September 24, 2012

That's not in the manual

Not all cricketers are super-stylish. Sometimes they defy the coaching book, but get the job done

Kepler Wessels
Perhaps the supreme example of artisanship over artistry, Wessels was crab-like at the crease, and rarely played a memorable shot. But he was devilishly difficult to dislodge, and scored valuable runs for Australia in his first incarnation as an international cricketer, then propped South Africa up in their early matches back in mainstream cricket. Wessels played 109 one-day internationals - 54 for Australia and 55 for South Africa - and was never out for a duck, easily a record.

Peter Willey
Over the years Willey's stance opened up so much that by the end of his career both his feet were pointing straight down the pitch, and if a spectator looked up quickly, he might have thought that the bowler had started to operate from square leg. But the resolute Willey scored two centuries in a 26-Test career that included the miracle of Headingley '81, and made almost 25,000 runs in first-class cricket before becoming an umpire (with a more orthodox stance).

Paul Adams
Surely the most convoluted bowling action of any international cricketer belonged to Adams. It was likened to a "frog in a blender" when he first crashed on to the scene, during England's tour of South Africa in 1995-96, but despite seemingly looking under his arm to the boundary behind him as he delivered the ball, Adams still managed to take 134 Test wickets for South Africa.

Jim Yardley
During a 15-year county career for Northamptonshire and Worcestershire, Yardley made more than 8000 runs, even though he "really only had one shot, the squirt to third man," according to an affectionate obituary in Wisden 2011. "You could post nine gullies and he'd still find a way through," remembered a rueful Mike Selvey, the former Middlesex and England fast bowler.

Andrew Jones
New Zealander Jones had a homespun batting technique that often involved him leaping off the ground to play his shots. But he was very effective, scoring nearly 3000 runs in both Tests and ODIs: in the shorter format he made a record 25 fifties without ever quite making it to 100. "His style wasn't pleasing to the eye," wrote Martin Crowe, his partner in a then-record stand of 467 against Sri Lanka in 1990-91, "but if I were to choose someone to bat for my life, that person would be Andrew Howard Jones."

Javed Miandad
The ultimate street-fighter, Miandad did not have the prettiest technique - but there weren't many holes in it. He scored nearly 9000 Test runs at an average of 52, played in a record six World Cups, and upset bowlers (and fielders, and occasionally umpires) from Lahore to Lord's. His ESPNcricinfo profile sagely states that "he was not of the classical school of batting, though he possessed a beautiful square cut and most shots in and outside the book".

Mike Procter
Procter had an ugly bowling delivery, in which his arm whirred over as he landed, open-chested, on his "wrong" foot - but no one has ever bowled quicker with such an action (and not many with conventional deliveries have matched it). He beat countless batsmen for pace - and if sheer speed wasn't enough, he could swing the ball late too, which helped him take two all-lbw hat-tricks. Procter's bowling might have been unorthodox, but his batting was straight out of the textbook: a beautiful driver of the ball, he equalled the first-class record, with six successive centuries in 1971.

Clarrie Grimmett
Short and bald, with an ever-present cap protecting his bare pate, Grimmett didn't look much like a Test cricketer... until he picked up the ball. Even then his round-arm delivery was not a thing of beauty - but he could make that ball talk, and was the first man to take 200 wickets in Tests, even though he didn't start until he was 33. Grimmett was, according to Sir Donald Bradman, "the best genuine slow legspinner, because of his great accuracy and control".

Shivnarine Chanderpaul
A batsman who appears to have read the coaching manual backwards, or possibly upside down, Chanderpaul somehow continues to churn out reliable runs. As the bowler reaches his delivery stride, Chanderpaul changes his peculiar open stance into a more orthodox one, then coaxes the ball to unlikely points of the compass using steely wrists and an amazing eye. It really shouldn't work but somehow it does, and has done for a long career that has now brought him over 10,000 Test runs and more caps for West Indies than anyone else.

Ken Mackay
Mackay was an unlovely left-hander for Queensland and Australia, and an unprepossessing medium-pacer with an almost round-arm delivery. But "Slasher" was one of the first names on the team sheet during Richie Benaud's successful captaincy, and played his part in the memorable 1960-61 series against West Indies that included the first tied Test: in the fourth match, in Adelaide, Mackay defended for the last two hours to stave off defeat (and deliberately wore the last ball, from Wes Hall, on the body to ensure he couldn't possibly be out caught). "He may have been a better player had I not interfered with his career when I was his captain," admitted Benaud. "I turned him from a high-scoring batsman into an allrounder because it suited me."

Colin Croft
It was one of the sights of the 1980s - thrilling in a way, unless you were the batsman in those early days of helmets. Hurtling in off a long run, Croft would weave sideways just before delivery, his arm would sweep up, and down would sizzle a thunderbolt from an open-chested action, the ball coming from somewhere near mid-off, as that late lurch had pitched him out away from the umpire, front foot well wide of the return crease. It was fiendishly difficult to cope with: Croft took 8 for 29 against Pakistan in only his second Test, and finished with 125 wickets from 27 Tests. Often amusing off the field, he was a different proposition on it: "Crofty would bounce his grandmother if he thought there was a wicket in it," said a team-mate.

Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2012. Ask Steven is now on Facebook