Born on September 27, 1962, Gavin Larsen was one of the most economical medium-pacers to have played through the 90s. Prakash Govindasreenivasan looks back at the career of a man who was nicknamed ‘the Postman’ by his teammates.
New Zealand’s medium-pacer Gavin Larsen came with a unique speciality. While most fast bowlers of his era in the 90s were trying to master the art of picking up wickets and swinging the ball in the air or off the wicket, Larsen was busy bowling miserly spells. When he finished, one could tell that Larsen truly mastered the art of economical bowling like nobody. He represented New Zealand in three consecutive World Cups, with the first of the three in 1992 being the most memorable one for him. Larsen was one of those bowlers who knew where he wanted to pitch every ball and would run up every single time to bowl exactly at that spot. In a 10-year long career span, accuracy was his best ally.
Larsen’s accuracy was good enough to earn him the nickname ‘The Postman’, as he was someone who always delivered. In Larsen’s book Grand Larseny, John Graham, New Zealand’s manager for the larger period of Larsen’s career explained the logic behind the nickname in his foreword. He wrote, “He is the consummate professional, committed, conscientious, competitive and consistent. His nickname of ‘The Postman’ sums him up well, he always delivers!”
Larsen’s Tryst with World Cups
Forming a deadly triumvirate with Chris Harris and Rob Latham, Larsen helped New Zealand perform well in front of the home crowds in his first appearance for New Zealand in the World Cup. It was a surprise performance from them as they picked up seven wins from their first seven matches. New Zealand lost just twice in the tournament — both times to Pakistan — and bowed out from the semi-final stage with their heads held high. Larsen troubled some of the best batsmen in the tournament and finished with nine wickets in as many games at a splendid economy rate of 3.44. In the 1996 World Cup, Larsen featured in just two matches. However, he did reasonably well in the following edition in 1999, when the Kiwis entered the semi-final again. He picked up six wickets in eight matches but the highlight of his campaign was his performance against Bangladesh. In a low-scoring six-wicket win for the Kiwis at Chemlsford, Larsen finished with astonishing figures of three for 19 from 10 overs. His economy rate at the end of the tournament was at 3.46.
The tied match against Pakistan in 1994
Larsen probably would look back at his career and feel dejected by the fact that he never managed to pick up a fifer. However, he played a key role in a tied ODI against Pakistan in 1994 where he recorded his career-best figures of four for 24. After Pakistan won the toss and chose to bat in Auckland, Larsen dismissed the top three — Saeed Anwar, Aamer Sohail and Inzamam-ul-Haq. He then returned to clean up Wasim Akram as Pakistan were bowled out for 161. In reply, Waqar Younis wrecked havoc to dismiss New Zealand for the same total.
Sachin Tendulkar — the 100th wicket
On January 15, 1999, the 37-year-old Larsen dismissed Sachin Tendulkar by having him stumped by wicketkeeper Adam Parore to bag his 100th ODI wicket in front of his home crowd. Unfortunately, for him, the match was washed out. The memory of bagging the wicket of Tendulkar in his prime will however, be something that would have delighted the medium-pacer.
For a man who established himself as an important part of the New Zealand bowling attack in ODIs in the 90s, it was surprising that he did not get a long rope in white flannels. He featured in just eight Tests and picked up 24 wickets. In only his second Test match, he recorded his best figures of three for 57 against South Africa in a losing cause.
Fascinatingly, Larsen played his entire First-Class career with Wellington and took up the post of CEO of Cricket Wellington.
Larsen featured in 121 ODIs for New Zealand, picking up 113 wickets at an economy rate of 3.76.
As the world entered a new millennium in 2000, the game saw a change with more and more aggressive batsmen coming through. Larsen, however, was probably one of the last few bowlers to come away with a magnificent economy rate when he retired in 1999.