, the South African captain in England in 1935, who contracted enteric fever shortly after returning home and died less than four months after his final Test. Five other men have died within a year of their final Test appearance: William "Dodger" Whysall of England (who contracted septicaemia after a fall on the dance floor), the West Indian Collie Smith (car accident), Trevor Madondo of Zimbabwe (malaria), New Zealand wicketkeeper Ken Wadsworth (cancer) and Frank Milligan of England (in the Boer War). Another addition to this melancholy list is the South African spinner Norman "Tufty" Mann, who died of cancer in 1952, a year to the day after stepping off the Test match field for the final time. Mann inspired perhaps the greatest line of even John Arlott's long commentary career: after Tufty had dismissed the England captain George Mann during a Test in 1948-49, Arlott observed that it was "a classic case of Mann's inhumanity to Mann".

Following on from last week's question about Barney Gibson and his debut aged 15, I saw that he took six catches in all. Is this also a record? asked Martin Jones
It's actually far from a record: the best performance by a wicketkeeper on first-class debut is 11 dismissals - ten catches and a stumping - by Samarjit Nath of Assam, in a Ranji Trophy match against Tripura in Guwahati in 2001-02. Nath must have done something wrong, though, as that was his only first-class match! Nath's record was approached in 2008-09, when Jamal Anwar, playing for Federal Areas against Punjab in Islamabad in Pakistan's Pentangular Cup, took ten catches in the match despite an injured finger. Unlike the unfortunate Nath, Jamal has become a regular first-class player, and now has more than 130 dismissals to his name.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket. If you want to ask Steven a question, use our feedback form. The most interesting questions will be answered here each week. Ask Steven is also now on Facebook