The Leicestershire great Paddy Clift passed away on September 2, 1996. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a Zimbabwean who had made it big during their pre-Test days.
Leicestershire won the 1996 Britannic Assurance County Championship comfortably, with a clear 27-point margin over Derbyshire. The outcome was decided after their last match against Middlesex at Grace Road when they had beaten Middlesex by an innings at Grace Road, but the way they had been going it was evident that there was no stopping them. It was Leicestershire’s second title, and the first one in 21 years.
With the title in sight the celebrations had begun even before the season had ended. It was then that the news came out: Paddy Clift, their mainstay from 1975 to 1987, had passed away. As Wisden wrote in his obituary, Clift’s death “cast a pall over Leicestershire’s 1996 Championship celebrations.”
Who was Clift?
Patrick Bernard Clift was an adept bowling all-rounder. In 319 First-Class matches he had picked up 876 wickets at 24.66 with 26 five-fors and two ten-fors. With the bat he had scored 8,393 runs at 23.64 with two hundreds. A very accurate bowler (he believed in “bowling straight and waiting for the batsman to miss”, wrote Wisden, he finished with 295 List A wickets in 243 matches at 25.45 with an economy rate of 3.84.
The 6’1″ Clift was not a tearaway fast bowler. He bowled straight, medium-paced deliveries — the kind that came into vogue in the 1990s among the medium-pacers all over the world. His accuracy was phenomenal, and his patience, combined with his nagging line and length often ended him take wickets than his more mercurial contemporaries.
He later shifted to off-spin on conducive pitches. A hard hitter of the cricket ball, he was also a very safe slip fielder and a quality outfielder, renowned for his fast, accurate throws.
Clift was born in Harare on July 14, 1953. He was fortunate to come under the tutelage of the Sussex pacer Jim Cornford, and made his debut for Rhodesia against Northern Transvaal at Pretoria at an age of 18. He did not pick up a wicket in the match.
He made his Currie Cup debut next match against Western Province at Salisbury; he picked up his first wicket by trapping Neville Budge leg-before, and picked up two for 48, turning out to be the perfect foil to Mike Procter. He picked up four for 92 in his next match to help win a match against Natal at Bulawayo. In a match that was supposed to be a contest between the two legendary fast bowlers, Procter and Vintcent van der Bijl, Clift emerged with flying colours.
He played a crucial role in what is generally referred to as the infamous ‘Wilmot Match’ against Eastern Province at Bulawayo. After Eastern Province scored 301 Clift (75 not out, his first First-Class fifty) and Jackman (50) added 119 for the ninth wicket to help Rhodesia reach 261. It still remains the record ninth-wicket stand for Rhodesia.
Set 324 to win Rhodesia batted at a breakneck pace with Procter and Jackie du Preez adding an express 87 for the fifth wicket. In fact, du Preez outscored Procter in the innings, which was no mean feat. Then, with Procter and Clift at the crease and six to be scored off the last over, Eastern Provinces captain Lorrie Wilmot took his team off the ground. The umpires decided to award the match to Rhodesia, a decision that was bizarrely overturned by South African Cricket Association.
It cost Rhodesia the Currie Cup. Jackman wasn’t happy: “This was the walk-off game, which we have never, ever forgotten — nor forgiven. We feel that it actually lost us the Currie Cup, and during all the time that I played we never managed to win it.”
The first five-for came in 1973-74 against Transvaal at Salisbury. By now, Jackman had been sharing the new ball with Procter. Coming on second change he ran through the Transvaal top- and middle-order, reducing them to 149 for nine from 43 without loss. He eventually finished with seven for 38.
The next season saw him being involved in a great contest against Barry Richards at Salisbury. As the Natal opener bludgeoned his way to 162 (scored out of 255 during his stay at the wicket), Clift ran through the Natal line-up, picking up seven for 79 and bowling them out for 284.
In the same season he added 152 for the eighth wicket with the Rhodesia wicket-keeper Howard Gardiner at Salisbury. Clift scored 74 not out, and this remains the record eighth-wicket partnership for Rhodesia. The partnership was a crucial one, as Eastern Province lost by 113 runs.
Leicestershire and subsequent years
Brian Davison, the Rhodesian who had been playing for Leicestershire since 1970, recommended Clift to the county as a replacement for Graham McKenzie. He eventually made his debut in 1975 against the touring Australians at Grace Road; coming to bat at 34 for three he scored 30 and helped Davison add 70. He scored another quickfire 31 not out as Leicestershire pulled off an upset victory by 31 runs. He bowling was, however, restricted to five overs.
He won his Leicestershire cap next season. His first match that season was against MCC at Lord’s. After Leicestershire scored 247, Clift simply ran through the strong MCC line-up (that included Dennis Amiss, Mike Brearley, David Steele, Bob Woolmer, and David Lloyd) to pick up eight for 17 from 16.5 overs. Five of these batsmen were bowled and the other three leg-before. It would remain his career-best spell and would remain the best figures in the 1976 English season.
He was not through, though. Playing against Yorkshire at Grace Road Clift warmed himself up with an unbeaten 52. Then he followed it with a hat-trick involving John Hampshire, Peter Squires, and Richard Lumb: he picked up four for 34 as the tourists were bowled out for 85. He removed Geoffrey Boycott and Hampshire in the second innings and the hosts won by 152 runs.
He also picked up five catches in the first innings of the match against Worcestershire at New Road, equalling the record for most catches by a Leicestershire fielder in an innings. He is the last one to do so.
Clift finished 1976 with 74 wickets at 20.17 with two five-fors (and a hat-trick). He had also scored 451 runs at 18.04. His performance improved commendably the following season when he claimed 44 wickets at 21.56 with five-fors.
Thereafter he became a mainstay of the Leicestershire attack. He picked up 586 wickets for them in all at 23.90 with 19 five-fors and two ten-fors. The amazing bit was that though he never picked up 100 wickets in a season he was amazingly consistent with his bowling average, which always remained between 19.18 (1983) and 30.76 (1985).
He also continued to perform commendably for Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe-Rhodesia) and shifted to Natal in 1980, later leading them. Here, too, his average never went past the 30-mark barring 1983-84, where he played only four matches and bowled 105 overs. In 1979 he was named a South African Cricket Annual Cricketer of the Year.
In 1982, he ended up playing the touring Zimbabweans at Grace Road along with Davison. He scored 45 and a match-saving 15 not out, and picked up two for 51 and two for 49 in the match against his own countrymen.
The next season he hammered his way to 100 not out — his maiden First-Class century — against Sussex at Hove, outscoring Davison heavily in an unbeaten 121-run partnership. He had reached the landmark in 50 minutes, which was the Leicestershire record for the fastest hundred at that time. That season he was given The Cricket Society Wetherall Award for the Leading All-Rounder in English First-Class Cricket for his 843 runs at 32.42 and 83 wickets at 19.18 — the closest he had come to achieving the ‘double’ of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in a season.
In 1984 against Warwickshire at Edgbaston Clift picked up eight for 26 to rout the hosts for 133. With two for 63 in the next innings he obtained his first ten-for. The first one had come against Lancashire in Old Trafford in 1981 where he had picked up five for 32 and six for 47 to lead his side to a 43-run victory.
Against Derbyshire at Chesterfield In 1985 he acquired the second hat-trick of his career. He remains one of only three Leicestershire bowlers with two hat-tricks, the other two being Vic Jackson and Jack Birkenshaw. The same season he scored a career-best 106 against Essex at Chelmsford.
Leicestershire gave him a benefit season in 1986. He played for them till 1987, scoring a blazing 79 against Malcolm Marshall against Hampshire at Southampton in his last match. In his last First-Class match for Natal against Transvaal at Durban the next season he picked up five for 53 in his final First-Class innings. Persistent knee injuries and an Achilles-tendon problem brought his career to a premature halt at an age of 34.
On quitting cricket, Clift took up a job in a bank, and founded the Durban North Coaching Academy, an institution now run by his wife Penel. Wisden called Paddy an “affable, popular, family man”.
He died in Durban from bone-marrow cancer on September 2, 1996.
(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 Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)