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Sunday, July 13, 2008

When cricket was a blood sport

The other day Kevin Pietersen got hit on the head by a South African bouncer. The commentators were a bit concerned about the damage he might have sustained because the blow dented his helmet. It made me go looking on YouTube for examples of just how much more of a blood sport Test cricket was in the days when batsmen took the field bare-headed, the pitches were much less predictable and the West Indian bowlers were in full cry.

They called Michael Holding "Whispering Death" because the umpire couldn't hear his run-up and terror was a key weapon in his arsenal. Brian Close, the living template of the stubborn Yorkshireman, was recalled to play for England in 1976 when he was 45 years old. In this over he faces Holding on a terrifying Old Trafford pitch with no helmet to protect his bald head. It's the most extraordinary example of "roughing up" you'll ever see. Close stands as firm as he can and is determined not to let Holding see how hurt he is, not even when he takes one right in the ribs. If you've ever been hit even in your fleshier parts by a cricket ball you can only wonder at the steel of the man. There's no sound at first.