May 7, 2012

Messrs Cricket

Players with names related to the game's terminology

No shortage of contenders here, a personal favourite being the recent Gloucestershire offspinner Martyn Ball, whose well-rounded physique meant he even bore a slight resemblance to a ball. It didn't matter: he was a bowler good enough to be on the fringe of England selection, and a fine slip fielder. A county match in 2001 found the young Ian Bell c&b Ball for 51. Other Balls to have played first-class cricket include Adam of Kent, Edward (Gloucestershire) and his son Edgar (Somerset), and Tom (Queensland). The former Labour Cabinet minister Ed Balls kept wicket for the parliamentary team at Lord's in 2011, although his performance did not excite the watching Alec Stewart, whose verdict was "More of a shopkeeper than a wicketkeeper."

Pride of place here has to go to Peter Bowler, who had a long county career and made centuries on debut for Leicestershire (in 1986) and Derbyshire (1988), before missing the chance of a unique hat-trick by being stranded on 84 not out on his debut for his third county, Somerset, in 1995 (he duly made a hundred in his next game). Bowler didn't do much bowling (only 34 wickets with his occasional offspin), but he did sometimes keep wicket. Ted Bowley of Sussex won five Test caps for England, while Ken Bowling played once for Lancashire in 1954.

Back to the early 19th century for possibly the most vital piece of equipment in a gentleman's kit bag: Tom Box kept wicket for Sussex for 30 years, and didn't miss any of their matches between 1832 and 1856. Box was an early mentor of the young John Wisden.

In the absence of any prominent players called Pad - Ananthakrishna Padmanabhan of Kerala seemed to be stretching it a bit - the man for the job here is Ghulam Guard, a left-arm medium-pacer who played two Tests for India in 1958 and 1960. However, he missed the 1959 tour of England, during which Brian Johnston would almost certainly have given him the nickname "Leg". Appropriately, in his day job Guard was a policeman.

Arthur Fielder of Kent played six Tests for England as a fast bowler, taking 26 wickets, including 6 for 82 in Sydney, in the first match of the 1907-08 Ashes series. In the next Test, in Melbourne, last man Fielder was in at the exciting climax, putting on 39 for the tenth wicket with SF Barnes as England pulled off a one-wicket victory. It was almost Test cricket's first tie: the batsmen tried a risky single with one needed, but Australia's Gerry Hazlitt threw wildly. As Wisden on the Ashes put it, England won "with an overthrow when a fielder missed the chance to run out A. Fielder".

Sadly, no one called Batsman has ever played first-class cricket. There is a Batman Avenue in Melbourne near the MCG, but that hasn't got anything to do with cricket: although Robin (Singh) played a Test, Batman never did. But Chris Batt, a left-arm fast bowler, played a few matches for Sussex and Middlesex between 1997 and 2000: he took 5 for 51 against Surrey at Lord's in 1998, including Jeremy Batty b Batt 0. And Raghuram Bhat, a left-arm spinner, played two Tests for India in 1983.

I was rather hoping that the England rugby winger Carston Catcheside also played first-class cricket, but he didn't, so can't be included. Quite a few Courts have played at a high level, including Jackie Court who represented England women, while in the 1960s Gloucestershire had a medium-pacer called Dennis A'Court: the prolific Glamorgan opener Alan Jones was once out "c&b A'Court 0". Wally Catchlove once scored a century for South Australia, but my favourite in this department is the current Gloucestershire wicketkeeper, Richard Coughtrie. In a Championship match in Bristol last year, six Glamorgan batsmen were "caught Coughtrie" in the second innings.

No one called Spinner has played a first-class match, although there have been quite a few Turners, not to mention WE Roller of Surrey. Perhaps the Northants and Somerset slow left-armer Dennis Breakwell, whose long career stretched from 1969 to 1983, has the best name in this connection.

Just about the smallest piece of cricket equipment is represented by Paul Bail, of Cambridge University and Somerset: he scored 174 in the 1986 Varsity Match at Lord's. Although he was bowled a few times, sadly there's no record of the dismissal "Bail hit wicket".

There's no contest here: the Oxford Blue Jake Seamer was a batsman who also played a few matches as an amateur for Somerset. He made 194 in a first-class match for Oxford against the Minor Counties in 1934. Seamer remains possibly the only man to have scored a century before breakfast, in a match in the Sudan, where play started at 7am to avoid the intense heat later in the day. "It made sense to bat first if we could," he remembered. "Then we filled the opposition with gin before it was their turn."

Not surprisingly really, there has never been a first-class cricketer with a name like this, although some - like Colin Cowdrey - did acquire the nickname "Kipper". The Australian internationals Mike and David Hussey, in their days playing club cricket for Wanneroo in Perth, had a team-mate called D Stumpers. But sadly he doesn't seem to have taken the hint and become a wicketkeeper, so instead the vote here goes to the appropriately initialled WK Lees (New Zealand).

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2012.