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.


  1. Anonymous12:49 pm

    There's a great story about Brian Close's toughness, which I can't recall the exact detail of, but this rough recall I think exemplifies the man.
    Close was fielding at somewhere like silly point. He takes a ball full off the bat straight to his forehead. His team mates gather round and as Close collects himself and stands up, a concerned team mate says "Bloody hell, skip, what if he'd got you on the temple?", to which Close replies "He'd have been caught leg slip."

  2. Anonymous2:49 pm

    Malcolm Marshall versus Mike Gatting's nose. Ouch.

  3. Overheard in a pavilion bar in Jamaica....'Tro it at him rasclat head man.'

  4. Anonymous10:18 am

    Holding in full cry; one of the finer sights the game of cricket has given us.

    And what a fantastically mixed crowd of the kind you never get these days. I fear a fair proportion would have failed the Tebbit test. And so much better for it...

  5. Anonymous12:36 pm

    You still get them like that for India and Pakistan visits. As I pointed out to my brother at an ODI last year "look, if you had the choice of which side to support: the India fans are singing more songs, talking to more people, eating better food, and are more likely to win..." (actually they lost)

    The only problem I have with it is the mindless minority who abuse Monty, Saj, Shah and other asian-english players.

    I do wish West Indies cricket would somehow revive itself though. For anyone brought up on the game in the 80s, a weak Windies side is just fundamentally wrong.