Like other forms of competitive sports, cricket has its share of talents who were unable to realise their true potential at the top level. Some had their careers cut short by war, others were stifled by political conflicts. While some succumbed to diseases early in their lives, others often became victim of administrative politics. In this feature, we pay tribute to some of the geniuses who missed out on outstanding international records due to reasons beyond their control.
10 – Archie Jackson
Chances are you have never heard of Archie Jackson, but many commentators believed he could have rivalled Don Bradman thanks to the remarkable batting skills he displayed in his short career before losing his battle with tuberculosis at the young age of 23. Some called his batting an expression of art full of delicate leg-glances and flawless footwork, which became his trademark. Jackson started making headlines right from his school days, earned a place in the New South Wales side at the age of 17, and was a genuine star in making. In his 8 Test Matches that he played for the country Archie had only one hundred to his credit but boasted an impressive average of 47.40 which reflects his immense talent.
9 – Colin Blythe
Wars and conflicts often destroy flourishing careers and on some occasions the brutality of a war takes the life of an aspiring sportsman. Colin Blythe is one among the four Test cricketers who died fighting in World War I and perhaps the most talented among the group. This Kent slow left-armer foxed the best batsmen of his generation with classical loop and flight. In a career that spanned just 19 Test Matches before the outbreak of the Great War he claimed 100 wickets for England at an impressive average of 18.63, which included 9 five wicket hauls and 4 ten-wicket hauls in a match. His First Class record was even more phenomenal, as he took 2,503 wickets in a career that spanned 15 years! Blythe was regarded as unplayable on uncovered wickets after rain.
8 – Hedley Verity
Wars always leave behind their scars and the most brutal of them all, World War II, had its share of victims among cricketers. Hedley Verity, the Yorkshire man, died in captivity in Italy in 1943. He served as Captain in the Green Howards Regiment and was a part of Allied Invasion of Sicily. Before the outbreak of the war, Hedley, a slow left arm orthodox bowler, represented England in 40 Test Matches and picked up 144 wickets at an average of 24.37. His First Class record for Yorkshire was phenomenal, scalping 1956 victims at an unbelievable average of 14.90! Verity also holds the record of getting Sir Don Bradman’s wicket the most number of times in Test cricket; he got the Don out 8 times in 16 Test Matches they played against each other. Verity is considered one of England’s greatest ever spinners, but who knows how much more he might have achieved.
7 – Les Jackson
There were many cricketing greats who missed out on a stellar international career due to the outbreak of World War II. When we talk of such cricketers the name of Les Jackson immediately comes to mind. When the war ended and cricket resumed this fast bowler made his First Class debut in 1947 well over 27 years of age and played the first test match at the age of 29 with many believing that he had lost his tearaway pace by then. His next Test call up came after 12 years when he was aged 40. Had there been no war this Derbyshire cricketer may have gone places as his 1,733 wickets at First Class level at an impressive average of 17.36 stands testimony to his talent.
6 – Clive Rice
At a time when the likes of Kapil Dev, Imram Khan, Ian Botham and Richard Hadlee were conquering the world with their batting and bowling, a talented South African all-rounder was spending his time in wilderness. The man in question Clive Rice made his First Class debut just a year before the South African team was banned from the International stage due to racial discrimination in the country. When the ban was lifted Rice was 42 years of age and could manage to play only two ODIs. But in a First Class career that stretched over two decades where he appeared for Transvaal and Nottinghamshire, Rice scored 26,311 runs which included 48 centuries at an average of 40.95, and claimed 930 wickets making him one of the best all-rounders not to have earned his place in the record books of International cricket.
5 – Vijay Merchant
Even during his playing days, Don Bradman was the benchmark against which all cricketers were judged. Very few came close, but the ones who did became legends in their own right. Indeed, Indian batsman Vijay Merchant is often mentioned in the same sentence as Bradman due to his stellar record as a First Class cricketer where he made 13740 runs at an incredible average of 71.64 (which is second only to The Don!). In the sub-continent, Merchant averaged more than 100 playing for his side Bombay. Sadly, his opportunities at Test match level (859 runs in 10 Test Matches) were limited. If not for World War II and the very few Test Matches that India played during his peak, Vijay Merchant would have many more mentions in the International record books
4 – Mike Procter
It is no surprise that South Africa continues to produce great all-rounders and it was also true during the pre-ban days. Mike Procter was another of those unlucky cricketers who was born in the wrong era. People who saw him at his peak considered him a natural hard hitting batsman and a fast bowler who could push batsmen to their back foot with his pace. He got the opportunity to play just 7 Test Matches for his side where he claimed 41 wickets at 15.4 apiece. He also made 226 runs lower down the order. His First Class record where he played for Gloucestershire and Western Province is outstanding as he claimed 1,417 wickets and scored 21,936 runs which included 48 hundreds.
3 – Harold Larwood
The mere mention of the name Harold Larwood is enough to divide the opinion of the cricketing world. One of the best fast bowlers ever to have played the game, his name tends to touch a raw nerve among Australian fans. Douglas Jardine’s main weapon during the infamous Bodyline Series, Larwood delivered some of the worst body blows to the Australian batsmen with his raw pace and short pitched stuff. After picking up 33 wickets at 19.51 apiece, he was unceremoniously dropped from the team at the age of 29 after being asked to apologise for his act. He refused and never played for his team again. Most English fans believe he was made a scapegoat due to his humble background while others, including chief architect Jardine, were let off easily. The abrupt end to his career denied the cricketing world many more exciting spells.
2 – Barry Richards
Barry Richards played just four Test Matches for South Africa before the International ban cut short his career. And in the seven innings that he played, he made 2 hundreds and 2 fifties finishing his Test career with a batting average of 72.57. This was no fluke as appearing for Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Natal, South Australia and Transvaal in First Class cricket, Richards scored 28,358 runs at an average of 54.74 which include 80 hundreds. He holds the record of scoring 1,000 runs in 15 seasons and is perhaps the only First Class cricketer to have stroked 9 hundreds before lunch. Like teammate Graeme Pollock he has been a part of cricket fans’ ‘what if’ debates and discussions for decades – but there can be no doubt that the world missed out on one of the most exciting stroke players of the generation due to the ban.
1 – Graeme Pollock
A whole generation of South African cricketers missed out on International records when the team was banned from playing on the world stage. Of them, there is perhaps no legend that would come close to Graeme Pollock. Don Bradman regarded Pollock (along with Garry Sobers) as the finest left-hander ever to have played the game. In the 23 Test Matches that he played at the International level, Pollock made 2,256 runs at an average of 60.97, which remains the fourth highest batting average ever in the history of the game. In his last 14 Test innings before the ban Pollock had two double hundreds, one hundred and three scores above 50! He continued to pile up runs at First Class level and finished with 20,940 runs at an average of 54.67 which included 64 hundreds.