Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sachin Tendulkar never stopped dreaming : explorer Mike Horn

Sometimes life provides us with the opportunity of coming face to face with the unrestrained possibilities, a realisation that limits can be pushed beyond conventions, and the boundaries that we create can be as immense as our imagination.

Mike Horn is largely considered to be the greatest modern explorer. He has completed journeys around the equator as well as the Arctic Circle – both without motorised transport. He has walked across Siberia for one and a half years – alone! And when he teamed up with Norwegian explorer Borge Ousland, they became the first men to travel without dogs or motor to the North Pole during the permanent darkness of Arctic winter. 

These are just some of his feats. His greatest achievement is perhaps pushing beyond the boundaries of human ability and imagination, and managing to stay alive. 

Horn was engaged as a motivational speaker for the Indian cricket team during their 2011 World Cup campaign.  The interview appeared on Cricketcountry on 26th February, 2012. It was by far the mostfulfilling of assignments of my writing life.

It looked like a hardcore battle with the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.

During the last two decades, Horn has often retraced the paths of the most adventurous of our ancestors and journeyed to every breathtaking corner of the world using the most primitive modes of transport. As Mary Buckheit, a charming California-based writer who is also Horn’s Media Relations Director, puts it – “his beard has experienced more than a lesser man’s body”.

Yet, I found that when he is not exploring, he moves around faster than the speed of modern communication. While he shuttled between Switzerland, United States, Trinidad, Germany and back to the West Coast, I relentlessly tried to zero in on his blurry shape, but always managed to miss him by miles, sometimes several thousand of them. Finally, thanks to a lot of help from Mary, I managed to get this fascinating hour with him as he drove down the Pacific Coast from Los Angeles to San Diego.

Arunabha (Senantix)  : You have travelled across Siberia on foot, alone. You have completed a solo journey around the Arctic Circle. You have traversed North Pole without dogs or motor, in complete darkness. Once leaving Gabon, you crossed the Atlantic Ocean by trimaran; travelled from Brazil to Ecuador by foot, bicycle and canoe, traversing the Amazon jungle and the Andes; crossed the Pacific Ocean to Indonesia, via the Galapagos Islands; journeyed through the Borneo and Sumatra jungles by foot and sailboat; and then continued by trimaran across the Indian Ocean, across the African continent back to Gabon, 18 months after you had started out.  Summing it all up, you have done somewhat more than going out and getting on a bus. What exactly makes you do all this?

Mike Horn (MH): In life we are born with different characters and abilities. Some are destined to become doctors, some are born cricketers. For me it was a natural thing to become an explorer. Man has always gone ahead to discover the unknown without the help of technology and the modern modes of transport. It had always fascinated me to revisit all the elements in the purest forms, to experience the limits of the human physique and human mind.

Modern technology makes the unknown and untouched accessible. But nature retains its challenges. More and more people climb the Everest with oxygen, but to climb it without oxygen is still a challenge. In fact, more people go to the moon than to the North Pole at night. The Amazon, the Everest, the North Pole – in a word, nature – has a way of protecting the truly natural elements which beckon true explorers.

More and more people want to see nature, and the only way to discover it in its most pure form is through true exploration.

Senantix: Is this fascination for true exploration that made you name your expedition programme Pangaea?  (Pangaea is the word for a “hypothetical super-continent that included all the landmasses of the earth before the Triassic Period”. Mike Horn chose the name Pangaea for his new expedition which allows young adult explorers the opportunity to join his global voyages.)

MH: Correct. Pangaea is about showing the younger generation the actual beauty of the planet, by showing them the way past explorers used to discover places. Today, if we use the kayak instead of motorised transport to explore rare places, it works in two ways. It makes it interesting and it builds the awareness of the original ways of travel. It is to explore the power of human endeavour and not technology that I want to establish, for the young to get involved with the adventure not just physically but also emotionally.

Senantix : You are from South Africa, what made you settle in Switzerland?

MH: When I was growing up, South Africa was boycotted by the rest of the world. They were not allowed to play international rugby, they could not participate in the Olympics and were banned from Test cricket. It seemed to me that I was paying for the politics of my older generation. I wanted to experience sports and life in the normal world, but the results of apartheid prevented me from doing so. I did not support apartheid, but, nonetheless, had to face the consequences.

After studying Human Movement Science (at Stellenbosch University), I decided to get away fromSouth Africa and experience the world. At that point in time, there were just three countries where South African citizens could freely travel – England, Israel and Switzerland. I got on the first available plane and it happened to be going to Switzerland.

Senantix:  Most of the places you travel to – say the Amazon basin or Arctic or Siberia – hardly see any human beings. How is it that you associate yourself with a game like cricket, which is one of the most social of sports?

MH: I love cricket. When I was growing up, we used to play rugby in the winter and cricket in the summer. I follow the game very closely – South African, English, Indian, New Zealand cricket. I have had a lot of interaction with international sportsmen –both rugby and cricket players. All the players in the mainline sports have enormous talent and there is very little to choose between them in terms of ability. The main difference between the teams and players is always psychological. And it is here that I can always pitch in. I know what it takes to succeed. Because doing what I do, if I am not at my mental peak, I don’t lose my wicket, I lose my life. This attitude is lacking in most sportsmen of today and that is where I try to help them.

Senantix: As an explorer, you have pushed yourself beyond the normal limits of the human body. In stark contrast, many feel that cricket as a sport is one of the less taxing ones, where people can stand and amble their way in the field over several days. Is this a contradiction?

MH: Well, when a ball comes at you at 160 km per hour, it can get dangerous as well. Having said that, cricket is a very demanding mental game. You have to be very precise and continuously make decisions while hitting the ball and also after hitting the ball. To a great extent, golf is also based on similar precision, but in the case of golf the ball is stationery. In cricket, you are always trying to be precise while in motion – while, at the same time, the fielders and bowlers can be very intimidating. Being at the mental peak is very important. And to be mentally prepared, physical fitness is essential. Rigorous physical training of this sort is not carried out in most cases.

Senantix: How did the assignment with the Indian cricket team come about?

MH: Well, Gary Kirsten and Paddy Upton are friends of mine. They knew I had already done something similar for the South African Rugby team by speaking to them. So when Gary called me up and asked if I was interested in coming over and talking to the Indian players, I was very excited. It was a completely new challenge.

The Indian cricketers are very temperamental, emotional and there is a huge amount of pressure on them. There is an enormous ego factor as well. It is very difficult to make a team out of them. To me it was quite the same sort of challenge as in climbing the Everest or getting to the North Pole.

They are a bunch of strong individuals, but even very gifted individuals can have negative vibes between themselves.

My main goal was to convince them that they needed each other to succeed and to win the World Cup. That was the angle I took – to enable them to offload the pressure, to get rid of the additional baggage that they tended to carry.

Senantix: And how did the team react to your talks?

MH: You must remember that the Indian cricketers are superstars. That’s their status. This makes it very difficult to get listened to when you address the team. They generally don’t tend to listen. However, if you talk about your own achievements, and they realise them as near-impossible feats, you get their respect and trust. That was important for me. Sachin Tendulkar, the most amazing sportsperson I have come across, believed in me. Someone like MS Dhoni also believed in me. And as a result the team also started listening to what I said.

Senantix: Your Facebook page shows that one of your “Likes” is Sachin Tendulkar.  Would you like to say something about him?

MH: The way Sachin approaches his life and cricket can only be an example – to every Indian cricketer. In spite of all his success, he is not a big headed person. He is still one who dreams. For him, the dream did not stop when he started playing for India. That is what tends to happen for most other cricketers, they just stop dreaming. On the contrary, the dream just began for Sachin when he started playing for the country and still goes on. That is the difference between him and others. The other important thing is that he does not limit his potential. He still trains the hardest, ball after ball. And no matter what people say, it is this hard work that has enabled him to reach his full potential.

Senantix: Paddy Upton recently said that you had been quite prophetic in warning the team that most accidents happen when coming down from the mountain.

MH: Exactly. When I gave my last talk before the Sri Lanka match (the World Cup final), I said that the end of the trip is not the summit of the mountain. You can only enjoy the feeling of planting the flag when you come down alive. The goal is to return without faltering. The focus needs to remain after the summit has been reached. For the Indian team, the focus has wavered. They mentally remained with the moment at the top. I believe they are still the best team. Kirsten, Upton and myself worked on a strategy which coincided with the goal to be the number one team in the world. After the coaching stuff changed, the strategy changed. The new system is different, and they need the time to adapt to it. It is like driving a new car, you cannot go full throttle from the start. But, they have to adapt fast because they get paid a whole lot of money for doing what they do.

Senantix: Would you like to share any advice with the team to help them with the recovery?

MH: I would very much like to meet them again and speak to them and try to understand the problems. However, I am very busy at the moment. For every up there is a corresponding down and sometime the down is not that bad. But India is a very emotional place. There are 1.2 billion people supporting the side and all of them get very disappointed if the team does badly, and the pressure on the team becomes enormous with the negative criticism. The media can help here by offloading some of the pressure; they can pull the team along through constructive criticism while keeping the faith of the fans on the team intact. I am happy to say that every time I have trained with a side, they have done well. Be it cricket, rugby or any other sport. After all, every sport ultimately requires mental attitude. What I say is that, if you are afraid to lose, you will never win. The will to win needs to be much more than the fear of losing. It is in this aspect that I am able to help sportsmen.

Senantix: Is there any other part for the world that still remains unexplored?

MH: The biggest part of the world is perhaps underwater, and it may well be my next destination. Man is not meant to survive underwater, and that adds to the challenge to go there and come back with the knowledge of survival in such an environment. With the world economy being what it is, and with NASA closing down on a lot of programmes, my dreams of space exploration is becoming difficult. But, otherwise one of my dreams was to be left behind on Mars and to come back with the knowledge of survival there. However, for that perhaps I have lived in the wrong time. I am also over 45 now, and if that actually becomes possible in another 10-15 years, I will be much too old.  

Senantix:  Finally, would you like to share any parting message for the readers?

MH: I would like to say that in life we always have a choice. We can either choose to live a broad life with risks or a narrow life without risks. A narrow life may last longer, and a broad one can be short – but the broad life carries with itself the freedom of choice and the opportunities to make life worth it. What we often forget is that life is today, now and not tomorrow and later. Otherwise we can soon be 60 and suddenly realise that there are a lot of things we have not done.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

60 years of India's first Test match victory

This post by the author appeared on Cricketcountry on 10th February 2012

Vinoo Mankad
With Test matches turning more and more into torture tales for India, the team is currently scraping the bottom of the barrel of cricketing fortunes. However, in a somewhat off-key note of the music of time, they also celebrate the 60thanniversary of their first victory in Test cricket this Friday.

The moment of history in Chepauk on the afternoon of February 10, 1952 took nineteen and a half years in coming, a staggering statistic that turns somewhat palatable when we consider that the number of Test matches played during that barren period was a paltry 24. On ten of those occasions the country had ended up on the losing side.

Success had painfully eluded the expectant young nation by a whisker two years earlier at the Brabourne Stadium against the West Indies. A spirited chase of 361 runs in 395 minutes had ended six runs short with two wickets in hand when time had run out.

The dramatis personae

Vijay Hazare
Vijay Hazare, who had built the platform of that near victorious chase with a masterly 122, was now the captain of the side. The team, in stark contrast with the India of recent times, was a sparkling collection of all-round talent. Vinoo Mankad was the star all-rounder at the peak of his abilities. Lala Amarnath was still a force to reckon with both bat and ball. Dattu Phadkar had an excellent record going into the Test, averaging over 40 with the bat and in the early 30s with his medium-pace. Hazare himself, one of the finest batsmen ever produced by India, was a decent medium pacer. And young Polly Umrigar, then striving to establish himself in the side, was a canny off-spinner who could also open the bowling when required and eventually ended up with two five wicket hauls in Test cricket.

There was a fair mix of youth and experience at the top of the order with the talented Pankaj Roy combining with the aging artist Mushtaq Ali. With the ball, Mankad’s left- arm spin found wonderful accompaniment in Ghulam Ahmed’s off-breaks, while the combination of Mankad with wicket-keeper Prabir Sen in luring the batsman forward and catching him short ground is a part of Indian cricketing folklore.

In contrast, India’s majorly low-key performances over the years had induced England to send a second string side. Absent from the squad were names such as Len Hutton, Cyril Washbrook, Denis Compton, Bill Edrich, Alec Bedser and Jim Laker. A rookie Tom Graveney was the only one who would end up as a major heavyweight with the bat while Brian Statham and, to some extent, Roy Tattershall lent some degree of class to the bowling.

Adding to England’s problems, captain Nigel Howard had a torrid series with the bat, and was injured for the final Test – and the team had to be led by Donald Carr. Yet, when Hazare and Carr went in to toss the coin in Madras, England led the series 1-0, having secured a nine-wicket win in the low scoring fourth Test at Kanpur.

Mankad magic on a placid track

Carr called correctly and England batted on a true first day track. There were moments when Dick Spooner, the wicket keeper doubling up as opening batsman, and Jack Robertson batted as if a big score was on the cards. However, some exceptional bowling by Mankad – on a largely unhelpful wicket – restricted them to a modest 224 for five at the end of the first day.

The death of King George VI – the monarch so excellently portrayed by Colin Firth in The King’s Speech – made the administrators tweak the arrangements and convert the second scheduled day of play into the Rest Day. WhenEngland resumed their innings after the longish break, Mankad ran through the lower order and the visitors could manage just 42 more. The loop and flight, uncannily always on or just outside the off stump, lured four batsmen out of their crease to be stumped by Sen – Graveney, Carr, Malcolm Hilton and Statham all deceived by the inviting trajectory and stranded down the track. Robertson, who resisted for four and a half hours for 77, was induced into misjudging the length and pushing a return catch brilliantly held by the bowler. Mankad’s analysis of eight for 55 was testimony to his class, underlined further by a near-perfect batting wicket. Most of his battles were won in the air – a lesson that holds good even today when the tweakers increasingly push it through and are often overly pampered by dustbowls that turn square from the first session.

There was a sense of expectation in the air and excitement in the temporarily attached makeshift stands of Chepauk – brim-full to their 25000 capacity. The Indians had got a whiff of the long-awaited Test win, and it showed in the way the batsmen approached their task.

Roy and Umrigar pile up tons

Mushtaq, Hazare, Mankad – batting at No 4 – and Amarnath all put their heads down and got starts, but the one who rode on the crest of brilliant batting form was Pankaj Roy. While the rest got out in their 20s and 30s, the opening batsman from Bengal, with already one century in the series, stroked 15 boundaries around the wicket in a pleasing innings of 111.

However, when Tattershall had snared Roy into lobbing a catch, the score read 191 for four, which soon became 216 for five when Amarnath edged one from Statham – the early advantage seemed to have been squandered and the match hung in balance.

It was then that young Umrigar joined Phadkar in the middle and proceeded to play one of the most important of his many splendid innings that would make him a mainstay of Indian batting.

Had it not been for a sprained wrist of Hemu Adhikari, Umrigar, still searching for a decent score in Test cricket, would have been sitting out. Now, seizing the opportunity, he guided the second half of the innings, with solid, safe application, largely eschewing the scintillating big hits he was capable of. He put on 104 with Phadkar, and then took the match beyond the Englishmen with a 93-run stand with local batsman Coimbatarao Gopinath. When Hazare declared the innings to make England bat through the uncomfortable final few minutes of the third day, he was still unbeaten on 130 and the lead had stretched to 191.

The final rites

With two full days remaining, England neither had much of a chance, nor did they look like creating any. After Phadkar and his new ball partner Ramesh Divecha had got rid of the openers, Mankad and Ahmed made excellent use of a wearing track, picking up four wickets each. Only Robertson and Allan Watkins provided some resistance as only four batsmen reached double figures.

The match could not have ended more appropriately. Mankad ran in with three short steps, and let the ball loop in the air, descend in the slow inviting arc on the off stump – Hilton, unable to contain his instincts, came out for the drive and was beaten by the wicked turn, and Sen behind the stumps collected the ball with by now practiced efficiency and whipped off the bails.

CD Gopinath
points out
histeam mates
The spectators went delirious and the ovation was deafening. The two decade wait had ended with a victory by an innings and eight runs. Mankad finished with 12 wickets in the match, 34 in the series to go with 223 runs. And according to the only surviving member of the team, CD Gopinath, the only way the Indians celebrated was by patting each other on the back. 

Missing zeroes

Landmark win, a run of history brought to a grinding halt and a new beginning scripted with immortal feats … but those were the days when flow of champagne in dressing rooms was unthinkable, cash awards unheard of and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), believe it or not, was an organisation pitifully short of cash. Often players had to be put up in private homes to save on the hotel costs. Hence, the eleven men who had kick-started the winning ways of Indian cricket congratulated each other and went home with their individual match fees of Rs 250.

When MS Dhoni’s India crushed Sri Lanka by an innings and 144 runs at Kanpur to bring up their 100th Test win, BCCI announced a cash award of Rs 25,00,000 for each member of the team.

However, some memories are invaluable enough to go beyond the number of trailing zeroes accompanying the remuneration figure. As CD Gopinath puts it, “It was the first time we beat any team in Tests. And it came 20 years after we became a Test-playing nation. Even we were taken by surprise. It was unbelievable. It gave us a great feeling of satisfaction. It still does.”

Brief scores:

 266 (Dick Spooner 66, Tom Graveney 39, Jack Robertson 77, Donald Carr 40, Vinoo Mankad 8 for 55) and 183 (Jack Robertson 56, Allan Watkins 48, Vinoo Mankad 4 for 53, Ghulam Ahmed 4 for 77) lost to India 457 for 9 declared (Pankaj Roy 111, Dattu Phadkar 61, Polly Umrigar 130*, CD Gopinath 35) by an innings and eight runs.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Switch-Hit, Sherlock Holmes and Lagaaan - Pietersen and Warner should be encouraged rather than restricted

This post by the author appeared on cricket country website on 8.2.2012

Purists may grimace, traditionalists may scoff and ancients may shake their beards and rue the decadence in the modern game, but the truth remains that a Kevin Pietersen or a David Warner playing the switch-hit is a display of creativity mingled with skill that marks a peak in sports watching excitement.

True, I would travel miles to watch a perfect Sachin Tendulkar straight drive. I do confess to being an aficionado of the abstract art of cricket and I can watch Rahul Dravid present a copybook forward defensive dead bat over and over again as the scoreboard remains static. Yet, to me, a switch-hit does not seem at loggerheads with the sanctity of technical perfection as do slogged cow shots. It is indeed improvisation, depends on quickness and skill rather than luck, and looks thrilling rather than uncouth. Seldom, if ever, will it be attempted with success by anyone other than top order batsmen – unlike hoicks over widish mid-wicket which brings an Yusuf Pathan, a Zaheer Khan and a VVS Laxman to the same level of visual coarseness.

However, the game of cricket is complex and the extraordinary change of grip followed by a perfect wrong-handed strike does raise quite a few difficult questions.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the age old tussle

Not all old timers would deplore such a stroke. I can already see Sir Arthur Conan Doyle watching the proceedings with a twinkle in his eye from the Members’ Pavilion at Lord’s. It is not very well known, but the creator of Sherlock Holmes was an avid cricketer whose solitary first- class wicket is of a batsman answering to the name of WG Grace. Sherlock was in fact an amalgam of the names of two Nottinghamshire cricketers, Mordecai Sherwin and Frank Shacklock. The great writer, however, had a peculiar peeve against left-handed batsmen because they held up the game as the field and the square-leg umpire changed over. Perhaps this impatience with the southpaws led him to create the left-handed murderer of The Boscombe Valley Mystery. I can almost hear him chuckle and observe, “Well, sir, if they are going to bat with the wrong hand that’s how they ought to do it.”

Conan Doyle does not enter the discussion as curious trivia. He was a thinker by nature, cricketer by hobby and a writer by profession. Hence, he thought a lot about the game and documented it in a quaint story titled Spedegue’s Dropper.** (see note below) The hero of the tale was an old fashioned lob bowler who developed a strange delivery that was launched to a great height, and came down at the batsman riding on the pull of gravity, arriving almost like fast bowling from above. In the story, Spedegue goes on to win a famous Test match for England against Australia, the ending quite a cricketing fairy tale, but the plot did underline one very important aspect of the game. Inventiveness is an undeniable necessity for gaining the upper-hand in an age old tussle between the art of batting against the guiles of bowling.

And this is where the cricketing community has raised eyebrows about switch-hit. While agreeing that it is indeed an exciting import into the game, is it another of those allowances made to batsmen that makes the balance tilt way too much in favour of the willow? After all, a bowler cannot change over from right to left arm, or even from round to over the wicket, without informing the batsman. Why then should the batsman be granted the license to make the switch?

Shackling the bowlers

Indeed, early 20th century Australian master batsman, Charlie Macartney, observed in his autobiography that the reason for increasing dominance of the bat over the ball ever since the pitches became standardised is that every time the bowlers uncovered a new secret, the batting world soon unravelled the mystery. The bowling innovations such as the bosie – googly, the Chinaman, off theory, Bodyline, leg theory, flipper,doosra, reverse swing – have all been either demystified by the batsmen or stopped from making the 22 yard journey by new clauses added to the cricketing law book. The shorter boundaries, the featherbed wickets, the restrictions on various types of field placing and the increasingly better makes of the bat have not really helped the cause of the toilers with the red cherry.

Things came to an almost ridiculous pass in 1991 when, in trying to curb the dominance and intimidation of the West Indian pace bowlers, bouncers were limited to one per over. Although the rule was subsequently overturned, the bowling fraternity could not be blamed for feeling the after effects of discrimination. In the shorter formats, the men running up to bowl, along with the field setting, are so fettered by rules and restrictions that often they can be thought of as glorified bowling machines.

No wonder Shane Warne claimed the discovery of new deliveries every time an Ashes series was in the offing – if only to psychologically counterbalance the preferential treatment and kid gloves with which batsmen were entertained by the guardians of the game.

The Laws and Lagaan

Apart from the apparent partiality towards batsmen by granting them the right of sudden change, there are some interesting pitfalls in the interpretation of some rules when the one indulges in switch-hit. The lbw law, as well as the stipulation about wides – the latter especially in the case of limited over matches – leans heavily on the definition of off side and leg side as determined when the striker takes guard. Sudden reversal of his orientation raises complicated questions. Can one be declared leg before wicket when deliberately padding up to a delivery pitching outside the original leg stump after switching over to the reverse position? Should a ball which passes under an attempted switch-hit square cut be called a wide? The answers have been debated and documented, but quite a few ring as unconvincing – and many underline the continuing plight of the bowlers in the face of cricketing legislation.

Which is the off stump and which is the leg stump now?
As an interesting aside, we can wonder how rules would be interpreted if some cricketer adopted the stance used by Guran, the village tantrik portrayed in the movieLagaan. Would that be permitted? How would the umpire distinguish between the off and leg stumps? How would lbws and wides be decided?

While all this is food for thought and no one can deny that bowlers have habitually been at the wrong end of the stick ever since the 1920s, it does seem that inhibiting an innovation such as switch-hit is perhaps the worst way to go about balancing the game. The answer lies in lifting many of the existing restrictions, not stifling the game by imposing more.

Unbridled excitement of cricket

Some of the most exciting battles between the bat and the ball took place in the 1970s, when Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson charged in to bowl to the likes of Clive Lloyd and Viv Richards, and then the four-pronged West Indian pace attack returned the compliments to Greg Chappell and Allan Border. No restrictive bouncer rules took the edge off the battle, no tweaking of the cricketing laws turned the supreme sparring between great sportsmen into a one sided feast of run making.
For the spectators to enjoy edge of the seat thrills of sporting action, it would be far better to limit the embargoes in place that take the competitive edge off the skills and strengths of players. With the struggle fierce and unyielding, run making and wicket taking difficult with both the ends of the exchange operating at their ultimate levels of ability, unchecked by stupid laws, new methods would be invented of necessity and the game would evolve in a healthy, competitive way rather than producing terrible sloggers wielding the bat like a scythe, robotic pacemen bowling continually in the same corridor and tweakers increasingly pushing it through, indulging in flight only when travelling from one venue to the next.

There is a Japanese word – takemusu. Roughly translated into English, it means achieving spontaneous creativity on the martial field – the most sublime level that can be attained by a warrior. Strokes like switch-hit also echo this inspiration in the heat of battle, an achievement of skill and quickness of action and thought. It is a mixture or imaginative mastery and visual thrill which adds a distinct edge to cricketing action. For the sake of the sport, such strokes need to be encouraged, and, if possible, analogous techniques, deemed legitimate, need to be discovered by the bowlers.

** The following note is courtesy http://www.bestofsherlock.com/ref/spedegues-dropper-bloomsbury.htm

Some Recollections of Sport by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Strand Magazine, Volume 38 Number 225 (September 1909), pp. 270-281
I have only once felt smaller, and that was when I was bowled by A. P. Lucas, by the most singular ball that I have ever received.  He propelled it like a quoit into the air to a height of at least thirty feet, and it fell straight and true on to the top of the bails.  I have often wondered what a good batsman would have made of that ball.  To play it one would have needed to turn the blade of the bat straight up, and could hardly fail to give a chance.  I tried to cut it off my stumps, with the result that I knocked down my wicket and broke my bat, while the ball fell in the midst of this general chaos.  I spent the rest of the day wondering gloomily what I ought to have done—and I am wondering yet.

Conan Doyle repeated this description in his autobiography Memories and Adventures (1924).  The  event clearly inspired Conan Doyle to write about lob bowling in "The Story of Spedegue's Dropper."  Reports, such as the 1999 ESPN cricket web article that Doyle read about it in an 1880s book by A. G. Steel and the Hon. R. H. Lyttelton, are almost certainly mistaken as to the story's origins.

The above Arthur Twidle illustration of the incident appeared with the article in both the September 1909 London edition and the October 1909 New York edition of The Strand Magazine.

History / Origin of Spedegue's Dropper

Owen Dudley Edwards, in his 1983 The Quest for Sherlock Holmes, called it "one of the funniest, tensest, and most improbable cricket stories ever written."  Sir Arthur was an avid cricketer, and based the story on an incident in which he was bowled with unusually high lobs by A. P. Lucas.  Doyle recalled that event in an article for The Strand Magazine, excerpted below:

The Batsman Bias when Ordaining Cricketing Knights

This post by the author appeared in the Cricketcountry website on 3.2.2011

It is a common complaint among cricketers, especially whose tool of trade is more the leather than the willow, that the game is unfairly loaded in favour of batsmen.

It is the runs – fours, sixes, fifties and hundreds – that the spectators cheer lustily. There may be a smattering of applause may sometime reward the maiden over, when the ball rises threateningly, streaking narrowly past the batsman’s helmet or goes past the off-stump after pitching outside leg. But, on the whole, the hard work of running in to bowl over and over again is generally restricted to a maximum of 40 possible bouts of hand clapping at the fall of wickets – half of that in the limited overs matches – that too, divided among all the bowlers in the two teams.

The cricket chroniclers over the ages have been more prolific in waxing eloquent about the adventure stories scripted by the bat than the tales of the wily wonders of the ball.

One look at the list of cricketers to have been knighted purely because of their exploits on the field also tells us of the major imbalance.  The bowlers number a pitiful three, and apart from Alec Bedser, the others – Gubby Allen and Richard Hadlee – can easily qualify as all-rounders. There are four times as many genuine batsmen who have been touched by the royal sword and asked to arise as ‘Sir’.

Arise Sir Gary
Garfield Sobers is there as the knight with one of the shiniest armours, but his 8032 runs quite easily outweigh the 235 wickets.

And while two other iconic all-rounders were arguably better as with the ball than the bat, Ian Botham was knighted for his services to charity and Learie Constantine for his work as a lawyer, politician and diplomat.

Maybe the gladiatorial outfit of the men scoring runs – with helmets protecting the head, the pads shielding their legs, gloves and elbow guards guarding their arms, the bat held proudly much like a lance of the olden days – make it easier for us to equate the batsman with a knight of the medieval era. However, if by that analogy the toilers with the ball are relegated to the level of evil dragons of mythology, slain by the gallant cavalier heroes, not everyone is amused, least of all the bowlers.

When the English opening batsman Len Hutton was pronounced a Knight of the British Empire for his services to the game in 1956, former Australian leg-spinner and journalist Arthur Mailey was frustrated enough to remark, “Congratulations, Sir Leonard, but I do hope that the next time it is a bowler. The last bowler to be knighted was Sir Francis Drake.”

The last quip was in relation to the apocryphal anecdote about the Vice Admiral of the British fleet. The story goes that Sir Francis Drake had been enjoying a game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe when the Spanish Armada launched their attack in 1588. The British ultimately won the battle of the sea, but according to legend, when news of the advancing armada reached him, Drake remarked that there was plenty of time to finish the game before defeating the Spaniards. In the retelling of the story by modern day historians, the last remark by Drake is often coloured by description of footwork and anatomical specifications.

Bradman after his Knighthood -
with Captain Vivian Bullwinkle
 (sole survivor of the Sumatran
 massacre of Australian nurses
by Japanese forces
 in the Second World War)
 Mrs Ray Gillam and Lady Bradman
 Don Bradman was knighted in 1949, and while no one can possibly dispute his credentials, the bowlers he considered the greatest of his times – Bill O’Reilly, Hedley Verity and others – did not manage to feature in the royal list. Bradman remains the only Australian cricketer who has received the honour.

Going down the list of Englishmen who have been knighted purely based on their on-field cricketing deeds, we run across Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton and Colin Cowdrey, peerless batsmen of unquestionable pedigree. Gubby Allen, as mentioned, does make the cut, but again, that has as much due to his cricketing feats as his administrative brilliance.

Sir Alec Bedser gets his
 long awaited Knighthood
While Sir Don’s immense respect for Alec Bedser may have been instrumental in enabling the great medium pacer to break into a batting bastion, the award was conferred only in 1996, almost four and a half decades after he had hung up his boots – 40 years after Mailey’s words of aggravation.

When we turn to the colourful Caribbean islands, we read the names of the three Ws – Frank Worrell, Clyde Walcott, Everton Weekes – the legendary Gary Sobers, the charismatic Vivian Richards and the first in a long line of dominating opening batsmen, Conrad Hunte. While the above list can be combined into one of the most fearsome and formidable West Indian batting line ups, we notice the glaring omissions of the great pace bowlers produced by the islands over the years, as well as the tweaking trio of Sonny Ramadhin, Alf Valentine and Lance Gibbs.

Richard Hadlee, quite deservingly, is the only New Zealander in the list. Memories of his rhythmic twenty two step run up to the wicket followed by wicked deliveries which darted, deviated and deceived the best of batsmen will no doubt gladden the hearts of the legions of bowlers, but his more than decent record with the bat will make them wonder how much the honour had to do with the accomplishments of the ball alone.

Undeserving Indian knight

Although Indians cannot officially accept the title since 1947, we find that Maharaja of Vizianagram, Vizzy, was proclaimed a knight by King Edward VIII in 1936. The fame of his royal highness as a cricketer was quite deplorably limited to presenting lavish gifts to bowlers in exchange for long hops, sending Lala Amarnath back to India during the 1936 English tour due to ego clashes, and luring Baqa Jilani with a Test cap to insult CK Nayudu at the breakfast table. Hence, we can safely conclude that the honour little to do with his services to the game. The reasons are fuzzy and best swept under the royal carpet of the days of the Empire.

There have even been knighthoods dealt out for services to cricket rendered off the field as well.
In 1926, Francis Lacey was knighted chiefly for his work as the secretary of the MCC Frederick Toone joined the select club in 1929 as a cricket administrator of note. In 1953, Henry Leveson Gower received the honour because of his contributions as a legislator and cricket selector. And Neville Cardus, the virtuoso wordsmith who raised the art of cricket writing to the level of literature, was conferred the laurel in 1967 as much for his musings on cricket as for his critical pieces on music.

Tragically, even these men operating away from the field of action outnumber the bowlers for the honour. The list cries for the inclusion of names of the great men over the years who have made the ball talk in eloquent rhetoric.

Till the equation is corrected, one cannot complain if a young child walking out to take the field in his first cricket match against rivals down the lane keeps dreaming about becoming a Sachin Tendulkar rather than a Shane Warne or an Anil Kumble.

Below is a list of the knighthoods conferred for services to cricket:

Don Bradman
sketched by Arthur Mailey


Sir Donald George Bradman in 1949 for services to cricket.


Sir Francis Eden Lacey in 1926, for services to cricket, and for his role as the Secretary of the MCC from 1898 to 1926.

Sir Frederick Charles Toone in 1929 for services to cricket.

Sir Pelham Francis "Plum" Warner in 1937 for services to cricket.

Sir John Berry "Jack" Hobbs in 1953 for services to cricket.

Sir Henry Dudley Gresham "Shrimp" Leveson-Gower in 1953 for services to cricket.

Sir Leonard "Len" Hutton in 1956 for services to cricket.

Sir George Oswald Browning "Gubby" Allen in 1986 for services to cricket.

Sir Alec Victor Bedser CBE in 1996 for services to cricket.

Sir John Frederick Neville Cardus CBE in 1967 for services to music and cricket journalism.

The Rt Hon. The Lord Cowdrey of Towbridge in 1992 for services to cricket.

West Indies

The Rt Hon. The Lord Constantine in 1962, primarily for his work as a lawyer, politician and diplomat.

Sir Conrad Cleophas Hunte in 1998 for services to cricket.

Sir Isaac Vivian Alexander "Viv" Richards in 1999 for services to cricket

The Hon. Sir Garfield St Aubrun "Gary" Sobers in 1975 for services to cricket.

Sir Ian Botham

Sir Clyde Leopold Walcott in 1993 for services to cricket.

Sir Everton de Courcy Weekes in 1995 for services to cricket.

Sir Frank Mortimer Maglinne Worrell in 1964 for services to cricket.

New Zealand

Sir Richard John Hadlee in 1990 for services to cricket.

(*Vizzy, Ian Botham and certain other cricketers have received the honour for non-cricketing reasons and have not been included in the list.)