Wisden Cricketer / Features

November 2005

The Awkward XI

Paul Coupar draws up The Awkward XI. Some were great. All were good. To get away with being their own men they had to be

Paul Coupar

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Some of this lot were great. All were good. To get away with being their own men they had to be.



Geoffrey 'where the fook are we?' Boycott © The Cricketer International
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1 Geoffrey Boycott
David Lloyd tells of driving Boycott to commentate in Cardiff. Feet on dashboard, Boycott pulled his hat over his eyes and went to sleep. Lost, Lloyd washed up in a Safeway car park in Derby. Boycott woke: "Where the fook are we?" "Safeway in Derby." "You fookin' idiot." "I'm lost, Geoffrey." "Well, that's with me not driving. Never had any plan even when you were batting. That's why you never got any runs." Blunt, competitive, convinced he's right (he often is), unable to accept other people's foibles: Boycott ticks all the boxes. Lived up to his name in the 1970s, when he spurned England for three years.

2 Sunil Gavaskar
In the 1975 World Cup Gavaskar blocked his way to 36 not out in 60 overs. India were chasing 335 at the time. "A performance of Indian mysticism which defied explanation," said The Cricketer magazine. Nor was that an aberration. In the 1980-81 Test at Melbourne Gavaskar suffered a questionable lbw decision and tried to lead his side off the pitch. Made India harder to beat through sheer bloody-mindedness. A run-out involving him and Boycott hardly bears thinking about.

3 WG Grace
Big man, big personality, difficult to control. He once punched an abusive spectator at Northampton. On that occasion he was provoked, though that was not always the case when Grace resorted to fisticuffs. Legend says he kidnapped the Australian opener Billy Midwinter from a match at Lord's because Grace wanted him to play for Gloucestershire at The Oval. (Others say the incident took place when Midwinter went to The Oval and informed Grace of his decision to return to Australia. Either way it counts as awkward.) Grace captained in the vast majority of matches he played - presumably on the "I'd-rather-have-him-inside-the-tent ..." principle.

4 Sourav Ganguly
Ganguly was a controversial captain even as a teenager at St Xavier's College, Calcutta. "Some of the other boys objected, claiming he was arrogant," recalled his coach Raju Mukherjee. "It's a struggle with him," said Andrew Flintoff, a team-mate in Ganguly's season at Lancashire in 2000. "He wasn't interested in the other players and it became a situation where it was 10 players and Ganguly. He turned up as if he was royalty - it was like having Prince Charles on your side." Undoubtedly awkward. Just ask Greg Chappell.



Ray Illingworth was 'dogmatic and single-minded to the point of being blinkered' © Getty Images
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5 Ray Illingworth
"I asked for - and got - an assurance I would have the final say. That was the most important thing to me." So said Illingworth when put in charge of England in 1994. If that was an understandable reaction to responsibility, it came naturally. "[He is] dogmatic and single-minded to the point of being blinkered," said Jack Bannister admiringly. Boycott, suspended by Illingworth for insolence in 1981, was less admiring of his captain's single-mindedness.

6 Adam Parore
Parore is one of only 11 keepers with 200 Test dismissals. He would have had more but for walking out on the 1995-96 tour of West Indies, in protest at the disciplinarian coach Glenn Turner. "I wasn't really interested in politics," said Parore disingenuously, "unless I needed to be to save my career. Then I was very interested." Even the renowned man manager Stephen Fleming eventually gave up, telling the mercurial keeper: "Mate, I can't be bothered with you."

7 Roy Gilchrist
Wisden's description - "awkward to manage, insufferably so at times" - was a gross understatement. Born in Jamaica and schooled in rough sugar-estate games, Gilchrist was as wild as a stallion with his tail on fire. He enjoyed hitting batsmen who hooked, and slipped in the beamer when the mood took him, which most agreed was too often. After a "knife incident" on West Indies' 1958-59 India tour he played club cricket in Lancashire. There he skulled an Australian with a stump - in a charity match.

8 Dennis Lillee
"Dennis could be awkward. And he enjoyed being awkward, especially with me." So said a rueful Kim Hughes, Australia's captain in the late 1970s and early 1980s. At the end of his run-up Lillee had several blazing rows about field placings with Hughes at mid-off. "I don't think Kim Hughes should ever have been captain," said Lillee later, "and you'd find a lot of people who'd agree with me on that." A borderline inclusion because it was often the batsman who felt the worst of Lillee's explosions.

9 Shoaib Akhtar
"He has only an accelerator in his head, no gears, no brake," said a frustrated Pakistan team-mate recently. Shoaib's blinkered ambition to beat the 100mph barrier frustrated several captains. In 2004 he refused to bowl in a Test against India, saying he was injured, a fact disputed by some. In between it all he bowled some ultra-fast match-changing spells. Too frustrating to include, too good to leave out. One of the most glorious sights in world cricket for the spectator and one of the most frightening for a manager.



Billy Bestwick liked to drink. A lot. © Getty Images
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10 Billy Bestwick
Perhaps the only first-class cricketer allocated a minder in an attempt to keep him off the ale. Bestwick never played Test cricket but took more than 1,400 wickets in a great first-class career. However, he also liked to drink. A lot. In 1909 Derbyshire terminated his contract because of his habits. In 1922 a hungover Bestwick was left at the team hotel before a game at Worcester. Annoyed, he paid to get into the ground, before loudly barracking his own side. Ideal room-mate for the sleep-loving Boycott.

11 Phil Tufnell
The teenage Tufnell already looked like a captain's danger-man: expelled twice from school and sporting a perma-fag and leopard-skin G-string. And that was before prolonged exposure to Phil Edmonds. Simon Hughes recalls Tufnell being sent off the field by his Middlesex captain Mike Gatting in 1991. "He swore," recalled Hughes, "kicked the turf and refused to go on until he got his own way." Tufnell's off-field antics - drugs allegations, getting hit over the head with a brick by an enraged father-in-law - were a trial to any captain. Unfortunately The Cat did not always land on his feet. In 1995 a troubled England tour of Australia ended in a psychiatric ward.

Paul Coupar is assistant editor of The Wisden Cricketer

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