Robert James Crisp
May 28, 1911, Calcutta (now Kolkata), Bengal, India
March 03, 1994, Colchester, Essex, England, (aged 82y 279d)
Right hand bat
Right arm fast
Bob Crisp, DSO, MC, who died in Essex on March 3, 1994, aged 82, was one of the most extraordinary men ever to play Test cricket. His cricket, which is only a fraction of the story, was explosive enough: he is the only bowler to have taken four wickets in four balls twice. Born in Calcutta, he was educated in Rhodesia and, after taking nine for 64 for Western Province against Natal in 1933-34, which included his second set of four in four, was chosen for the South Africans' 1935 tour of England. He took 107 wickets on the tour at a brisk fast-medium, including five for 99 in the Old Trafford Test. Crisp played four further Tests against Australia in 1935-36 and appeared eight times for Worcestershire in 1938 without ever achieving a huge amount.
But it is astonishing that he ever found a moment for such a time-consuming game as cricket. He was essentially an adventurer -- he had just climbed Kilimanjaro when he got news that he was wanted for the 1935 tour -- with something of an attention span problem. Like other such characters, his defining moment came in the Second World War when he was an outstanding but turbulent tank commander, fighting his own personal war against better-armoured Germans in Greece and North Africa. He had six tanks blasted from under him in a month but carried on fighting and was awarded the DSO for outstanding ability and great gallantry. However, he annoyed authority so much that General Montgomery intervened personally and prevented him being given a Bar a year later; his second honour was downgraded to an MC. Crisp was mentioned in despatches four times before being invalided out in Normandy. The King asked if his bowling would be affected. "No, sire," he is alleged to have replied. "I was hit in the head."
Crisp never did play again and found that the tedium of peacetime presented him with a problem far harder than anything offered by the Germans. He was briefly a journalist for a succession of newspapers, and went back to South Africa where he founded the now firmly-established paper for blacks, Drum. But he wanted a magazine about tribal matters rather than something appealing to urban blacks and rapidly fell out with his proprietor. He returned to England, tried mink farming and, for an unusually long time by Crisp standards, worked as a leader-writer on the East Anglian Daily Times. While there he wrote two accounts of his war exploits, Brazen Chariots (1957) and The Gods Were Neutral (1960). Then he suddenly left and lived in a Greek hut for a year. Told he had incurable cancer, he spent a year walking round Crete, selling accounts to the Sunday Express. He died with a copy of the Sporting Life on his lap, reportedly having just lost a £20 bet, a risk-taker to the last. Crisp's 276 career wickets came at an average of only 19.88, but statistics are absurd for such a man.
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