Fifteen years ago, Zimbabwe made history by fielding three pairs of brothers in the Test side. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the fascinating fraternal feat and other brothers in the history of Test cricket.
On September 18, 1997, exactly 15 years to the day, happy history was scripted as three pairs of brothers turned out for Zimbabwe. It went even beyond that, with the cousin of another team member performing the duties of the 12th man.
While brothers playing together have been witnessed often enough in Test cricket, this was the first and only time three pairs were doing national duty simultaneously.
Runs in the family
In the very first Test match ever, at Melbourne in 1877, Australian captain Dave Gregory played alongside his brother Ned.
Neither enjoyed a long career, but Dave’s son Syd did go on to represent his country in 58 Tests between 1890 and 1912, and Syd’s cousin Jack later formed a terrifying fast bowling combination with Ted McDonald.
Cricketers are often connected by such longish branches of family trees. Brothers have partnered each other at the wicket, sons have walked along the footmarks of their fathers, nephews and grandchildren have kept the family name shining.
Since that very first day in 1877 pairs – and sometimes more than pairs – of brothers have taken the field together. The Graces – EG, EM and GF – all played in the first Test match in England. And in a curious event, the Hearnes, Alec and Jack, made their debuts for England while in the same match their brother Frank opened the innings for South Africa.
The Mohammads walked out one after the other, often in groups of two, three and even four – each one of them a player of immense quality. Their combined brilliance was matched to a small extent by Wasim and Rameez Raja in 1984.
The Indians pitched in, starting out with Lala Amar Singh and Lala Ramji, moving to the Nayudus, CK and CS, and finally coming to the Amarnaths – Mohinder and Surinder.
While the august form of Arjuna Ranatunga towered over Sri Lankan cricket, a couple of his brothers did flit insignificantly across the national team list, joining ranks with the likes of the Wettimunys.
West Indies have had their Grants and, more recently, the Bravos. There have been illustrious combinations from New Zealand, the great Richard Hadlee and his brother Dayle, and the Crowes - Martin and Jeff.
But it was Australia who constantly kept producing brothers dripping with talent. The Chappells – Greg and Ian – ruled the cricketing fortunes of the land for many a year, with some occasional support from their underachieving third sibling Trevor. Their family dominance was challenged a generation later by another phenomenal duo – Steve and Mark Waugh. And although David Hussey has not managed a Test cap, he does combine into quite a formidable pair with brother Michael.
The Aussies are almost matched in this regard by the Proteans. Graeme and Peter Pollock took the world by storm in the sixties before their careers were cut short by international isolation. Peter and Gary Kirsten became only the third pair of brothers to open the innings together in a Test match, after WG and EM Grace, and Hanif and Sadiq Mohammad. Currently, Morne and Albie Morkel keep the flag flying.
However, in spite of a veritable jungle of family trees, it was at Harare in 1997 that three pairs of brothers played for the first time, as Zimbabwe took on New Zealand.
Grant Flower opened the innings with Gavin Rennie. At No 3 walked in Andy Flower, leg spinning all-rounder Paul Strang batted at No 7, while the bowling was bolstered – if one can use the term – by the left-arm military medium of Bryan Strang and the gentle swing of John Rennie.
As if this was not enough to form a close-knit team, Guy Whittall batted at No 4 while his cousin Andy was the 12th man.
If one is interested in analysing the effect of families in a team, the results are encouraging. The Test was drawn, but only due to a dogged 71 not out by Chris Cairns who showed unsuspected poise and character to save the match for New Zealand on a gruelling final day.
Among the brothers, Grant Flower was the most successful by far – hitting 104 and 151 in the two innings. His more illustrious brother, Andy, was surprisingly below par, managing just eight and 20. Gavin Rennie struggled to a half century in the second innings, and Paul Strang scored 42 in the first. Paul and Bryan Strang together accounted for eight of the Kiwi wickets. John Rennie did not bowl with much success – he seldom did as testified by his career average of 97.66 – but batted doggedly in both innings. However, he was never again picked to play for Zimbabwe, and thus this was the last time that such a confluence could be witnessed on the cricket field.
(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)