Remarkable sustainer of excellence, despite the crises, 1987

How Amiss won his entry card

Jack Bannister

The crisis-ridden career of Dennis Leslie Amiss is an object lesson to those lesser cricketers who, when faced with their first major hurdle in professional cricket, show a deficiency in technique and temperament which precludes further progress. But because Amiss's make-up is generously threaded with toughened steel, in his 44th year--29 of which have been spent on the Warwickshire staff-- he was able to step into the 100 hundreds club, as well as moving past Andrew Sandham into twelfth place in the list of the game's most prolific run-scores. He continued to parade a technique and level of concentration which, far from showing the first understandable signs of decline, were as impressively solid as ever.

Because he has always been a batsman whose approach has been governed by an unflagging self-discipline, it might have been expected that the passing years would dull Amiss's appetite for runs. Instead, it is a measure of the man that he still relishes a batting challenge so voraciously that in 45 innings in 1986, his stumps were hit only four times-- and one of those rare dismissals was a fast leg-break from the New Zealand seamer, Watson.

For Amiss, the Holy Grail became the 21st entry card into batting's most exclusive club. It shone brightly enough at the beginning of the summer to draw in, in seventeen innings, three of the four hundreds needed for glory, but then there was a tantalising wait as the hundredth century eluded him for sixteen more innings, in three of which he topped 50. And although it finally came in slightly anticlimactic fashion-- the extra half-hour of a dead game against Lancashire being taken to enable the last 36 runs to be scored-- the innings marked the personal high-point of a magnificent career which survived at least four major crisis.

A brief entry into Test cricket ended with a shattering pair against Australia at Old Trafford in 1968, and a decline at county level precipitated the first crisis when, because of the signing of Kallicharran in 1972, and the short comeback of M. J. K. Smith, the only way Amiss could return to the county side, after being dropped, was to open the innings with Jameson. In the middle of June, in only his fifth Championship innings of the season, he scored an unbeaten 151 against Middlesex and followed it with four more hundreds in the next fifteen innings-- against Worcestershire, Lancashire, Kent and Nottinghamshire. Hurdle number one was thus cleared with plenty to spare, but the special problem posed by the highest class of slow and fast bowling were soon to ask further searching questions.

The MCC tour of India in 1972-73, under the captaincy of Lewis, highlighted unexpected shortcomings against spin bowling as purveyed by that country's talented quartet of Bedi, Chandrasekhar, Prasanna and Venkataraghavan. But having failed to beat them, which resulted in his omission from the last two Tests, Amiss decided to join them by taking advantage of first-class cricket's magnanimous freemasonry.

I was watching the fifth Test match in Bombay, Amiss recollected, and I asked some of their bowlers what I could do to try to work my problems out. Bishan Bedi said he would come and bowl to me, and the others agreed to set up a net after the end of play out in the middle. The groundsman obliged with a pitch not far away from the actual Test strip, and away we went. I asked them where their imaginary fielders were, and I set out to survive against the world's best slow bowlers.

As they spun their web, so they drew Amiss in to extend his public torment into a private one, only for the Birmingham-forged steel to withstand, and then overcome, the pressure of such an examination.

The result was a much-needed boost to my confidence, and when we went on to Pakistan, the whole tour turned round, thanks to that net.

In the first Test, at Lahore, he scored 112, the first of his eleven Test hundreds, and followed it with 158 at Hyderabad and 99 in the third Test, in Karachi. The second hurdle in his career had been surmounted and his Test place secured. However, as the 1970s unfolded, so did the insidious shift of emphasis at Test level from spin to pace. Amiss was mentally, as well as physically, affected by the bowling of Lillee and Thomson in Australia in 1974-75, and so he set out to rebuild his technique against sheer pace.

For once, unorthodoxy took over his thinking. He developed an extraordinary early back-foot shuffle before the ball was bowled, yet it was a method which led to a magnificent 203 against West Indies at The Oval in 1976. Whether his long innings was in spite of, and not because of, the ugly looking change is arguable; but the result was undeniable: a triumphant fourth hundred in Test against West Indies-- a surprising statistic in view of his failure to reach three figures against Australia.

The innings was a psychological victory against odds which have defeated many better-looking players. No less a stern judge than Boycott is full of admiration for the way Amiss came to terms with fast bowling in spite of his predilection for a front-foot-based technique. He could not overcome Test fast bowling by hooking and pulling, therefore he had to endure it. Q.E.D. To settle for such a recurring war of attrition calls for special qualities, especially from a man aged 33, but the third hurdle was finally tackled successfully.

The following year, with a benefit safely gathered in and now out of the England side to make way for the return of Boycott, Amiss was a prime target for the Packer raid on the world bank of top-class cricketers. But unknown to him at the time of his slightly later acceptance date than that of England colleagues such as Greig, Snow, Underwood and Knott, the biggest hurdle of all was being built. Within twelve months, his signing for World Series Cricket would split the Warwickshire dressing-room one way and the county's membership the other.

The Warwickshire county committee, adhering to a verbal agreement with at least three other counties-- all of whom subsequently reneged-- publicly stated at the beginning of the 1978 season that Amiss would not be offered a contract thereafter until the Packer issue was resolved. For its part, the Packer organisation announced that no discussions could take place until Amiss was given a further contract. The battle lines were drawn; and far from his 2,030 runs in 1978, including seven Championship hundreds, causing the committee to have a change of heart, his magnificent season served only to emphasise the principle of employing cricketers who would always be available to play for their country.

The Warwickshire players supported the establishment line, but the club members did not, and a Special Members' Meeting was called to usurp the committee and reinstate Amiss. Even as the central figure in the furore he had difficulty in persuading the conveners to defer the meeting for several months so that a mediatorial role by the Cricketers' Association could be explored. However, at the eleventh hour, in September 1978, his plea was acted upon.

Six months later, Amiss became the catalyst whose contractual position in March 1979 with Warwickshire drew the warring factions together after two acrimonious years. The last few steps to the peace table were faltering ones. For three weeks, Warwickshire refused to shift ground until an agreement was reached, and Packer's representatives refused to negotiate until they were satisfied that Amiss was not being victimised. Finally, over the Easter weekend, with his colleagues having already reported back for pre-season practice and training without him, Amiss's county accepted in good faith the assurances they had previously rebutted, and Test cricket resumed normal service. Amiss, at 36, was successfully over the fourth and most difficult hurdle in his distinguished career.

Yet despite an unsurpassed record in county cricket since those traumatic days of the late seventies, and despite the batting problems which have beset the England side, and the number of ordinary players to whom the selectors have turned in vain efforts to solve those problems, Amiss has never again played for his country. Instead, he has marched inexorably onwards, with natural skill, technique and experience fusing into a consistency of run-scoring.

The Packer revolution drew a significant dividing line across the career of the twelfth most prolific run accumulator in history. At the end of the 1977 season, his aggregate of 26,336 from 705 innings included 61 hundreds: one every 11.56 visits to the crease. But since then, at an age and stage of career when most batsmen wind down their output, Amiss has, in nine years, amassed 15,787 runs from 388 innings, including 39 hundreds: a century strike-rate of one in 9.94. Indeed, taking into account the various crisis points which have occurred in Amiss's 26-season career, he has shown a remarkable resilience to sustain a degree of excellence in both three-day and limited-overs cricket which is without parallel among the senior players in the game.

D. L. AMISS'S 100 HUNDREDS

1.114 Warwickshire v Oxford University at Birmingham 1964.
2.150* Warwickshire v Scotland at Birmingham 1966.
3.160* Warwickshire v West Indians at Birmingham 1966.
4.102 MCC Under-25 v President's XI at Rawalpindi 1966-67.
5.131 MCC Under-25 v Pakistan Under-25 at Dacca 1966-67.
6.138* Warwickshire v Oxford University at Oxford 1967.
7.151* Warwickshire v Leicestershire at Birmingham 1967.
8.176* Warwickshire v Nottinghamshire at Coventry 1967.
9.161* Warwickshire v Northamptonshire at Northampton 1967.
10.146 Warwickshire v Scotland at Birmingham 1967.
11.109International XI v India XI at Bombay 1967-68.
12.126 Warwickshire v Worcestershire at Birmingham 1968.
13.128 Warwickshire v Kent at Birmingham 1968.
14.120 Warwickshire v Somerset at Birmingham 1969.
15.110 Warwickshire v Gloucestershire at Gloucester 1970.
16.105 MCC v Yorkshire at Scarborough 1970.
17.112 Warwickshire v Yorkshire at Middlesbrough 1971.
18.124 Warwickshire v Hampshire at Bournemouth 1971.


© John Wisden & Co