October 24, 2011

We did overcome

Cricketers who got over physical or social obstacles to make a mark in the game
47

Polio
Bhagwath Chandrasekhar suffered an attack of poliomyelitis as a child, which left his right arm withered: he always threw the ball in from the outfield left-handed. But his thin, whippy other arm was magical from 22 yards away from the batsman: he could send down a wonderful mixture of brisk bouncy legbreaks and top-spinners. Chandra was never more effective than at The Oval in 1971, when his 6 for 38 skittled England for 101 and helped set up India's first series victory in England.

Racial prejudice
Basil D'Oliveira was one of the leading batsmen in South Africa in the 1950s... but very few people knew that, as he was prevented from playing first-class cricket at home because of the colour of his skin. He eventually tried his luck in England, with great success, making his Test debut in 1966 and becoming a popular fixture in the team until 1972. But Dolly was almost 35 - possibly even older, as his date of birth has been the subject of much discussion - when he made his Test debut, and over 40 when he finished. Had he had a "normal" career, and started his international career when he was 25, who knows what he might have achieved.

Diabetes
Cricket history might have been very different if Allan Border had carried out his threat to resign after a dispiriting time in 1985-86 (he was persuaded to carry on, won the World Cup in 1987, and hardly looked back, eventually skippering in more than 90 Tests). Had Border stepped down, Australia's captain for the 1986-87 Ashes series would probably have been Dirk Wellham, who had made a century on his debut for New South Wales and added another on Test debut at The Oval in 1981. The bespectacled Wellham looked studious and quiet, but he was anything other than soft: diabetes required him to inject himself regularly with insulin, a practice that reduced some of the noisier elements of the Aussie dressing room to silence when they witnessed it. Wasim Akram was another high-profile sufferer of the disease.

Asymmetric arms
A wartime accident in the gym during commando training left Len Hutton with a broken left arm, which was badly reset and ended up an inch and a half shorter than the other one. This might have had a calamitous effect on the technique of a batsman who had already famously scored a Test triple-century - 364 against Australia at The Oval in 1938 - but Hutton adjusted well, making 14 more Test hundreds after the war, three of them doubles, and captained England to Ashes glory at home in 1953 and down under in 1954-55.

Epilepsy
Tony Greig had a successful Test career - and has had a long afterlife as an enthusiastic TV commentator - despite suffering from epilepsy. The English press knew about this, but agreed not to write about it - until Henry Blofeld "outed" him in a book about the Packer Affair. Greig confirmed in his autobiography that he had suffered occasional seizures when younger - but once he learned to recognise the signs that a fit might be imminent he was able to control the problem with medication.

Impaired vision (I)
Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, who sadly died recently, was among the most brilliant of young batsmen: there are tales of him playing for Oxford University against mighty Yorkshire in 1960 and taming the county attack - Fred Trueman and all - to the extent that they did not know where to bowl at him. But the following year Pataudi was involved in a car accident that permanently affected his vision: for a while he saw two balls "and tried to hit the inside one". Eventually he opened his stance, pulled his cap down over the bad (right) eye, and continued to bat (and field superbly too). He managed to score a Test double-century despite all this - but he had been reduced to a very good player from a potentially great one.

Impaired vision (II)
Medium-pacer Eiulf "Buster" Nupen was a master on the matting wickets used in South Africa in the 1920s. Against England in 1930-31 he took 11 wickets in the first Test and nine in the fourth - but he didn't even play in the third and fifth Tests, the first to be played on turf pitches in South Africa. He was similarly ineffective on his only overseas tour, to England in 1924. But he remained a master on the mat, taking 184 wickets in 28 Currie Cup matches for Transvaal at an average of less than 13. He did all this despite having only one eye: he had lost the sight in the other one when he was four. Nupen, whose forebears were from Scandinavia, is the answer to a frequent quiz question about the "one-eyed Norwegian" who played Test cricket.

Tuberculosis
Bob Appleyard, a nippy Yorkshire medium-pacer, made a sensational start in first-class cricket: after a couple of matches in 1950, he took 200 wickets in 1951, and was named as one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year. But the following season he fell ill: what was initially thought to be pleurisy turned out to be the lung disease tuberculosis, which often proved fatal back then. Appleyard spent most of 1952 in a hospital bed and wasn't expected to recover enough to play cricket again - but he did, roaring back in 1954 with 154 wickets and making his Test debut (he took 5 for 51 against Pakistan). A shoulder injury cut his comeback short, but although Appleyard played only nine Tests, there are those who would include him in an all-time England XI.

A bullet
When the Sri Lankan team bus was ambushed by terrorists in Lahore early in 2009, several players were injured. The worst was batsman Thilan Samaraweera, who had a bullet lodged in his thigh. His career hung in the balance - all the more galling as he was in the form of his life, having scored 231 in the first Test against Pakistan, and 214 in the second one before the gunmen struck. But thankfully Samaraweera recovered, and less than six months later was making 159 and 143 in successive Tests against New Zealand.

Missing fingers
The Australian slow left-armer Bert Ironmonger - nicknamed "Dainty" because he wasn't - had lost the top of his left forefinger in an accident on the family farm. But he turned this disability to his advantage, fizzing the ball off the remaining stump to obtain appreciable spin. When he was almost 50 he returned the astonishing figures of 11 for 24 - 5 for 6 and 6 for 18 - as South Africa were skittled for 36 and 45 on a sticky wicket in Melbourne in 1931-32.

Lost arm
Frank Chester was talked of as a Test prospect after he scored nearly 1000 runs for Worcestershire in 1914, when he was only 19. But during the Great War he received a severe injury to his right arm, which had to be amputated just below the elbow. Not even a brilliant young batsman could overcome that disability to play first-class cricket again - but Chester did the next-best thing, turning to umpiring and becoming the world's best in a white coat (and the best known until Dickie Bird came along). Chester stood in 48 Tests between 1924 and 1955, which remained a record until Bird surpassed it late in 1992.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2011.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on October 27, 2011, 18:56 GMT

    Tendulkar with no heart? ;)

  • on October 26, 2011, 3:08 GMT

    @nlambda... good one... dat sounds true ...

  • nlambda on October 25, 2011, 18:09 GMT

    Also: Shoaib Akhtar with no brains :-)

  • Lawro on October 25, 2011, 15:36 GMT

    I agree with srgelb about Jonty Rhodes - arguably the best fielder of all time and notorious epilepsy sufferer.

    Don't forget Dave Callaghan, also of South Africa, who went on to make 169 not out off 143 balls, as well as taking a career best of 3/32, against New Zealand back in '94 - his first innings since recovering from testicular cancer.

  • cnksnk on October 25, 2011, 6:40 GMT

    I remember a left arm fast bowler in Pakistan by name of ( I think) Abdul Haffeez who had fingures in his right arm that were missing. he was a new ball partner to Sikandar Bakt , Sarfraz and Imran in later 80 's. He should also be included in this list.

  • Danube on October 24, 2011, 22:28 GMT

    Azeem Hafeez was missing a couple of fingers (albeit on his non bowling hand), Gladstone Small being born with virtually no neck is another that springs to mind.

  • srgelb on October 24, 2011, 18:52 GMT

    Jonty Rhodes is also epileptic, and used his fame to promote awareness of the problem and raise money to support less well-off sufferers. Just another way he is so much more a mensch than Greig.

  • on October 24, 2011, 18:45 GMT

    Fred Titmus the Middlesex off-spinner lost toes on one of his feet in a boating accident on tour in the West Indies and later returned to the test side and enjoyed a long career playing in 4 different decades.

  • on October 24, 2011, 18:41 GMT

    Simon O'donell of Australia come back successfully after fighting against leukemia.

  • on October 24, 2011, 14:52 GMT

    Shoaib Akhtar had hyperextension in all his joints, which would make his knees swell up with fluid built up from excessive friction - he had it drained out before many a stellar spell. Also, was flat-footed and couldn't walk as kid. And had asthma. And almost died of whooping cough as a kid.

    And he remains the fastest bowler in the world, what a champion.

  • on October 27, 2011, 18:56 GMT

    Tendulkar with no heart? ;)

  • on October 26, 2011, 3:08 GMT

    @nlambda... good one... dat sounds true ...

  • nlambda on October 25, 2011, 18:09 GMT

    Also: Shoaib Akhtar with no brains :-)

  • Lawro on October 25, 2011, 15:36 GMT

    I agree with srgelb about Jonty Rhodes - arguably the best fielder of all time and notorious epilepsy sufferer.

    Don't forget Dave Callaghan, also of South Africa, who went on to make 169 not out off 143 balls, as well as taking a career best of 3/32, against New Zealand back in '94 - his first innings since recovering from testicular cancer.

  • cnksnk on October 25, 2011, 6:40 GMT

    I remember a left arm fast bowler in Pakistan by name of ( I think) Abdul Haffeez who had fingures in his right arm that were missing. he was a new ball partner to Sikandar Bakt , Sarfraz and Imran in later 80 's. He should also be included in this list.

  • Danube on October 24, 2011, 22:28 GMT

    Azeem Hafeez was missing a couple of fingers (albeit on his non bowling hand), Gladstone Small being born with virtually no neck is another that springs to mind.

  • srgelb on October 24, 2011, 18:52 GMT

    Jonty Rhodes is also epileptic, and used his fame to promote awareness of the problem and raise money to support less well-off sufferers. Just another way he is so much more a mensch than Greig.

  • on October 24, 2011, 18:45 GMT

    Fred Titmus the Middlesex off-spinner lost toes on one of his feet in a boating accident on tour in the West Indies and later returned to the test side and enjoyed a long career playing in 4 different decades.

  • on October 24, 2011, 18:41 GMT

    Simon O'donell of Australia come back successfully after fighting against leukemia.

  • on October 24, 2011, 14:52 GMT

    Shoaib Akhtar had hyperextension in all his joints, which would make his knees swell up with fluid built up from excessive friction - he had it drained out before many a stellar spell. Also, was flat-footed and couldn't walk as kid. And had asthma. And almost died of whooping cough as a kid.

    And he remains the fastest bowler in the world, what a champion.

  • Nomad73 on October 24, 2011, 13:32 GMT

    Surely the biggest comeback of all was that of Ewen Chatfield who, IIRC, was, during his NZ debut in 1975 was hit on the head by a Peter Lever bouncer, technically died on the pitch, was revived and then went on to enjoy a long test career as Richard Hadlee's new ball partner.

  • on October 24, 2011, 13:23 GMT

    After two double centuries in successive tests against Pakistan in Pakistan, THILAN SAMARAWEERA is not playing against them now.

    He is a class batsman that isa vital cog in the SRI LANKAN MIDDLE ORDER.

    Sangakkara, TM Dilshan and Prasanna Jayawardene are all world-class wicketkeepers.

    What is Kaushal Silva doing in the TEST SQUAD? There is also Dinesh Chandimal in the SQUAD.

    DO SRI LANKA REALLY NEED 5 WICKETKEEPERS IN THE SQUAD?

    Obviously, Chamara Kapugedera, Thilan Samaraweera and Chamara Silva are better batsmen than Kaushal Silva!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • on October 24, 2011, 12:41 GMT

    Craig 'Macca' McMillan of NZ had diabetes too, part of his decision to retire earlier

  • Dashgar on October 24, 2011, 12:04 GMT

    And to think I thought this was going to be an article on Inzamam and Ranatunga. How foolish of me. Thanks for the great read.

  • on October 24, 2011, 11:12 GMT

    A lot of you have talked about Was Akram. If you have seen closely, Wasim Akram's case is mentioned in Dirk Welham's point.

    Another thing, Douglas Marillier (Zim) and Andrew Hall (SA) had suffered almost fatal injuries at the initial stages of their cricketing career. You may even google about it.

  • on October 24, 2011, 11:00 GMT

    The great Waqar does'nt have left hand little finger.

  • SixFourOut on October 24, 2011, 10:38 GMT

    Martin Guptil Lost 3 toes

  • Saffers on October 24, 2011, 10:15 GMT

    Andrew Hall from SA was shot in the hand at point blank range during a mugging and went on to play Test and ODI cricket.

  • on October 24, 2011, 9:41 GMT

    Test Cricketer Azeem Hafiz is missing in the list who has one hand totally abnormal .

  • on October 24, 2011, 9:09 GMT

    Diabetic, One of Greatest fast bowler in cricket history of cricket "WASIM AKRAM" was diabetic more then 30% of his career but achieved great records and captained Pakistani team.

  • on October 24, 2011, 8:43 GMT

    Jhonty Rhodes and Wasim akram should be up there in the list as well.

  • on October 24, 2011, 8:39 GMT

    Martin Guptill two toes! Haha

  • nzcricket174 on October 24, 2011, 8:30 GMT

    Two-toes Guptill and Murali with his arm that can't straighten.

  • embu on October 24, 2011, 8:24 GMT

    Wasim Akram has been mentioned suffering from Diabetes along with Allan Border.I don't know if Waqar Younis and Azeeem Hafeez were missing more than one finger in the same hand, but one missing finger could not have hindered them too much playing the best game in the world.

  • BillyCC on October 24, 2011, 8:24 GMT

    @rajivgower, you can forget about such a bowler when the bowler uses it as an advantage.

  • rajivgower on October 24, 2011, 7:51 GMT

    Rowe was allergic to grass!

  • rajivgower on October 24, 2011, 7:47 GMT

    How can you forget a bowler, who had a deformity, was from a ethnic community that was oppressed, and became the leading wicket taker in Test cricket!

  • MalikAftabAhmedAwan on October 24, 2011, 7:16 GMT

    Azim Hafiz with missing fingers needs a mention here

  • RajaSShahid on October 24, 2011, 6:42 GMT

    Where is Wasim Akram? Arguably the greatest left arm pace bowler in the history of the game. He was a patient of diabetes and had to inject insulin several times before the matches!

  • Rangarajan_Rajamani_Chennai on October 24, 2011, 6:37 GMT

    What about Wasim Akram - Diabetes?

  • on October 24, 2011, 6:28 GMT

    guptill could have been there..........

  • speddako on October 24, 2011, 6:23 GMT

    Jonty Rhodes suffers from epilepsy and is quite a role model for playing cricket for South Africa. Not to mention that he was one of the best fielders to ever set foot on a cricket field. Also I believe Azeem Hafeez of Pakistan did not have two fingers at birth on his right hand and was an effective performer for Pakistan.

  • johnathonjosephs on October 24, 2011, 6:18 GMT

    Speaking of missing fingers, you're forgetting the most important of them all, Waqar Younis who lost fingers due to a train accident

  • sacricketlegend on October 24, 2011, 6:17 GMT

    Jonty Rhodes also suffered from epilepsy, but he went on to become arguably the greatest ever fielder in international cricket history.

  • on October 24, 2011, 5:33 GMT

    Wasim Akram was a diabetic too!

  • JohnsonLP on October 24, 2011, 5:25 GMT

    I think Azeem Hafeez, the fast bowler from Pakistan deserves a mention.

  • im_vishu on October 24, 2011, 5:05 GMT

    Martin Guptill can be added to that list.Guptill's profile on cricinfo says "Guptill's success is remarkable as he has only two toes on one of his feet as the result of a forklift accident a few years ago"

  • hoodbu on October 24, 2011, 4:56 GMT

    How can you omit Waqar Younis, who lost his left pinky in his youth? Also, Azeem Hafeez who had only his pinky and thumb on his right hand.

  • on October 24, 2011, 4:53 GMT

    Some notable miss: Jonty Rhodes(epilepsy), Wasim Akram(Diabetes)

  • KarmatBaig on October 24, 2011, 4:29 GMT

    Seems to have missed out Azeem Hafeez, Pakistani left arm fast bowler, had two missing fingers in his right hand played during the mid 80's.

  • ARad on October 24, 2011, 4:19 GMT

    Inspiring piece. Thanks for writing.

  • Biggus on October 24, 2011, 4:11 GMT

    Fred Titmus also overcame the loss of toes in a boating accident to play on with distinction. Colin Milburn sadly could not completely overcome the loss of an eye in a car accident and his form rapidly downhill, but he is fondly remembered here in Western Australia as a pugnacious player and daring strokemaker from his time with W.A.

  • on October 24, 2011, 4:03 GMT

    Surely you can't exclude Jonty Rhodes(Epilepsy) from this?

  • Mob_King on October 24, 2011, 3:51 GMT

    Martin Guptill, the NZ batsman, was injured in a forklift accident while still a teenager which resulted in 3 toes being amputated from his left foot.

    Nicknamed "Marty Two-toes" by the Black Caps, Guptill went on to become one of only seven (?) batsmen to score an ODI century on debut, and despite the absent digits on his foot he is widely considered to be the best fielder amongst a livewire Black Caps fielding unit.

  • on October 24, 2011, 3:43 GMT

    The writer has missed out on one other cricketer..Saba Karim, he was hit on the eye by a Anil Kumble bouncer(lol) and never got to play an international match again..not sure whether he played first class after that..

  • sohaibahmad on October 24, 2011, 3:23 GMT

    Azeem Hafeez (missing fingers in his right hand) and Jonty Rhodes (epileptic) to be added

  • on October 24, 2011, 3:04 GMT

    You missed Azeem Hafeez and Waqar Younis in missing fingers. Another exmple would be flat-footed players and, of course, the first one to be mentioned would be Shoaib Akhtar.

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  • on October 24, 2011, 3:04 GMT

    You missed Azeem Hafeez and Waqar Younis in missing fingers. Another exmple would be flat-footed players and, of course, the first one to be mentioned would be Shoaib Akhtar.

  • sohaibahmad on October 24, 2011, 3:23 GMT

    Azeem Hafeez (missing fingers in his right hand) and Jonty Rhodes (epileptic) to be added

  • on October 24, 2011, 3:43 GMT

    The writer has missed out on one other cricketer..Saba Karim, he was hit on the eye by a Anil Kumble bouncer(lol) and never got to play an international match again..not sure whether he played first class after that..

  • Mob_King on October 24, 2011, 3:51 GMT

    Martin Guptill, the NZ batsman, was injured in a forklift accident while still a teenager which resulted in 3 toes being amputated from his left foot.

    Nicknamed "Marty Two-toes" by the Black Caps, Guptill went on to become one of only seven (?) batsmen to score an ODI century on debut, and despite the absent digits on his foot he is widely considered to be the best fielder amongst a livewire Black Caps fielding unit.

  • on October 24, 2011, 4:03 GMT

    Surely you can't exclude Jonty Rhodes(Epilepsy) from this?

  • Biggus on October 24, 2011, 4:11 GMT

    Fred Titmus also overcame the loss of toes in a boating accident to play on with distinction. Colin Milburn sadly could not completely overcome the loss of an eye in a car accident and his form rapidly downhill, but he is fondly remembered here in Western Australia as a pugnacious player and daring strokemaker from his time with W.A.

  • ARad on October 24, 2011, 4:19 GMT

    Inspiring piece. Thanks for writing.

  • KarmatBaig on October 24, 2011, 4:29 GMT

    Seems to have missed out Azeem Hafeez, Pakistani left arm fast bowler, had two missing fingers in his right hand played during the mid 80's.

  • on October 24, 2011, 4:53 GMT

    Some notable miss: Jonty Rhodes(epilepsy), Wasim Akram(Diabetes)

  • hoodbu on October 24, 2011, 4:56 GMT

    How can you omit Waqar Younis, who lost his left pinky in his youth? Also, Azeem Hafeez who had only his pinky and thumb on his right hand.