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Popular and much-loved cricketers who played little international cricket
October 1, 2012
The recent death of Harry Pilling, a folk hero at Old Trafford, inspired this selection. He was an early star of the Sunday League, immortalised by TV commentator Jim Laker as Little 'Arry Pillin', and he was unlucky not to win an England cap or two - the selectors were probably worried about his extreme lack of height (he was only 5ft 3ins tall, or maybe short). But Pilling was a neat accumulator of runs, whose frequent batting partnerships for Lancashire with Clive Lloyd - over a foot taller - rarely failed to amuse the crowds.
Bryan "Bomber" Wells, who bowled slow left-arm for Gloucestershire and Nottinghamshire, probably has more anecdotes attached to him than any other county player. Short and rotund, he hardly bothered with a run-up, which meant that his captain in some of his early games was still returning to his place in the field, with his back to the action, when Wells delivered the ball. Among the Wells legends are that he once completed an over at Worcester while the cathedral bells tolled midday, and elsewhere took a boundary catch with one hand while balancing a cup of tea in the other. Wells retired in 1965, after being told he had exactly 1000 first-class wickets, only to discover after a recount that it was only 998.
Roly-poly Dav Whatmore was a great favourite at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, where regulars in Bay 13 and elsewhere loved to give him good-natured stick about his waistline. But they enjoyed his batting - and his slip fielding - over many seasons for Victoria. Whatmore did finally play a few Tests, during the Packer schism, coached his native Sri Lanka to the World Cup in 1996, and is now in charge of Pakistan.
The Nottinghamshire opener George Gunn was one of county cricket's great characters, often flaying opposing bowlers during a career that lasted till he was well past 50 (by which time his son was often in the same team). Gunn played a few Tests for England, making a century on debut, and might have played more: he once turned up at the start of a new season at Trent Bridge in his Notts blazer and found an unopened letter, which he'd forgotten about, in the pocket. It was from MCC, inviting him to tour Australia the previous winter.
A combative allrounder who hit 232 not out on his first-class debut for Victoria, Sam Loxton was a fringe member of Don Bradman's 1948 Invincibles, and remained a chatty presence in Australian cricket until his death last year, aged 90. He was the tour manager in India and Pakistan in 1959-60: shortly before the trip the former Test captain Lindsay Hassett - another Invincible - warned Australia's cricket-loving prime minister Robert Menzies that he'd better get the armed forces ready, as "a week after Sam gets to India, war is bound to break out".
A tall, chirpy Cockney, Jamie Sykes was a useful offspinner and a handy batsman too, with a first-class hundred to his name. But the combination of Sykes and Phil Tufnell was too potent a cocktail for some in the Middlesex dressing room, and eventually Sykes was released. Alex Barnett, another Middlesex spinner of the time, said: "He came across as the guy you could call if someone owed you money and you wanted to speed things up a little." Barnett also used to drive him to matches, as Sykes claimed he'd get too wound up with the moron drivers getting in his way. "So I was surprised to hear that after his cricket retirement he'd become a black cab taxi driver. God help London."
David Boon was a legendary figure for Tasmania and Australia... but Danny Buckingham, even shorter and even sturdier, rivalled him for popularity in Hobart and Launceston, and once clattered Western Australia all round the WACA for 150. "Danny was one of the most gifted players I ever played with," said Keith Bradshaw, the former MCC secretary who was Tasmania's captain that day at Perth. "He had an amazing eye and would often flat-bat quicks back over their head. He was an entertaining batsman, and his 150 was a great knock. He was a good friend and a great guy."
The big fast bowler Franklyn Stephenson had probably the biggest, widest smile in county cricket - and probably the loopiest, wickedest slower ball too... several batsmen ducked it and were bowled. Stephenson, who did the 1000-run/100-wicket double for Nottinghamshire in 1988, never quite played a Test match - West Indies had an embarrassment of fast bowling during his career, and he was also banned for a while after an unauthorised tour of South Africa - but if he'd been around today he would have been an automatic choice. Instead he's a golf pro back home in Barbados.
Eknath Solkar, who carved out a useful Test career for India despite his humble beginnings (his father was the groundsman at the Hindu Gymkhana in Bombay), was a combative allrounder who opened the batting and bowling in his time. But it was his fielding, often absurdly close to the batsman, that endeared him to the crowds: "He was the best forward short leg I've ever seen," said Tony Greig, briefly a team-mate at Sussex. Solkar also had an unusual line in sledging, once informing Geoff Boycott that "I'll out you, bloody," and telling Garry Sobers to mind his own business.
One of Harry Pilling's team-mates at Lancashire was Jack Simmons, almost as wide as Pilling was tall. A parsimonious offspinner whose dart-like delivery gave rise to his nickname "Flat Jack", Simmons was a great favourite at Old Trafford (and also during a popular stint as captain of emerging Tasmania). Stories about Simmons's prodigious appetite are legion: David Lloyd recalled driving him home one night and dropping him off at a fish-and-chip shop about 500 yards from his house. Even though it was raining, Jack sat down on the wall outside to eat. "Bumble" asked why he didn't take the food home and keep dry, and received the alarmed response: "If I take these home, my wife won't make me any supper."
The great Barbadian fast bowler Wes Hall - or Sir Wesley, as he now is - played rather more international cricket than the others on this list, but he's here because he was such a character - and also because, remarkably, no opposition batsman seems to have had a harsh word for him, even though he spent most of the time trying to knock their blocks off. Hall took 192 wickets in 48 Tests, barrelling in off a frighteningly long run, and sent down two of the most famous last overs in Test history - the one that sealed the 1960-61 Brisbane tie, and the last act of a dramatic match at Lord's in 1963, when Colin Cowdrey came out prepared to bat with a broken arm. And Hall remains a noted raconteur: his account of that final over at Brisbane takes much, much longer than the time it actually took him to bowl it.
Steven Lynch is the editor of the Wisden Guide to International Cricket 2012.Feeds: Steven Lynch
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