If one makes an all-time England XI, the pool for the openers will possibly consist of Jack Hobbs, Herbert Sutcliffe, Len Hutton, and Geoff Boycott — and maybe, in a couple of years or so, Alastair Cook. It is unlikely that Dennis Amiss will ever make it to the shortlist — for the simple reason that any kind of Ashes glory had evaded him throughout his career.
Till the likes of Matthew Hayden, Virender Sehwag, and Chris Gayle came along, opening batsmen have traditionally worked under the ‘give the first hour to the bowler’ theory. Amiss was not an exception. What set Amiss apart from the others was the fact that he was a grafter among grafters — and one of those cricketers who never seemed to get enough of batting. The very sight of Amiss made the bowlers’ shoulders droop: they knew they were in for a long day, and would have to earn his wicket. Amiss was not likely to throw it away. He was a treat to watch, and his strong forearms and wrists meant that anything pitched on middle or leg usually vanished to the boundary without a fuss.
Let us begin with some facts: Amiss had scored 3,612 runs at 46.30 with 11 hundreds in 50 Tests. However, as an opener, Amiss had scored 3,276 runs at 53.70 — which is the fifth-highest by any opening batsman in history, if we put a restriction of 3,000 runs. This puts him ahead of legends like Sunil Gavaskar, Geoff Boycott, Bill Lawry, Gordon Greenidge, Arthur Morris, or some of the 21st century greats.
When One-Day Internationals (ODIs) were at a nascent stage, Amiss had scored 859 from 18 matches at 47.72 and four hundreds. With a restriction of 750 runs, he ranks fourth in the history of ODIs.
Amiss’s conversion rates were also phenomenal. He had crossed fifty 22 times in Tests, and 11 of those were converted to hundreds. Of all openers, the conversion rate is next to only Matthew Hayden’s. If we consider all batsmen, Don Bradman, Hayden, Mohammad Azharuddin, and Clyde Walcott are the only ones above him. Eight of those 11 hundreds were above 150 — a rate of 72.7%. To put things into perspective, 18 of Bradman’s 29 hundreds were over 150 — a conversion rate of 62.1%.
In ODIs, the rate is even more phenomenal — four of his five fifties have been converted to hundreds. It’s comfortably the best among anyone who has scored four ODI hundreds or more — no one comes even remotely close.
His career statistics remain rather curious, though: he had managed only 305 from 11 Ashes Tests at 15.25, whereas he had scored 1,130 runs against the West Indies’ pacers from 10 Tests at 70.62. Interestingly, he scored 368 in his eight ODIs against Australia at 46.00.
Amiss’s association with Warwickshire began in 1957, at the age of 15 after he scored an impressive 60 in the final of the Docker Shield. He played for the Second XI, and got to make his First-Class debut in 1960 against Surrey. However, Warwickshire scored 377 without loss in their only innings, and Amiss did not get a chance to bat.
He kept on alternating between the first and second XIs, and did not make an impressive start to his First-Class career. The occasional hundred kept coming, and though he featured in the team, he was certainly not one of the stars of the Warwickshire side.
His break came against the touring West Indians — as late as in 1966. After demolishing Warwickshire for 173, the tourists piled up 441; then, Amiss carried his bat through the side, scoring 160 out of a team score of 315, and got selected for the final Test of the dead rubber of the home series. Batting at five, Amiss hung around against Wes Hall, Garry Sobers, and Lance Gibbs, but eventually managed to score only 17.
Amiss was shelved for a year, brought back against the Indians next season, but failed to impress yet again, and his career was generally restricted to one or two home Tests a year. His domestic career was decent, but way short of what could be termed as an impressive one.
The blow and the comeback
The major blow came in 1972. Warwickshire had opted for the services of those two talented West Indians — Rohan Kanhai and Alvin Kallicharran, and suddenly Amiss found himself out of the county side, with Mike Smith, John Jameson, John Whitehouse, and the West Indian duo forming the batting line-up. Amiss was reduced to a reserve county batsman, and his career was considered as good as over.
He got the occasional chance when one of the players was rested, but was generally a Second XI player. Then came the Middlesex match. After Middlesex were bowled out for 158, Amiss, opening the innings with Jameson, completely changed his style, and scored a hurricane 151 not out.
He never looked back from there: he followed the innings with a 156 not out against Worcestershire, and then a savage 192 against Lancashire. It was during this innings that he matched Rohan Kanhai stroke to stroke, adding 318 in three hours. And then, when Warwickshire needed to score 214 at almost six an over against Kent, Amiss scored a furious 121 not out to pull off a sensational chase. He finished the season with 1,129 runs at 66.41 — at the top of the star-studded Warwickshire batting charts.
He did not get to play the home Ashes, but made his ODI debut in the second ODI ever. After Australia had scored 222 for eight in 55 overs, Amiss became the first player to score an ODI hundred (103), and was the part of the first-ever ODI century partnership (125 runs with Keith Fletcher for the second wicket) as England cruised to a victory. He scored 25 and 40 in the remaining two ODIs. The first ball he faced — from Bob Massie — missed his glove by a whisker. In his own words, “if it had been a fraction nearer I might never have gone on that tour to India and Pakistan”.
Things did not improve in the Tests, though, as he did miserably in the India tour that winter. After 12 Tests, played over a span of close to seven years, Amiss had scored 348 runs at a paltry 18.31, his only fifty coming against Pakistan at Headingley in 1971. He had also scored a pair in an Ashes Test at Old Trafford.
Amiss came good for the first time on the Pakistan tour later that season. He scored 112 at Lahore, 158 at Hyderabad, and finished with 99 at Karachi — finishing the series with 406 runs at 81.20. He never looked back. In his next Test, played that summer at Trent Bridge, he scored 138 not out against New Zealand (running out Boycott in a process, resulting in a rift between the two), and scored his second ODI hundred — 100 at Swansea. He was finally ready for the big series — the twin series against West Indies.
He impressed in the home series, scoring 231 runs at 46.20, and was an obvious choice for the West Indies tour. He failed in the first innings at Port-of-Spain, but as England trailed by 261 when they went out the second time, Amiss put up 209 with Boycott for the first wicket, but could not prevent an English defeat despite his 174. He was determined for an improvement, though.
In the next Test at Kingston, Amiss was up against a similar issue. England trailed by 230, and kept on losing wickets at regular intervals. Jameson hung around for a while, but England were soon reduced to 271 for seven, just 41 runs ahead and two sessions of play left.
Amiss set up tent at the crease. The fact that both Frank Hayes and Allan Knott were run out due to terrible calls from Amiss did not do a lot to build up his confidence. However, he found an able ally in Chris Old, who hung around for close to two hours; the duo added 72, of which Old contributed only 19. He went on to add 49 more with Pat Pocock (he scored four), and an unbeaten 40 for the last wicket with Bob Willis (he remained unbeaten with three). Amiss had scored an unbeaten 262 in 563 balls — the innings spanning nine-and-a-half hours — and the epic had managed to help England avoid defeat when nobody else had crossed 40. It remained his highest First-Class score.
He scored 118 more at Bridgetown, and finished the series 663 runs at 82.87. Against all expectations, England fought back to square the series 1-1. From 18.31 after 12 Test, Amiss’ average had risen phenomenally to 46.29 after 25 Tests.
Ups and downs
Amiss reached 2,000 Test runs in the next home season — the ‘Summer of 42’ — against India. With 370 runs at 92.50 (he scored a 188 at Lord’s), Amiss’s average went past the 50-mark for the first time in his career, and it remained above 50 after the home series against Pakistan that followed, when he scored 220 more at 55.00 (with a 183 at The Oval). His performances made him a Wisden Cricketer of the Year for 1975.
He ran into his arch nemesis — the Australians — led by that nightmare Ashes of 1974-75 when England had to recall Colin Cowdrey. He could never come to terms against Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, and could manage only a 90 at Melbourne. He collected the second pair of his career — also against the Aussies, this time at Adelaide — and managed a hat-trick of ducks in the following innings at Melbourne.
On the second leg of the tour — at New Zealand — he regained form promptly, scoring an unbeaten 164 at Christchurch. When the first World Cup was played later that year, Amiss faced the first ball, scored the first run, and also scored the first hundred (137) in the history of World Cups. However, with scores of 4, 5, 0, and 10 in the home Ashes that followed the World Cup, Amiss found himself out of the Test side for over a year.
Amiss’s confidence was so shattered during this period that he admitted “many a time I walked out to the middle of a Test match knowing it was virtually a waste of time carrying a bat”, and “no matter how well I’m playing these guys [Lillee and Thomson] will get me”.
What a comeback!
Being out of action for a year, Amiss came back for the ODIs against West Indies, and was later recalled for the final Test at The Oval — when Tony Greig’s ‘govel’ statement had gone horribly wrong.
West Indies had already sealed the series 2-0, but were resolved to prove a point by grounding them to non-existence. Batting beautifully for Warwickshire, Amiss eventually amassed 2,110 runs that season.
West Indies piled up 687 for eight (Viv Richards scoring a career-best 291), and then, when England came out to bat, they ran into a rampant Michael Holding. Playing Test cricket after 14 months, Amiss took the fearsome fast bowlers — Holding, Andy Roberts, Vanburn Holder, and Wayne Daniel — by the horns, and 320-ball 203 with 28 boundaries. He was seventh out with the score on 342.
He played brilliantly, and though Holding bowled beautifully — picking up eight for 92 — and Allan Knott was the only other batsman who did anything of note with 50, Amiss continued to counterattack the speedsters with controlled aggression to conjure an innings and came back in the most dramatic fashion — adding a peculiar shuffling stroke to the leg to his repertoire.
Wrote Amiss: “Everybody had written me off against fast bowling. I’d had some problems and I was determined to try and put the record straight. My confidence had been low but I came back.” Holding added: “We were trying to hit his leg-stump. He had this awkward stance and I kept bowling at leg-stump but he would just glance it away.” Mike Selvey, playing in the match, wrote “He was a tremendous player off his legs and all he did was step right across his stumps and flick the ball away through the on-side. It was brilliant.”
In the very next Test – at Delhi – Amiss scored 179 before John Lever picked up 10 wickets to lead England to an innings victory. He scored two more crucial fifties at Bangalore and Bombay, and finished the series with 417 runs at 52.12, helping England take the series 3-1. His performance was good enough to earn him the Indian Cricketer of the Year award for 1977.
An abrupt end
The end came very fast for Amiss. He scored 64 in the first innings of the Centenary Test at Melbourne, but failed in the next innings. When Australia came for the return Ashes, he scored 4 and 0 (his seventh Ashes duck) at Lord’s, and 11 and 28 not out at Old Trafford, after which he was dropped for good — though England went on to clinch the series 3-0.
Just before his last Test, he also played his last ODI — against Australia at The Oval. Opening batting, Amiss scored 108, but Australia won the match by two wickets. In the process, he became the first cricketer to have scored hundreds in both his first and last ODIs — Desmond Haynes being the only other one till date.
World Series Cricket and the helmet
Despite his failures in Australia, Amiss was offered to play in Kerry Packer’s ‘circus’ — which he promptly accepted, despite knowing that it would probably end his international career. The overwhelming package took him aback — he was now being offered £1,200 a match as opposed to the £200 that ECB used to offer per Test when Amiss had retired.
He wanted to dominate Lillee and Thomson, and as a solution, he revolutionised world cricket by being arguably the first one to use a helmet in competitive cricket. He used a motorcycle helmet made of fibre glass. In his own words, “it was heavy and hot when I wore it for the first time; my head was thumping and sweat was pouring down. I thought I was going to pass out.” But he never regretted the decision after being hit by Wayne Prior on the helmet. David Hookes used Amiss’s helmet after being hit by Roberts; Graham Yallop soon used it in Test cricket, and cricketers all around the world began using it within 10 years.
The Warwickshire management was furious with Amiss for taking up World Series Cricket, but called him back reluctantly. He played the season under severe mental stress, and scored 2,030 runs at 53.42 with seven centuries.
Later years for Warwickshire
Amiss had made up his mind to quit First-Class cricket in his late thirties, but David Brown, the Warwickshire manager, persuaded him to play on. He played on past his 40th year. He later mentioned “at one time, I had 86 First-Class hundreds to my name; if I was going to get to 100 hundreds, the helmet was going to help me and I could do it”.
In 1986, at the age of 43, Amiss managed to reach his hundredth First-Class hundred against Lancashire at Edgbaston. Even at 43 he was at his aggressive best, scoring an unbeaten 101 out of 162 scored during his stay at the wicket. He scored two more centuries in 1987, which was his last season — thereby scoring over a thousand runs in every English season from 1965 – ending in a stunning run spanning 23 seasons. His 43,423 First-Class runs make him the 12th on the all-time list.
After his extensive First-Class career, Amiss served as the Chairman of the Cricket Committee of Warwickshire, and he remained the Chief Executive from 1994 to 2005. He also became a national selector in 1992, and was awarded an honorary PhD by the University of Birmingham in 2007. He is currently the Deputy Chairman of ECB, and played a crucial role in retaining Kevin Pietersen in the English side in the last days of Andrew Strauss’ reign.
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ovshake and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)