December 19, 2011

Cricket's Olympians

To get into the spirit of the 2012 Olympics, here are 11 cricketers with connections to the Games

Johnny Douglas
The only Test captain with an Olympic gold medal, Douglas won the middleweight boxing event at the London Olympics in 1908, beating another multi-talented all-round sportsman, Reginald "Snowy" Baker of Australia, in the final. There is apparently no truth in the story that the final was refereed by Douglas' father, although he was a boxing administrator and actually presented his son with the gold medal. After this Douglas - a solid allrounder for Essex - captained England in 18 of his 23 Tests, including the Ashes tours of 1911-12 and 1920-21.

Duncan Fletcher
India's cricket coach didn't quite make it to the Olympics - not even in the days when he was a combative allrounder captaining Zimbabwe - but his sister did. Ann Grant (née Fletcher) skippered the Zimbabwean team that surprised everyone (except perhaps themselves) by taking the first Olympic gold medal for women's hockey, in Moscow in 1980.

Paul Winslow
The bespectacled Winslow, who died in 2011, had one great day in Test cricket: at Old Trafford in 1955 he hammered a match-turning century for South Africa against England. His family was steeped in sport: his grandfather had scored a century on debut for Sussex in 1875, while his father, Charles, won two gold medals for tennis (in the singles and men's doubles) at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. Eight years later, after the First World War, he won a bronze in the singles in Antwerp.

Brian Booth
Before his Test career as an elegant middle-order batsman - he scored five centuries in 29 matches, and captained Australia twice in the 1960s - Booth played hockey for his country. He was in the squad for the 1956 Olympics, at home in Melbourne.

Jonty Rhodes
Rhodes might have followed Brian Booth as a Test-playing Olympian - but the call to join the South African squad coincided with their return to international cricket. Rhodes opted for cricket - and the hockey team didn't qualify for the 1992 Olympics anyway. Rhodes was sounded out again four years later, but pulled out with a hamstring injury.

MJ Gopalan
The man who gave his name to an annual match between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka faced the same choice as Jonty Rhodes, more than half a century before: in 1936, Gopalan had to choose between India's cricket tour of England and hockey at the Berlin Olympics. Gopalan, who had played what turned out to be his only Test in January 1934 (the year he bowled the first ball in the Ranji Trophy), went for cricket, and might have regretted it: he had few opportunities on what turned out to be a fractious tour, while the hockey team, as widely expected, cruised to Olympic glory.

Jack MacBryan
Great Britain's gold-medal-winning hockey team in the 1920 Olympics included MacBryan, who was also a high-scoring amateur batsman for Somerset. MacBryan played what turned out to be his only Test match four years later, against South Africa at Old Trafford in 1924. But the game was ruined by rain, and MacBryan - who never got another chance - is famously the only Test cricketer who never batted, bowled or made a dismissal in the field. One of his team-mates in Antwerp in 1920, Cyril Wilkinson, had captained Surrey to the County Championship in 1914.

Percy Buckenham
A tall fast bowler, Buckenham did well in what turned out to be his only four Tests, taking 21 wickets (only two of them tailenders) in South Africa in 1909-10. Almost a decade previously he had been part of the Upton Park side that won gold for Great Britain in the first Olympic football tournament, in Paris in 1900.

Montagu Toller
Cricket was played at the Olympics for the first and only time in 1900, when an English side overcame a French one (containing only one native Frenchman, a Monsieur Roques) in the final in Vincennes on the outskirts of Paris. The winners were basically a club side, the Devon and Somerset Wanderers, and few of them played first-class cricket. One who did (six matches for Somerset) was Toller, who took 7 for 9 as France made a bit of a hash of their attempt to score 185 to take gold (they were all out for 26). For more details of that Olympic cricket final, click here.

Alastair McCorquodale
A fast bowler who played a few matches for Middlesex, McCorquodale missed out on a medal in the 100 metres sprint at the 1948 London Olympics by the thickness of a vest - he was placed fourth after a photo-finish in a race won by the American Harrison "Bones" Dillard. It's just possible McCorquodale might have managed a medal if his training regime hadn't apparently involved stubbing a cigarette out shortly before the runners were called to the start line!

David Acfield
The dapper Essex offspinner Acfield came close to a Test cap during a long first-class career, which brought him 950 wickets in 21 seasons. He also fenced for Great Britain at the Olympics in 1968 and 1972: he didn't win any medals there, but he did collect gold in the sabre team event at the 1970 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh.

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