Xenophon Constantine Balaskas
October 15, 1910, Kimberley, Cape Province
May 12, 1994, Hyde Park, Sandton, Johannesburg, Transvaal, (aged 83y 209d)
Also Known As
Right hand Bat
Bally Balaskas was the legspinner 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.
Wisden Cricketers' Almanack
South Africa's matchwinning legspinner in the Lord's Test of 1935, Xenophon Constantine Balaskas, died at his home in Johannesburg on May 12, aged 83. Born on Oct 15, 1910 of Greek parents who had emigrated to South Africa, he showed rare talent as a schoolboy and at the age of 15 represented Griqualand West in first-class cricket. By 20 he was playing in his first Test, against Percy Chapman's side of 1930-31, after topping batting and bowling aggregates the previous season with 644 runs (80.50) and 39 wickets (21.20). His runs included three centuries in consecutive innings followed by 75 not out and 42 against a strong Natal team.
He did not distinguish himself in his first two Tests against England, and after scoring a 'duck' in the second at Newlands he found himself on the sidelines until his selection for the 1931-32 Springbok tour of Australasia under the captaincy of Jock Cameron. Given few opportunities in Australia, he scored 122 not out against New Zealand at Wellington, his only Test century.
An excellent season in 1934-35 in which he secured 31 wickets (15.88) in the Currie Cup ensured his selection for the England tour under the inspired captaincy of Herbert Wade. However, injuries limited his appearances and Balaskas was able to play in only one Test, the decisive second match at Lord's where he, along with opening bat Bruce Mitchell, played a leading role in South Africa's victory. A week before the Test, he gave England's players warning of his form with figures of 4 for 55 and 8 for 99 against Yorkshire at Sheffield when the county champions were humbled by 128 runs. Wicketkeeper Cameron scored a great century in South Africa's second innings, smashing Verity for 30 in one over.
At Lord's, South Africa scored 228 (Cameron 90), to which England replied with 198, Balaskas taking 5 for 49, his best Test figures. A second-innings 164 not out by Mitchell enabled Wade to declare at 278 for 7, setting England the task of scoring 309 to win. By the last day the pitch was breaking up, and Balaskas (4 for 54), along with medium-pacer 'Chud' Langton, who took 4 for 31, dismissed England for 151 to record their first Test victory in England and to date their only win at the game's headquarters.
Playing three-day Tests suited the South Africans, who were able to hang on to their slender lead to take the series 1-0, the first side other than Australia to win a series in England.
Balaskas injured himself in the match against Notts a week after the Test and took little part in the rest of the tour, finishing with 42 wickets (20.78).
In 1935-36 a powerful Australian team led by Vic Richardson toured South Africa
and swept all before them. The death of Cameron shortly after returning from England and the unavailability of Tomlinson and Balaskas through ill-health and the retirement of Vincent upset the bowling attack and the Aussie batsmen made merry. Balaskas was available only from the third Test, replacing new cap Bock.
Balaskas toiled long and hard, bowling the most overs for the South Africans but gaining only nine wickets at almost 50 runs each while scarcely bothering the scorers in the six innings he batted. In 1938-39 he received his customary call-up at Newlands, his ninth and final Test, this time against a strong England team led by Wally Hammond. He scored 29 in his last Test innings and 24 wicketless overs yielded 115 runs in a mammoth England score of 559 for 9, with centuries by Hammond, Ames and Valentine.
Balaskas's full Test figures are 174 runs (14.50) and 22 wickets (36.63), while in all first-class cricket he scored 2696 runs (29.68) and captured 276 wickets at the commendable average for his type of 24.11. His six centuries included two doublecenturies. A pharmacist by profession, he worked until he was in his late seventies, and up to 18 months ago he would enjoy a daily workout in a gym.
Some 30 years ago 'Bally' laid a concrete pitch with nets in his garden, and many cricketers would visit to gain some words of wisdom and coaching. Recent visitors to his nets include South Africa's latest Test left-arm spinner Clive Eksteen and the country's latest bowling hero, Fanie de Villiers.
Wisden Cricket Monthly
Batting & Fielding