Obituary

Xenophon Balaskas

BALASKAS, XENOPHON CONSTANTINE, died at his home in Johannesburg on May 12, 1994, aged 83. "Bally" Balaskas was the leg-spinner who bowled South Africa to their first victory in England, at Lord's in 1935. It was his only Test of the tour and the only one that produced a result. The pitch, ravaged by leather-jackets, turned from an early stage; Bruce Mitchell and Jock Cameron batted far better than anyone on the England team and Balaskas, bowling tirelessly and with great accuracy from the Pavilion End, had figures of 32-8-49-5 in England's first innings and 27-8-54-4 in the second.

Balaskas was not merely one of the most improbably-named of all Test players, he had one of the most improbable backgrounds. His parents were Greek migrants who owned the first restaurant in the diamond town of Kimberley. Pre-war South African cricketers usually came from a narrow, English social background but De Beers, the diamond company that controlled Kimberley, always ensured the two local high schools had big-name coaches and Charlie Hallows taught Balaskas. He played first-class cricket for Griqualand West when he was 15, and in 1929-30 was both leading run-scorer and wicket-taker in the Currie Cup, with 644 - including 206 against Rhodesia - and 39.

Balaskas made his Test debut at 20 the following year: he made little impact with bat or ball in two Tests at home to England and never made the Test team when South Africa travelled to Australia in 1931-32, though he scored 122 not out against New Zealand in the Second Test at Wellington. When he came to England in 1935, he was not chosen for the First Test. Years later he told the story of how he established his superiority over Leyland the week before the Lord's Test, bowling him with a huge leg-break and drawing the response: "Why don't you turn the effing ball, Bally?" Leyland was his first victim at Lord's - with a straight one.

Balaskas missed the rest of the series through injury and his subsequent Test career was anticlimactic. He played for five different provincial teams, moving round partly for cricketing reasons, partly because of his work as a pharmacist. He took more than 40 wickets for Transvaal in 1945-46 and, but for a knee injury, might have been picked for the 1947 England tour. Instead, he finally retired. Apart from his century, his batting was never a success in Test cricket: he scored 174 runs at 14.50 and took 22 wickets at 36.63; his first-class figures were 2,696 runs at 28.68 and 276 wickets at 24.11.

He settled in Johannesburg, bought a lovely house very cheaply and laid out a concrete pitch with a net in his garden; many players would go there for advice and he would always try to get them to play his way: vigorous body-action when bowling, and forward defence à la Hallows, planting the foot forward first and keeping the bat close to the pad. He was always discovering some new theory about his bowling, said Bruce Mitchell. He was a cheerful, twinkling man in old age and he still loved cricketing theory.

© John Wisden & Co