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Wayne James sets new First-Class record for most dismissals by a wicketkeeper

Wayne James. Photo Courtesy - eBay
Wayne James. Photo Courtesy – eBay.com

On April 21, 1996, Wayne James effected 13 victims — still a First-Class record — in a Logan Cup final, in addition to scoring two 99s. Michael Jones looks at an incredible effort by the Matabeleland wicketkeeper that single-handedly helped his side clinch the tournament.

Wayne James puts the Logan Cup on the map

The Logan Cup, Zimbabwe’s main domestic tournament, was (and remains) a rather insignificant dot on the map of world cricket, with few fans outside the country itself paying much attention to it. All that changed, however, for a few days in 1996, when a remarkable all-round performance in the final by Matabeleland captain Wayne James — unrivalled by a wicketkeeper-batsman in a first-class match, before or since — made headlines around the cricket world.

James had made his first-class debut in 1987 against the touring Pakistan B side — impressing at the first opportunity with five catches in an innings. Like every other Zimbabwean of his generation, though, he had few opportunities over the following years — the only first-class matches in the country were those against touring teams. Rhodesia had formerly entered a team in the Currie Cup, but that ended with the country’s name change and declaration of independence in 1980.

The Logan Cup — named after James Logan, the South African player who had donated the trophy while on tour to the colony — had been played since 1903, but was not first-class; thus when Zimbabwe took to the field for their inaugural Test in 1992, only those players old enough to have appeared in the Currie Cup in the 1970s had significant first-class experience. Ujesh Ranchod, who didn’t play in the inaugural match but did in the return against India a few months later, had none at all, but made his first-class debut in the Test.

Eventually it was acknowledged that in order to make progress at Test level, a more formal domestic structure was needed to develop players to international standard, and the Logan Cup was awarded first-class status from 1993-94 onwards. It had none of the history or traditional rivalries of the County Championship, Sheffield Shield or Ranji Trophy; there were only two provinces, Mashonaland (based in Harare) and Matabeleland (Bulawayo) which could raise teams.

In order to give the tournament slightly more variety, Mashonaland — the dominant club in the pre-first class era — was split into three teams, with Mashonaland Under-24s (later renamed Young Mashonaland) and Mashonaland Country Districts entering separately. James was the leading run scorer in its first year as a first-class competition, primarily due to an innings of 215 which helped Matabeleland to an innings victory over the Country Districts, in a match in which no-one else scored more than 56.

He had already made his international debut at the 1992 World Cup — considered good enough to play as a specialist batsman, with Andy Flower keeping wicket; although he had little individual success in the tournament, he enjoyed the satisfaction of being part of the nine run victory over England, when Eddo Brandes ripped apart the top order to enable Zimbabwe to defend a total of 134. The following year he made his Test debut at Lahore, this time with roles reversed — James the keeper, Flower the specialist batsman. He played one match against Pakistan and all three in the home series against Sri Lanka in 1994.

His keeping was certainly more than good enough for international level — he took 13 catches against Sri Lanka, which although equalled by Flower against the same opposition five years later, still stands as the joint record for most dismissals by a Zimbabwean keeper in a Test series — but his batting failed, with an average of only 15.25. With Flower able to keep competently while averaging three times as much as the bat, James didn’t play another Test, although he was recalled for a solitary ODI in the Singer World Series in 1996.

Despite comprising only three rounds of group matches and the final, the 1995-96 Logan Cup was strung out over eight months: since the pool of players in the country was so small, domestic cricket had to be suspended any time a representative team was in action. The first round of matches was played in September, followed by a break while James captained the ‘A’ team on a tour of South Africa (with limited success: they managed to draw the one-off ‘Test’, but lost heavily to Transvaal and Eastern Province), then the senior team hosted South Africa for one Test and two ODIs.

The finalists were determined by the end of December, but another break followed for more international fixtures: England under 19 toured in January and February, when a rain-affected draw in the first match was followed by two innings victories for the visitors, with the home team reaching their nadir in the second after being bowled out for 47. In March the senior team were engaged at the World Cup — failing to match their heroics of 1992, with their only victory coming against Kenya — then Yorkshire arrived at the start of April for two warm-up matches before the start of the county season; only when they departed were all the players at last present and available to play the domestic final.

A convoluted system for allocating points in the group stages, made more so by three of the four teams having points deducted for slow over rates, led to Mashonaland Country Districts finishing top of the table with two wins and one loss — a result which most logical points systems would have considered inferior to Matabeleland’s two wins and one draw. Matabeleland had home advantage in the final, although the logic by which that was determined was clear only to the organisers.

When the day of the final arrived, both teams were depleted by injuries, leading to first-class debuts for Graeme Ferreira on the home side, Jason Oates and Kevin Scott (his only first-class match) for the visitors. There was also a recall for the 46 year old Denis Streak, who hadn’t played at such a level since the tour of England in 1985, but whose selection was not entirely unmerited after some good performances at club level. He joined his son Heath, by that time already well established in the national team; father and son turning out in the same first-class match had been a relatively common occurrence in pre-war county cricket when a number of players continued into their fifties, but by the second half of the twentieth century it had become altogether rarer — before the Streaks, the last pair to do so had been Lala and Surinder Amarnath (on opposite sides) in 1963, and the only subsequent instances came when Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Tagenarine Chanderpaul played together three times for Guyana.

Zimbabwe cricket in the 1990s was a family affair: a year later the national team achieved an unprecedented triple when brothers Andy and Grant Flower, Gavin and John Rennie, and Paul and Bryan Strang, turned out together against New Zealand (just to cap it, Guy Whittall, who was in the playing XI, was the cousin of Andy, who was twelfth man). Bryan Strang played for Country Districts in the final, but Paul missed the match; the visitors still included one pair of brothers, with Alistair Campbell — soon to become the national captain — playing alongside wicketkeeper Donald, who thanks to competition from Andy Flower and James never made it to international level. In the group match between the same teams five months earlier (won by Matabeleland by just four runs), Donald Campbell had taken seven catches in the first innings and nine in the match — a feat which, over the next few days, Wayne James was to put in the shade.

The Mashonaland Country Districts captain, Robin Brown — at the age of 44, another player who had returned to first-class cricket after an absence of several years — won the toss and chose to bat. He and Trevor Stead started well, but after a partnership of 43, Brown edged a ball from slow left-armer Darshan Vaghmaria and was caught behind. At the other end Heath Streak dismissed Stead and Alastair Campbell, both also falling to catches by James. Just for variety, Glen Bruk-Jackson and Craig Evans tried coming down the wicket to Vaghmaria, and both were stumped.

The visitors had slumped from 43 for none to 73 for five, and James had had a hand in all the dismissals. The debutant Oates started to rebuild the innings, while Donald Campbell scratched around at the other end; John Rennie came back to dismiss Campbell and Richard Maggs — both also to catches behind the wicket. Country Districts were 114 for seven, and James had five catches and two stumpings — within sight of the unprecedented feat for a keeper of being involved in all ten dismissals in a first-class innings.

Matabeleland had to wait for their next wicket of any sort, as Bryan Strang became the first partner to give Oates the support he needed. They brought up a hundred partnership for the eighth wicket, with Oates reaching his debut century before he finally fell — to a catch by Graeme Peck off Vaghmaria, ending James’s chances of all ten. He wasn’t finished, though: he gave Mark Dekker a bowl, Strang soon offered the captain another catch and number eleven Stephen Peall followed suit. James had nine dismissals in the innings — equalling the first-class record set by Tahir Rashid in a BCCP Patron’s Trophy match in Pakistan three years earlier.

Matabeleland still had time to bat before the close, and their reply started badly: Ferreira began his first-class career by being out hit wicket to Strang for a duck, with Tafadzwa Manyimo and Ethan Dube quickly following — both to catches by Donald Campbell, making eleven of the first thirteen wickets in the match which had involved the keeper. James went in to bat with the scoreboard reading 15 for three, and set about instigating a recovery; although he lost Dekker soon after, Heath Streak stayed with him until the close, when Matabeleland were 75 for four, with James unbeaten on 42.

The overnight pair took their partnership to 86 the following morning before Evans dismissed Streak. Rennie soon followed, but James looked well set for a century — until he fell to Peall just one run short; he had dominated the scoring, his 99 coming out of only 151 scored while he was at the wicket. At 166 for 7, Matabeleland were still 99 behind, but Ranchod marshaled the tail, his innings of 40 helping to reduce the first innings deficit to only 45.

James later admitted that he hadn’t given the match record much thought because he assumed he was still well away from it — having been told that his nine dismissals had equalled the record for an innings, he “thought the match record must be fifteen or sixteen — I was really surprised to find that it was only twelve”. But twelve it was — first set by Ted Pooley (better known for missing his chance to play in what would later be considered the inaugural Test, because he was in police custody for a betting scam at the time of the match) in a County Championship match in 1868, and subsequently equalled by Don Tallon and Brian Taber in the Sheffield Shield. In fact, when Mashonaland Country Districts went out to bat again, James was in a unique position as the only keeper to start the second innings with nine dismissals already to his name: Tahir Rashid had not had the chance to add to his tally, as the time lost prevented that match progressing beyond the first innings.

Brown soon edged Rennie behind for a duck, and James had his tenth dismissal of the match. Heath Streak trapped Stead in front to deprive him of one chance, but Alistair Campbell gave another catch off Rennie to take James’s tally to eleven. Streak claimed his second lbw to dismiss Oates for a duck — after his first innings century, a quick lesson for the debutant in the ups and downs of the game — and the Country Districts were 17 for four. With six wickets to fall, James needed one more dismissal to equal the world record, two to break it — although he still didn’t know that.

Bruk-Jackson gave Rennie his third wicket of the innings, James his third catch and a share of the record. When Evans gave a catch to Heath Streak, the visitors were 53 for six: four wickets to fall, and James needed one of them. Maggs was caught by Dube (69 for seven), Donald Campbell and Strang put together a partnership — then Vaghmaria came on for a couple of overs, Strang edged behind and James had his thirteenth dismissal. Matabeleland polished off the last two wickets without James getting another chance, and he walked off the field to be told he’d just broken the world record. Rennie’s haul of six for 42 went almost unnoticed.

He had no time to celebrate it: there was still a tournament to win. Thanks to their second innings bowling effort, the home team had restricted their target to 174, and with a few overs to go on the third evening, Dube and Ferreira went in to open again, but Dube was soon lbw to Strang for a duck. Preferring to keep himself and Dekker back for the morning, James sent Ranchod in as nightwatchman, and when he was bowled by Stead, Peck was asked to fulfil the same role. He survived until the close but Peall trapped Ferreira in front. Matabeleland closed on 15 for three, and that target of 174 looked a long way off.

Dekker walked out with Peck on the third morning, but James soon found himself in the middle again when Peck was leg before to Stead without adding to the overnight total. Thirteen dismissals and a score of 99 might be considered a good enough contribution by most captains, but at 15 for four, James’s team needed him again. He didn’t disappoint: Dekker provided support, but James dominated the scoring, passing his fifty as Matabeleland brought up their 100 for no further loss, and as the team neared victory he moved into the nineties, looking set to make up for his first innings near miss by making a century in the chase.

When the home team had moved to 172 for four, the stage seemed set: Alistair Campbell was bowling to James, who was on 99. One run needed for his century, two for the victory. Campbell bowled, James missed it — and so did the bowler’s brother Donald behind the stumps. The ball ran away for four byes; Matabeleland had won the match and the Logan Cup, and James was left high and dry on 99*. It was the ultimate irony: in a match in which he himself had set a new standard for first-class wicketkeepers, he had been deprived of his century by an error on the part of the opposing keeper. At least he could console himself with the thought that his double near miss was a far more unusual feat: a century in each innings of a first-class match had been achieved hundreds of times, but only one batsman before him had made 99 in each innings — Amay Khurasiya, with 99 and 99* for Madhya Pradesh in a Ranji Trophy match in 1991.

Like James, Khurasiya was left stranded in the second innings when his team reached the victory target — but unlike James, he was neither captain nor keeper for his side, and took only one catch in the match. James had made a century in each innings once before, with 107 and 127 against the touring South Africa A side in 1994 — one of only a few players to do so as keeper-captain.

Within a few months of the final, James had appeared his last first-class match. The following season’s Logan Cup was reduced to two teams and three matches; James played in all of them, although he had handed over the Matabeleland captaincy to John Rennie. He enjoyed moderate success, with two fifties and a few catches, but was never likely to approach the heights of the previous season’s final again, and Matabeleland lost the series to Mashonaland 2-0. One more match against the England touring team, and that was that — he never played again.

James returned to Zimbabwean cricket in 2011 as chairman of selectors. His joint record for most dismissals in an innings still stands; the outright record for most in a match was broken in 2011, when Ibrahim Khaleel made fourteen (eleven caught, three stumped) for Hyderabad against Assam in the Ranji Trophy. Khaleel, though, made 37* in his only innings of the match: as an all-round performance by a keeper-batsman, James’s feat remains unparalleled.

Brief scores:

Mashonaland Country Districts 265 (Jason Oates 115, Bryan Strang 66; Darshan Vaghmaria four for 108; Wayne James seven catches, two stumpings) & 128 (John Rennie six for 42; Wayne James four catches) lost to Matabeleland 220 (Wayne James 99; Bryan Strang four for 69) & 176 for 4 (Wayne James 99*, Mark Dekker 57*) by 6 wickets.

(Michael Jones’s writing focuses on cricket history and statistics, with occasional forays into the contemporary game)

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