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Alan Mullally: Promising left-arm fast bowler with fluid action whose career was undone by injuries

Alan Mullally: A promising left-arm fast bowler with fluid action whose career was undone by injuries

Alan Mullally © Getty Images

Born on July 12, 1969, Alan David Mullally was England’s golden-haired left-arm fast bowler with a fluid bowling action that would make people want to watch him all day. However, for all the promise he showed at the domestic level, Mullally couldn’t replicate his form at the highest level of cricket. Prakash Govindasreenivasan has more about the graceful English medium-pacer.

With a thin, tall built and a languid bowling run-up, England’s Alan Mullally showcased the kind of style and grace that is often associated with left-handed batters. Grace personified. Mullally wasn’t a tearaway fast bowler and terrorising the batsman was hardly his primary skill set. But, his trying lengths and incessant line meant he was a difficult proposition to score against. In his short career for England, Mullally’s success depended on his ability to contain rather than run through the opposition’s batting line-up.

Born in Southend, Mullally spent most of his growing up years in Western Australia and even represented Australia Under-19 against West Indies Under-19 in 1987. A First-Class debut for Western Australia came along in the same year. It was while playing in Australia, when Mullally earned his pet name ‘Spider’, the reason behind which is rather peculiar. Mullally says, “When I played club cricket in Australia we had an opening bowler nicknamed Snake because of his physique. His physique was similar to mine but we couldn’t have two Snakes in the team so I have been Spider ever since.”

A year later, Mullally travelled to England to feature in his debut season for Hampshire where he spent a rather ordinary season.

Alan Mullally: A promising left-arm fast bowler with fluid action whose career was undone by injuries

Alan Mullally, with a languid bowling run-up and a fluid action, had the grace that is often associated with left-handed batsmen © Getty Images

Back in Australia, he struck gold. He picked up 23 wickets in the 1988/89 season. One of his most memorable performances came against Tamil Nadu in the MG Kailis-Kemplast Trophy at Perth in 1988 when he picked up seven wickets as his team managed to win by an innings.

One of the most decisive moves for Mullally was to join Leicestershire in 1990, with whom he managed his career-best List A figures of six for 38 against New Zealand in a tour game. A few good, consistent seasons with Leicestershire helped him make it to England’s squad for the series against India in 1996. He managed to pick five wickets across both innings in his debut Test in Birmingham.

For a fast-bowler, Mullally’s Test records were quite mediocre as he found his true calling in One-Day Internationals (ODI). His accuracy helped him maintain a stupendous economy rate of 3.84 runs per over and he was even second placed sandwiched between Glenn McGrath and Muttiah Muralitharan at the first and third spot respectively in the ICC bowlers rankings for a brief period. Among all the England bowlers to take 50-plus wickets, former legend Bob Willis was the only one with an economy rate (3.28) that beat Mullally’s.

However, unfortunately for Mullally and his teammate Darren Gough, who featured in every ODI that the former did, England weren’t a very strong side through the late 90s. The team could win just three tournaments during Mullally’s career with two of them coming against Zimbabwe.

Since making his debut in 1996, Mullally featured in 50 ODIs, picking up 63 wickets. He also played 19 Tests and bagged 58 wickets.

In 2001, Mullally returned to Hampshire to form a partnership with Australia’s Shane Warne.

Four years later, Mullally announced his retirement from First-Class cricket, having played for Western Australia, Hampshire and Leicestershire. He managed 708 First-Class wickets at an average of 28. His best in the domestic circuit came against Derbyshire in 2000, when he managed to finish with figures of nine for 93.

Mullally’s prowess with the bat

England had a history of producing some of the worst No 11 batsmen and Mullally was one of them. ESPNcricinfo had once termed him as the worst of the lot.

Yet, two of his performances with the bat stand out in memory. First came at The Oval against Pakistan.  England skipper Michael Atherton won the toss and elected to bat and had Graham Thorpe (54) and John Crawley (106) do the bulk of the scoring. Crawley was dismissed in the first session of the second day, with Mullally the last man in. Before he was to walk out to take guard, this is what coach David Lloyd told him:

You get 30 and I’ll buy you 30 pints of Guinness. That’s a promise.

Mullally took up the challenge and seemed like a man on a mission when he went about his game. In no time, Mullally had slammed four boundaries to reach 24 against the likes of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis who were starting to get frustrated. Mullally even gestured to the dressing room to remind Lloyd of his promise. However, he failed to achieve it. Akram, who was visibly miffed with Mullally’s cross-batted heaves, bowled a delivery to uproot his stumps and send him packing six runs short of his ‘target.’

During the Ashes in 1998/99, Mullally’s next best effort with the bat came along in the third Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) and this time it had a severe implication on the outcome of the match. The six previous innings leading up to this one saw him score five ducks and a four in the 1998 Ashes. But, he vindicated himself in the second innings of this game.

After conceding a first innings lead of 70 runs, England just about got past the 200-run mark in their second. When Mullally walked out, the score was 221 for nine. Mullally went out and threw his bat at almost everything and collected 14 valuable runs. In the process, he earned the wrath of Glenn McGrath who was clearly not impressed with Mullally’s heroics. Years later, when Mullally was asked what his most memorable moment was, out came this as the reply:

Alan Mullally: A promising left-arm fast bowler with fluid action whose career was undone by injuries

Alan Mullally (right) earned the wrath of Australian fast bowler Glenn McGrath (left) after playing a few cross-batted heaves and getting away with it © AFP

“Playing in the Melbourne Test in 1998 in front of 100,000 fans. They gave me some stick for my Aussie background but I swung the ball both ways and we won. I hit some vital runs at the end amid some hostile bowling and an exchange of words with Glenn McGrath, who bowled bouncers at me. I think he got a fine for it.

The visitors were set a target of 174. As Dean Headley dug into the Australian line-up picking up six for 60, Australia fell short of the target by 12 runs, adding weight to Mullally’s contribution with the bat. The following Test match – the fourth of the series – turned out to be his last for England.

Mullally showed signs of turning into a successful fast bowler for England, but injuries came along to truncate his international career.  His action helped him create an angle while bowling and he even brought the occasional ball into the right handers. But a knee operation in 1997 and a cracked rib in 2000 meant he would only feature sporadically in the English side.

(Prakash Govindasreenivasan is a reporter with CricketCountry. His Twitter handle is @PrakashG_89)

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