August 20, 2012

Injured by a small boy, and other tales

Kevin Pietersen was dropped from the Lord's Test for textual impropriety. Here are some other instances of players who missed matches for unlikely reasons

Didn't like the wicketkeeper
Fred Spofforth was the first fearsome Australian fast bowler - not for nothing was he nicknamed "The Demon". But he was a notable absentee from the first Test of all, against England in Melbourne in March 1877, because he wanted his friend Billy Murdoch to keep wicket, rather than the man chosen, Jack Blackham. Spofforth relented for the second Test, and soon struck... when Blackham pulled off a fine stumping to remove the England opener Alfred Shaw. Spofforth finished with 94 wickets from just 18 matches.

Talked out
Looking at the Headingley wicket for the Test against Pakistan in 1987, England's vice-captain John Emburey suggested that it would be a seaming pitch, so they should probably play only one spinner. Skipper Mike Gatting and the selectors agreed - and plumped for Emburey's Middlesex team-mate Phil Edmonds. Embers carried the drinks.

Sister's wedding
Gautam Gambhir decided to skip the third Test against Sri Lanka in November 2009 because it clashed with his sister's wedding. "Something like this was unimaginable in my playing days," huffed a previous Indian Test batsman, Anshuman Gaekwad: "I am the only son in my family and I have three sisters, but all the weddings were done keeping the cricket schedule in mind." Sunil Gavaskar cautioned that Gambhir might find it hard to get back in if his replacement did well - but given that he had scored a century in each of his previous four Tests, he probably felt secure.

Scoring too slowly
Ken Barrington was dropped by England after he scored a slow century against New Zealand in 1965, and something similar happened to an unamused Geoff Boycott two years later, after he amassed 246 not out at a sedate pace against India. Both bowling attacks were fairly friendly, which contributed to the decision at a time when many were calling for "brighter cricket" - it's unthinkable that the selectors would have been so censorious if Australia had been the opposition.

Scoring too fast
Kapil Dev was dropped by India as a disciplinary measure after England wrapped up the second Test in Delhi in 1984-85 - Kapil had hit his second ball for six and holed out off the next one. He was hardly the only one to underperform in that match, though, as England won it by eight wickets. "I was dumped for one Test in order to prove some obscure point about discipline," Kapil later wrote. It spoiled a superb run: India played 132 Tests between Kapil's debut in October 1978 and his last match in March 1994... and he played in 131 of them.

Injured by small boy
The great all-round sportsman (international cricketer and footballer, handy rugby player, former long-jump world-record holder) CB Fry missed the first Test of the 1905 Ashes series because of an unlikely injury: "My thumb had been squashed to a jelly," he revealed in his autobiography, "while practising on my home ground at Hamble to the bowling of a small boy."

Ran himself over
Ted Dexter was ruled out of consideration for the 1965-66 Ashes tour because he had broken his leg in a bizarre accident on the Chiswick Flyover: he was pushing his Jaguar after it broke down, but it ran out of control and crushed him. Dexter, who had been late arriving for the previous winter's tour of South Africa as he'd been a (defeated) candidate in the General Election, never played for England again, apart from a brief reappearance in 1968.

Cut hand on a breadknife
A similar self-inflicted injury ruled Jimmy Adams out of West Indies' 1998-99 tour of South Africa. On the plane going there he cut his hand badly on a breadknife (some reports say butterknife, but breadknife sounds better). The nasty gash needed three stitches - administered by a doctor on the plane, assisted by South African cricket supremo Ali Bacher, who was also a medical man - but Adams could not play any part in the Tests that followed, which West Indies lost 5-0.

"I'd rather play for Middlesex"
In the early days Tests weren't considered quite as important as they are now, and in 1890 Drewy Stoddart missed the first match against Australia and played for his county instead. Selected for the second one, he withdrew again, as Middlesex were due to play Yorkshire - whereupon the aristocratic Lord Hawke pulled Bobby Peel and George Ulyett out of the Test side too, to oppose Stoddart. He was forgiven eventually - he later captained England.

Hay fever
Norman "Mandy" Mitchell-Innes made his Test debut for England against South Africa in 1935, after some fine performances for Oxford University. But he pulled out of the next Test, pleading bad hay fever: "I might be sneezing just as a catch came in the slips," he wrote to Plum Warner, the chairman of selectors. Mitchell-Innes may not have done his chances of another cap much good when, feeling a bit better, he scored a century for Oxford at The Oval while England were sliding to defeat in the Test he was supposed to be playing in across the river at Lord's.

Wife and child can't come
The great England bowler SF Barnes was invited to tour Australia in 1920-21, even though he was 47 by then. Barnes said he'd go if MCC would pay for his wife and child to accompany him to Australia. They declined, and so did SF. MCC might have wished they'd paid up: Australia won the series 5-0, the first such Test whitewash.

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