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Eddie Hemmings, born February 20, 1949, was a long serving off-spinner for England who had a stop-start international career during the 1980s and early 1990s. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the career of the Nottinghamshire bowler who was known for his rather chubby appearance and once captured all 10 wickets of an innings in a First-Class match.
All the wrong reasons
He is remembered for all the wrong reasons.
The image that is forever etched in our memories is of Kapil Dev plonking his foot down the wicket and slamming him for four consecutive sixes at Lord’s, each straighter than the next, getting the 24 required runs to save the follow-on in emphatic, inimitable style.
When we think further back, we remember his first Test in Australia, an unremarkable outing at Brisbane. In the first innings, he remained wicket-less and the two second innings successes were scalped in a lost cause, as the hosts progressed smoothly to a seven wicket win. However, the picture that sticks to the mind is of the piglet smuggled through the pickets and released into the outfield. One of its flanks bore the name of Ian Botham, the legendary all-rounder who was just starting to fill out in the middle. His waist was no longer as svelte, the swing no longer as lethal, Botham was the target of the Australian crowd, the man they wanted to taunt. The other side of the swine could have been left blank, or could have been adorned with another scribble of his august name for symmetry. But, no. The cruel Australian pranksters decided to balance things out by printing ‘Eddie’. It was an insensitive dig at the not so lithe frame of our man.
Then there was the moment when he just waited, ball in hand, at Faisalabad. Captain Mike Gatting brought David Capel up from deep square leg to prevent a single. What followed rippled intoa major diplomatic incident, with the England skipper and umpire Shakoor Rana all but coming to blows.
And what about the Test after the historic mauling meted out by the Indian all-rounder. At Manchester, the 17-year-old Sachin Tendulkar was beaten in flight and scooped one back to him. Our man fumbled with the ball and let it slip through. The little Indian went onto score the first of his 51 Test centuries.
A year before that he had been captured on the television aiming a frustrated kick at one of the jubilant spectators who had run into the ground to celebrate Chetan Sharma’s hundred at Kanpur.
Those who followed the English tours of the era closely enough may also remember his not too shapely frame looking quite fetching under a milkmaid’s smock.
However, a Test bowling average of 42.44 for his 43 wickets notwithstanding, there was plenty of other excellent feats to remember Eddie Hemmings by.
As a night-watchman at Sydney during his first Australian tour, Hemmings battled against Geoff Lawson, Rodney Hogg and Jeff Thomson to score 95, before being out to a dodgy decision off Bruce Yardley. It will not be stretching facts to say that he saved the Test for England. Sadly, the next time he turned out in a Test match for the country was in that infamous Faisalabad affair, four and a half years down the line.
In the interim, he did have his moments. A vital cog of the World Cup outfit of 1987, Hemmings performed the dual role of picking up wickets and restricting the scoring all through the tournament. The blazing moment was in the semi-final when he induced Kapil to play a fatal slog-sweep with the match practically in India’s pocket. Gatting pouched the catch at deep mid-wicket. A few overs later, Hemmings trapped the well set Mohammad Azharuddin leg- before. And he went on to end the match with the wickets of Chetan Sharma and Ravi Shastri, finishing with four for 52 and breaking the hearts of millions of Indians. In the final, he dismissed David Boon and Dean Jones, but sat disconsolately in the dressing room with his pads on as England lost by seven runs.
Two years later, at the age of 40, he walked out to bat for Nottinghamshire at Lord’s. In the Benson and Hedges Cup final against Essex, 10 runs were required for victory. Having scored two from two deliveries when he squared up to face the last ball of the match. Four runs remained to be scored, and captain Graham Gooch, and bowler John Lever moved fielders around for an eternity. Just before Lever returned to his bowling mark, Gooch moved the man at deep cover across to the leg-side. Hemmings backed away and struck the final delivery through the off side to bring off a remarkable victory.
The following summer, the Englishmen met the visiting New Zealand team in the third and final Test at Birmingham with the series locked 0-0. In reply to the huge English total, the visitors had reached 161 for three when Devon Malcolm castled Mark Greatbatch.
With the ball in a rather pitiable shape, the seamers did not really fancy a bowl. Hemmings gruffly said, “Yeah, give it here.” He picked up six for 58, including the great Richard Hadlee caught in the slips. England won by 114 runs. It remained his only five wicket haul in Tests.
True, Kapil did hit him for the four consecutive sixes. In fact, after the third Hemmings had asked his captain Gooch how many were required to save the follow-on. Gooch had been morose — “One more of them and they’ve done it.” Hemmings was not really apologetic after the fourth hit went straight, high and far. As he put it later, if India had followed on they would probably have saved the match and Gooch would not have added the century to go with his first inning triple.
It is often forgotten that in the second innings, Kapil tried to repeat his first innings heroics. Hemmings had him caught at deep mid-wicket for seven — not for the first time had he got the batsman caught in that position. He also dashed Dilip Vengsarkar’s dreams of getting a fourth century at Lord’s. Besides, in the first innings, Hemmings had ended the ethereal innings of Azharuddin with a peach of a delivery that bowled the Indian captain through the gate.
From seam to cut to spin
Eddie Hemmings played First-Class cricket for 29 long years.
Born in Lemington Spa in February 1949, he started out playing for Lockhead, the team of the local Works that made brakes, clutches and other automobile parts. His father was the captain of the side and Hemmings played his first adult game at the age of nine. As it often happens, there was a man short and the young lad was asked to make up the numbers.
Soon club coach Ray Carter accompanied him to Warwickshire for an Under-12 trial. Derief Taylor and Tiger Smith watched his skills with interest, and moved him to a different net because he was hitting the ball too hard.
He graduated to the Warwickshire staff in 1965, playing as a seamer and a lower middle-order batsman. The batting never really prospered, and by 1971 he had played enough First-Class cricket to realise that he would not be fast enough. He sought help from Tom Cartwright, asking him how to bowl the inswinger. The answer was a discouraging, “Well, you’ll just have to find out.”
People like John Jameson were approachable and helpful, but he had to learn the tricks of the trade himself. That was actually characteristic of the era, not eccentricities of the particular characters.
The county team was quite well staffed in the spin department, with the great Lance Gibbs sending down his off-breaks. When the West Indian legend announced that he would not play for Nottinghamshire after the end of the 1972 season, Hemmings decided he would switch to off-cutters.
It took some years to change his run up and finally make the switch to off-spin. By the late 1970s, he was one of the best spinners of the country.
This was when, in 1979,Warwickshire refused to offer him any more than a one-year contract. A disgruntled Hemmings declined. As he took a forced leave from the game, Ken Taylor of Nottinghamshire rang him up. The transfer was easy. It was actually arranged by collaboration between Taylor and his old teammates, the Warwickshire chairman Cyril Goodway. For Hemmings, it was the start of a long and fruitful.
Playing for Nottinghamshire and sometimes for England
The grassy wicket of Trent Bridge suited him. The captaincy of Clive Rice made for exciting cricket, and the presence of Hadlee was a delight. Rooming with Derek Randall on tours was a bother because of the loud snores of the colourful batsman, but it was camaraderie to cherish.
But, after three rewarding seasons, Hemmings was hugely disappointed not to be selected for the tour of India in 1981-82.
He had the consolation of travelling to Pakistan with an International XI. This was followed by another rewarding summer. And in September 1982, he bowled his way into the record books.
Playing for an International XI against an West Indies XI in Jamaica, Hemmings dismissed Gordon Greenidge, Desmond Haynes, Lawrence Rowe, Clive Lloyd, Jeff Dujon, Malcolm Marshall and all the rest of them. He did not exactly run through the innings, but he took all the wickets to finish with 10 for 175. It was the most expensive 10 wicket haul in history.
Hemmings made his debut at Edgbaston against Pakistan at the age of 33. It was blissful irony for the spinner to play in front of the same Warwickshire men who had refused to give him a contract of more than one year. He bowled well enough, taking two for 56 and one for 27 in a big win. Thus commenced a stop-start international career that finally ended in 1990-91 after 16 Tests and 33 One-Day Internationals (ODIs). During most of the years that followed his debut, England preferred a left-arm spinner, opting for Phil Edmonds and Nick Cook. When an off-spinner was required, Hemmings had to vie for a place against Pat Pocock, John Emburey and Vic Marks.
His haul of 43 wickets at 42.44 in Tests remains unimpressive as do his 37 ODI scalps at 34.97. However, his Test batting record was surprisingly respectable for a tail-ender, with 383 runs at 22.52 with two half centuries.
After his international career, he continued for another two seasons at Nottinghamshire. In 1993, at the age of 44, he moved to Sussex and played the subsequent three seasons for them.
The penultimate game of his career was a spectacular innings win over the visiting West Indian team led by Richie Richardson. In the second innings, the 46-year-old Hemmings claimed four for 33 in 15 overs.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he bordered on the rotund, but it never affected his energy levels. He was always ready for one more over.Bowling on a pitch made for pace bowlers of Nottinghamshire for most of his career; Hemmings thrived on bounce and put a lot of wrist into his off-breaks.
He ended with 1515 wickets in 518 matches at 29.30. As a lower order batsman, he had a decent enough record of 9,533 runs at 18.54 with a hundred and 18 fifties. He could have scored more but for his perennial casual approach to batting and the tendency to be overly aggressive.
Sons, James and Thomas Hemmings played in the Minor County matches. They both moved to the Claythorpe Cricket Club, where Hemmings acts as groundsman. The former spinner often admits with a twinkle in his eye that he prepares wickets that help the seam bowling of his sons.
However, a more successful cricketer was niece Beth Morgan the medium-pace bowling all-rounder who played seven Tests and 72 ODIs for the England Women.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)
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