Dodgy selection call? Ask this man about them
Dodgy selection call? Ask this man about them
Bizarre picks. And even more bizarre non-picks
By John Harms
January, 1987. Half of Australia is at the beach. Swimming. Lazing around. Watching tennis on the telly. Talking about the lamentable state of Australian cricket. The Englishmen have beaten us by an innings at the MCG to retain the Ashes. We've capitulated for 194, having made just 141 in the first innings.
Australian cricket really was in the doldrums. The batting line-up was unsettled, and failing against top-class bowling; the quick-bowling stocks were dogged by injury and inconsistent form; various keepers were tried, with Mike Veletta and Wayne Phillips even playing as specialist batsmen; and the selectors were desperate to find a spinner. Greg Matthews could handle the bat, and while he did a good impression of the aggressive fingerspinner with his cap on and his dig-this-you-cats interviews, the gods had not blessed him with the gift of taking wickets.
It had been going on for a few years. We had been belted around the park in England in 1985, and the following summer we became New Zealand's bunny. If Richard Hadlee wasn't taking a nine-for, John Bracewell was knocking over Allan Border. And now this.
Peter Taylor's brother-in-law is sitting on a tractor when he hears that Taylor has been picked for Australia. Like everyone, he initially assumes it's Mark Taylor
We had high expectations; we had become used to the free-spirited cricket played by the Chappell generation. And so the debate raged: what should the selectors do? The XI for the fifth Test, in Sydney, was picked in every pub in Australia.
Just into the new year of 1987, Dirk Wellham and Peter Taylor are driving back down the freeway to Sydney together after playing for New South Wales against Tasmania in Newcastle. Peter Taylor took just one wicket: Neville Jelich, caught by a young, highly regarded Mark Taylor, who is being talked about as a future Test opener and Test captain, the way Prime Minister Bob Hawke had once been talked about as a future leader.
Peter Taylor is somewhat anxious about his place in the New South Wales side.
"Do you reckon I'll get picked again?" he asks.
"You should be okay," Wellham replies.
A few days later Peter Taylor's brother-in-law is sitting on a tractor when he hears that Taylor has been picked for Australia. Like everyone, he initially assumes it's Mark Taylor. But he rings Peter: "You're in. You've been picked for Australia."
Holiday-makers wake to huge newspaper headlines: "Peter Who?" Channel Nine's Morning Show host Steve Liebmann is telling the slow-rising nation that his producers are trying to find out who Peter Taylor is, and where he lives. By the time Peter Taylor peers through the blinds in Sydney, there are well-dressed reporters and outside-broadcast crews with satellite dishes on his footpath.
Having once feared for his place in the New South Wales team, Taylor went on to play 13 Tests and 83 ODIs for Australia
© Popperfoto/Getty Images
Having once feared for his place in the New South Wales team, Taylor went on to play 13 Tests and 83 ODIs for Australia © Popperfoto/Getty Images
The nation is bamboozled. Peter Who has played a handful of Shield games. He wasn't in the New South Wales team for the previous two SCG Shield matches in December because Greg Matthews, Murray Bennett and Bob Holland were selected ahead of him. And he is 30, which is ancient for 1987. This is the final straw. Australian cricket is now officially lost at sea and the selectors are copping a caning. They have also recalled Wellham.
Australia win the Sydney Test. Taylor's bouncy, wind-up and windmill action is observed from lounge chairs around the country. He cleans up the Englishmen, taking six wickets. Then he contributes 42 second-innings runs. The Poms, with nothing to lose, take up the chase, making for an entertaining final day. They fall short. Peter Who is Man of the Match in his debut Test. The selectors are geniuses.
Peter Who becomes something of a cult hero. He is more than useful in the World Series Cup triangular, his fizzing topspinning offspinners attacking the off bail of the English right-handers. He takes wickets. He bowls tightly. He plays shots. And he is solid in the field.
He plays 13 Tests and 83 ODIs for Australia.
I know what happened in the days preceding that Sydney Test because I tracked Peter Who down. I knew he owned a wheat farm around Moree in northern New South Wales. So I rang the Gurley post office and a lovely woman gave me his phone number. Gurley is an old railway siding on the Newell Highway, with silos and a pub, surrounded by grain country.
When Peter Taylor answered the car-phone, he and his wife Julie had just begun a 650km drive to visit family in Sydney. Their 18-year-old son Charlie is making his way in grade cricket as an offspinner for Northern District, where Peter had played.
Peter grew up in Sydney. His family owned a car dealership, but, uninterested in selling cars, he studied agricultural science at the University of Sydney. He hoped one day to become a farmer. He had been an outstanding junior cricketer, at the same time as Allan Border, whom he knew well from three years together in the New South Wales schoolboys' side.
Holiday-makers wake to huge newspaper headlines: "Peter Who?"
Of course he has great memories of his shock selection for Australia. He remembers lobbing to practice and AB saying, "Geez, this is a bit of a bolt from the blue!" But Taylor was a handy influence in the team. He was thoughtful and competitive, and despite his inexperience projected an air of maturity.
He moved to Brisbane in 1990, where he played at the University of Queensland CC and two seasons for Queensland. But he knew he had limited time.
"I got old!" he recalls. "I was tired and sore. I started to ask myself what I was doing playing cricket."
His final Test was against India, at the MCG in 1991. He was replaced by Shane Warne for the Sydney Test the following week.
He loved playing international cricket. It took him around the world. "I just wish I'd started younger," he says.
Taylor bought a wheat and cotton property outside Moree, which he still farms, and has since developed a cattle property at Inverell. For a while in the late 1990s he was an Australian selector.
John Harms is a contributing editor at footyalmanac.com.au
By Suresh Menon
Jilani (back row, first from left) played on the animosity between captain Vizzy (middle row, fourth from left) and CK Nayudu (middle row, third from left) to earn a Test cap
© Popperfoto/Getty Images
Jilani (back row, first from left) played on the animosity between captain Vizzy (middle row, fourth from left) and CK Nayudu (middle row, third from left) to earn a Test cap © Popperfoto/Getty Images
In Indian cricket it is easy to find players who had no business to be in the national team.
The Maharajah of Porbandar, for instance, who captained the side to England for India's inaugural Test in 1932, was said to own more Rolls Royces than runs. As it turned out, Porbandar and vice-captain Ghanshyamsinhji of Limbdi dropped out before the Test - the former with an injured ego, the latter with an injured back - and it was the team's best player, the commoner CK Nayudu, who led.
Four years later the Maharajkumar of Vizianagram, or Vizzy, another patron with delusions of adequacy, led the team in England. He had been named "deputy vice-captain" in 1932 but had pulled out for "reasons of state", a euphemism for "reasons of punctured ego", as he had been hoping to land the main job. In 1936 he plotted and politicked his way to the captaincy, arriving in England with 36 pieces of baggage, and two personal servants besides. Thanks to a judicious distribution of gold watches and other expensive gifts, Vizzy was allowed to make runs in the first-class matches, some 600 at an average of around 16.
Porbandar (who didn't play a Test) and Vizzy (who played three) converted large amounts of money into political and sporting influence. During the tour, Vizzy was knighted, thus technically becoming the first active player to be so honoured - although "active" is stretching it, and the title had nothing to do with his prowess, or lack thereof, at cricket.
Jilani played thanks to a special performance. Not on the field of play but at the breakfast table
One of the players who was handed a Test debut on that tour was Baqa Jilani, a medium-pacer who had claimed the first hat-trick in the Ranji Trophy. Jilani had picked up 12 wickets on first-class debut, for Northern India against Southern Punjab, and he could bat a bit too, as he showed with a century on the 1936 tour. Considering the many passengers in the team, he was not the worst selection. After all, if Vizzy was good enough…
But Jilani played, thanks to a special performance. Not on the field of play but at the breakfast table. Or on the way there.
The relationship between Vizzy and Nayudu had deteriorated so badly by the third Test, at The Oval, that they were not on talking terms, and barely acknowledged each other. One way of currying favour with the captain was to insult Nayudu. Jilani, who had not played the first two Tests, thought the time had come. One morning he freely and publicly insulted Nayudu, and got his reward - the India cap.
According to opening batsman Mushtaq Ali, Bengal's Shute Banerjee had been named in the original XI, with Jilani as the 12th man. Now, Vizzy was pleased to pick him in Banerjee's place. Jilani went wicketless and scored 4 and 12. He played only three more first-class matches on returning from England, finishing with 928 runs and 83 wickets in 31 matches.
Jilani was the brother-in-law of cricketer Jahangir Khan (father of Majid Khan), making him an uncle-by-marriage of Imran Khan. He was not yet 30 when he fell to his death from the balcony of his house in Jalandhar. It might have been suicide or the result of an epileptic fit. In his book, team-mate C Ramaswami wrote about Jilani's "quixotic and queer behaviour" on tour, describing him as being "slightly off his head". Yet it is sobering to know that the great Charlie Macartney called Jilani a "champion".
Suresh Menon is the editor of Wisden India Almanack
By Andy Zaltzman
Broad smashes his stumps after being dismissed in the Sydney Test early in 1988. What did he do after being dropped in the series against West Indies later in the year? Answers on a postcard
© Getty Images
Broad smashes his stumps after being dismissed in the Sydney Test early in 1988. What did he do after being dropped in the series against West Indies later in the year? Answers on a postcard © Getty Images
The mid-to-late 1980s were by no means the Glory Years of English Cricket. By no means at all. Unless your concept of glory is spreading joy around the world by selflessly losing Test matches against as many different countries as possible.
From 1986 to 1989, England, the nation that founded cricket, won three out of their 40 Test matches. Three (3). Out of 40 (forty). In their four home summers, they compiled a record on their own turf of played 23, won one, drew ten, lost 12. The one win was against Sri Lanka, who had lost three of their previous four Tests by an innings, and were still seven years away from their maiden away victory. England churned through 50 players in those 40 Tests (48 different ones appeared in the 23 home games), including 12 who appeared only once.
Isolating the most idiotic selection from that unremitting volcano of selectorial impatience and hunchery is probably a task beyond the most powerful of modern supercomputers. It is certainly impossible for even the greatest human minds. I have therefore honed in on one particular de-selection - the dropping of Chris Broad after the second Test of the 1988 series against West Indies.
Broad made 0 and 1 in that match, the first and eighth victims in a ten-wicket match haul that propelled Malcolm Marshall above Richard Hadlee to the top of the world bowling rankings. Broad was lbw and caught behind off perfect-length deliveries of rampant pace, one of which moved in and one away, delivered by one of the greatest bowlers of all time. At his peak. On a pitch that produced the lowest combined first-innings aggregate in a Lord's Test for almost 20 years (and the fourth lowest in the 91 Lord's Tests since 1959).
So England, the worst established team in Test cricket, dropped a batsman who had scored six hundreds in his previous 16 Tests. Only one other England player had reached 100 more than once in that time (Mike Gatting, three centuries).
The worst England team in history dropped their most effective batsman because he had reacted to an umpiring decision with - horror of 1980s horrors - a moderate facial strop
England dropped a batsman who, in the first Test of the summer, had batted four hours for a first-innings 54, against Marshall, Patterson, Ambrose and Walsh, adding 125 with Graham Gooch, the highest opening stand by any team against West Indies in 34 Tests from October 1986 to December 1990. Broad had a moderate but far from disastrous record in home Tests, but had batted creditably and doggedly against the West Indians in his 1984 debut series.
Nevertheless, England dropped a batsman ranked 11th in the world, after one bad match. Because, according to Wisden, "he left looking unhappy" after his first-innings leg-before dismissal; his "expression of disappointment, caught by the television camera, was to cost him his Test place". The worst England team in history dropped their most effective batsman because he had reacted to an umpiring decision with - horror of 1980s horrors - a moderate facial strop.
In the remaining four Tests of the summer, Gooch was partnered by Martyn Moxon, Tim Curtis (twice), and Tim Robinson. By the fifth Test of the summer, England had a top five of Gooch, plus four players in either their first or second Test. It would be 15 Tests, and almost two years, before an England opener reached 100 again (and Gooch scored six of the seven half-centuries made by England openers in that time). So it is fair to say that England did not instantly "trade up" when they junked the opener who had scored more Test hundreds in his 25-Test career than England legend Gooch did in the 45 Tests he played from June 1981 to June 1990.
Given that England had not yet found a way of pumping Len Hutton with an elixir of eternal youth, and had not dug up Jack Hobbs and persuaded him he was (a) not dead and (b) not that old again, dropping Broad did not make sense. It made negative sense.
Broad, like several others buffeted and jettisoned by the skewed loyalties and capricious whims of England's selection committee, went on the disastrous rebel tour to South Africa in 1989-90. Aged 31, he never played a Test again. It was the Age of Insanity in English cricket selection, and Broad was the victim of its craziest cut.
Andy Zaltzman is a stand-up comedian, a regular on BBC Radio 4, and a writer
By Telford Vice
The surprise of Kyle Abbott's repeated omissions was matched by the shock of his sudden departure from the South Africa side
© Getty Images
The surprise of Kyle Abbott's repeated omissions was matched by the shock of his sudden departure from the South Africa side © Getty Images
"You look down on your chest and you see the Protea and the South African flag on your heart, and everything steps up a gear and you don't even realise it. I've had a taste [of Test cricket] and it tastes pretty good."
Which team wouldn't want that attitude, particularly when it comes with a damn fine bowler attached, in their dressing room? South Africa were the team and Kyle Abbott, the owner of that quote, was the bowler. It was February 23, 2013 in Centurion and Abbott had repaid the faith reluctantly shown in him by taking 7 for 29 on debut against Pakistan.
Why reluctantly? Abbott was the leading wicket-taker in franchise first-class cricket in South Africa when he was called up - but only as cover because Rory Kleinveldt was set to replace a hamstrung Morne Morkel. Then Jacques Kallis was ruled out with a gammy calf. Which meant Abbott had to play. Damn it, you could almost hear the suits growling through gritted teeth.
Fast forward to March 24, 2015, among the most infamous days in South Africa's cricket history. Actually the dishonour was done on the previous evening, when those damned suits engineered Abbott's removal from the equation for the World Cup semi-final against New Zealand. Someone had to make way to accommodate a fourth player of colour in the XI, and that someone was Abbott.
Never mind that he was South Africa's leading bowler in the tournament in terms of average, economy rate and strike rate. Never mind that, with Dale Steyn not firing, South Africa needed someone who was. Never mind that Abbott's spirit and confidence could be broken if he were to be dropped so undeservedly.
Was this sorry saga a factor in South Africa's disappointing performance in 2015-16? How could it not have been? Were Abbott and Philander gutted? How could they not have been?
He was, of course, dropped in favour of Vernon Philander. Never mind that Philander had limped through the tournament with a hamstring injury that had kept him out of four of South Africa's seven games. Never mind that a better argument, for political as well as cricket reasons, could have been made for including Farhaan Behardien as the fourth player of colour, at the expense of Rilee Rossouw. Never mind that by forcing Philander's selection the suits would sacrifice the integrity of a player who had overcome years of racial prejudice and low regard to bowl his way to the top.
Whether Abbott's inclusion would have helped South Africa win a game can never be known. But it was plain that Philander shouldn't have played. Brendon McCullum muscled a six and two fours in his first over, which went for 14 runs, and AB de Villiers spent the rest of the innings trying to limit the damage. Having gone wicketless for 52 in eight overs, Philander promptly left the field - evidence, surely, that the state of his hamstring meant he should never have been on it.
As the South Africans were at the airport waiting to leave the wretched scene, one of the most senior figures in the squad couldn't keep the secret any longer and the story duly appeared. Only for the suits to get their pinstripes in knots of denials. Days later they admitted they were "consulted" over the composition of the team, and weeks after that - in parliament, no less - they came clean in large measure.
Was this sorry saga a factor in South Africa's disappointing performance in 2015-16, when they lost five of eight Tests and crashed from No. 1 to No. 7 in the rankings? How could it not have been? Were Abbott and Philander gutted? How could they not have been?
Happily, Cricket South Africa has seen the errors of those ways and has admitted to maintaining quotas and stipulated them. Even more happily, Philander is the bowler he was before the awfulness of Auckland, his heart thumping under the Protea badge and the South African flag. But not Abbott, who has covered the scar where his Protea used to be with a Hampshire crest.
Telford Vice is a freelance cricket writer in South Africa. @TelfordVice
Iftikhar Ahmed, Fawad Alam
(and hundreds of other Pakistanis)
Most months, most years
By Imran Yusuf
A century on Test debut, batting in an unfamiliar position? Right, off to the wilderness with you
A century on Test debut, batting in an unfamiliar position? Right, off to the wilderness with you © AFP
Across the world in recent months some bizarre selections have stuck out like a man in a tight pink suit at the funeral of a mullah.
There's Donald Trump's selection for president by the American electorate, when Hillary Clinton is far more qualified. There's Marouane Fellaini's selection by Jose Mourinho as a steadying substitute, when Bastian Schweinsteiger is far more qualified. There's the Swedish Academy's selection of Bob Dylan for the Nobel Prize in Literature, when the people who will write comments at the bottom of this piece are far more qualified.
In Pakistan, though, the natives have treated these shocking picks like water off a duck's back while the duck sits in a jacuzzi, listening to a meditation CD of water sounds. For Pakistanis, strange selections are the norm. And even in a country where Nawaz Sharif has been chosen by the people to be their prime minister not once, not twice, but three times, no institution has as rich and varied a history of strange selections as the Pakistan cricket team.
Every Pakistan follower has a favourite selection: one where some young, unknown, unfancied raw talent bursts onto the scene like a man in a tight pink suit at the funeral of a mullah breaking out into a Prince guitar solo after the last rites. These fans have even more infamous selections, where, due to one of many possible reasons, somebody turns up, fails, and is never seen again: "We don't have a proper domestic system, yaar, these guys aren't tested"; "It's pure sifarish, yaar, he's the chief selector's son's teacher's cook's former barber's (parted ways over a moustache trimmed too short) sister-in-law's son."
Never seen again, that is, until you are at a wedding decades later and your friend points at someone overenthusiastically scooping from the deep dish of chicken pilau and says, "That's Moshin-e-Akbar", and you say, "And I'm Buttu Butt the Third, so what?" And he says, "No, you South Punjabi ignoramus, he played the first Test against Australia in 1995," and you shrug and go back to overenthusiastically watching the bride's girlfriends' synchronised dance.
Every Pakistan follower has a favourite selection: one where some young, unknown, unfancied raw talent bursts onto the scene like a man in a tight pink suit at the funeral of a mullah breaking out into a Prince guitar solo
The most recent of these is probably Iftikhar Ahmed, who turned up for the Test series in England last summer, failed, and has never been seen since. A friend put it somewhat cruelly - "He can't bat, he can't bowl, he can't field, and if you ask him his name, he'll probably screw that up" - but cruelty is part of the high stakes of international cricket. (Cruelty is also the main part of the mostly sadistic practice that is being a sports fan, but we'll leave this for the special Freudian issue of the Cricket Monthly that I wait for in vain.)
Pakistan also has many cases of the inverse problem: the renowned non-selection. No individual has been more unfairly condemned to this purgatory in recent years than a tiny man with a gargantuan first-class record: he of the Test century on debut batting out of position: Fawad Alam. The better he has done, the less chance he has had of being selected. I have been told by a good source at the PCB that it's the diminutive size of his arms that puts off selectors. "They're just too small," one chief selector supposedly said. In our data-driven age, this is a strange comment; I'm sure it could also form part of the forthcoming Freud edition.
Despite such injustices, I welcome Pakistan's bizarre selections. For a start, they mirror life. Who among us hasn't had some unfair advantage: the extra tuition paid by our parents that helped us get into that college; the friend who helped get us that internship; the pure dumb luck to be born into a class or in a country at a particularly fortunate moment? And who among us has not been able to have a crack at something for no good reason? For me, this was piano lessons. My parents paid for them because I thought I was Mozart. I was not. There is some poor kid out there in some slum who actually is Mozart - but we'll never know.
The counterargument is that in a world where the dice are loaded, the closest we get to pure meritocracy is sport. To which I say, "Utter tosh, old trout" and point to the British gold medal winners from this year's Olympics. The dice are always loaded and strange selections help reveal this.
So I hope to see more oddball picks from Pakistan. They are like that man in the tight pink suit. Probably a mistake; rather inappropriate; almost certainly in the wrong place at the wrong time; but you just can't help watching for what happens next.
Imran Yusuf is a writer based in Karachi
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.