Twenty 20 is the rage of the day, and modern cricketers are growing up with their techniques tuned to this instant variety of the game. However, there have been quite a few huge hitters in the pre-Twenty20 history of the game who would have been ideal for this format. Arunabha Sengupta lists some of the names who missed out by being born in an earlier era.
Love it or hate it, Twenty20 is here in a big way. And for all its vices, huge hits by the likes of Chris Gayle and Shahid Afridi do send the excitement levels soaring up.
However, these hits are in danger of losing their charm – through the tedium of incessant repetition. There was a time not too long ago when sixes were thrilling because they were few. A huge hit was a spectacle – to be relished, recounted; not regular enough to necessitate garnishing with swinging hips of cheerleaders and ornamentation through sponsor sprinkled sobriquets like ‘DLF Maximum’.
Cricket history is littered with names renowned as hitters, people who distinguished themselves by hitting the ball a long, long way – further, mightier and higher than others. And many of them never played T20.
Now, with superior quality bats, short boundaries and restrictions imposed on bowlers, there is hardly a batsman in modern day cricket who cannot clear the boundary ropes. The breed of hitters is on the verge dying from the obscurity of multitude.
Listed below are some famous hitters of their day – men who would have ruled the T20 scene with their ability to whack the ball, but did not play in the modern age. Most of them doubled up with other all-round skills as well.
In the list, we have ignored prodigiously fast scorers who would no doubt have been successful in T20, but were not exceptionally hard strikers of the ball.
The likes of Don Bradman, Victor Trumper, KS Ranjitsinhji, with their genius of batsmanship and innovation with the willow, would have surely ruled any form of cricket. But, they are not included here. The names that follow are specifically the ones who were famed for their ability to give the ball a massive wallop.
George Bonnor - He had a magnificent physique, standing six feet, six inches tall and weighing 17 stone. With his golden hair and flowing beard, he was often likened to a reincarnation of the Viking gods. Often called simply The Great Australian Hitter, he once struck a ball over the pavilion at Kennington Oval, drove another 170 yards, and hit a mistimed drive so high that he and his partner ran three before it was caught.
Gilbert Jessop – This scientific hitter stood at only five feet, seven inches. From his low crouching stance, he erupted like a quantum of uncoiled energy the moment the ball was released. He jumped out as if on spring to the fastest of bowlers, driving them mercilessly, devastatingly hard and often high, forcing them to shorten the length; and then he would cut and pull them with equal heartless brutality. “The sight of Jessop merely going forth to bat would cause a cricket crowd to wonder what on earth was about to happen to the game. Before he had walked purposefully half-way to the wicket, four fieldsmen were to be seen journeying to far-flung positions, going there as though by instinct and not official direction,” Neville Cardus described in Close of Play. He could also bowl as a genuine fast bowler, and was a greyhound at cover-point.
Jimmy Sinclair – Batting at the Wanderers, Sinclair was reputed to have hit the great George Lohmann into the neighbouring Railway Station three times. Playing for a weak South African side, he was good enough to score three centuries and pick up 63 wickets in 26 Tests, bowling with extreme pace. His reputation as a great hitter preceded him to every land he played in. “Though he stood six feet, four inches,he was so finely built that he moved with grace and ease, and hit the ball not in the heavy lunging style of some big men, but with the full snap of the wrists....,” wrote Gerald Brodribb.
Albert Trott – In 1899, Trott hit Monty Noble over the pavilion at Lord’s – the only man to ever achieve this incredible feat. Although never very consistent with the bat, he struck powerfully all his life but his main job was to prise batsmen out with his penetrative, often devastating, slow bowling.
Arthur Wellard – A tall-strong all-rounder who could bowl well enough to open the bowling for England against Australia, Wellard won two Test caps and hit around 500 sixes in his First Class career. He was not just a slogger – possessing a solid defence and making runs consistently enough to hit 59 half centuries. Sometimes when the ball was old, he doubled up as with off-breaks from round the wicket.
Frank Woolley – Only Jessop exceeded his rate of scoring, according to RL Arrowsmith. Woolley could bring off strokes that would exhaust all adjectives before he was halfway through his innings. “When I am batting, I am the attack,” he paraphrased his simple batting philosophy, and proceeded to hit a 300 in 205 minutes. And apart from scoring nearly 60,000 runs in First-class cricket at a 40+ average, he also captured 2066 wickets at 19.67.
Percy Fender – Tailor-made for T20, three quarters of a century before the format started, Fender’s policy was to hit his way through any situation, condition or bowling quality. He slashed hard outside the off-stump, once sending a ball over cover out of The Oval. He also drove powerfully and was a fierce exponent of the pull. His skills of medium-pace and leg-break further added to his value.
Learie Constantine – The man who put the Caribbean signature on cricket, Constantine was the pied piper who lured people to the ground. He would hit hard enough to clear the ground or break fingers, and every stroke had less to do with technique and more with spontaneous innovation. A fast bowler who could be hostile and accurate, he was the best fielder of his generation – in the slips, covers or the boundary.
CK Nayudu – On his day, Nayudu could hit sixes according to his will and fancy. In 1926, when bats were of the ancient make and boundaries were far away, he scored 153 for the Hindus against Arthur Gilligan’s MCC, hitting 11 sixes and 13 fours. He could also be a handful with the ball as well.
Harold Gimblett – Gimblett was a temperamental genius who captured national imagination with his talent before falling prey to mental illness. He played just three Tests, but struck 265 sixes in all First-class cricket. His hitting soon became part of folklore and his policy was of continuous attack. He was also a livewire in the covers.
Keith Miller – Someone who brought carefree spirit into the dull era of the post-War game, Miller could bat with casual abandon and hit the ball a long, long way. Yet, he was consistent enough to bat in the top order of an Australian line up which brimmed with talent. This despite the fact that his primary work was to bounce batsmen out with lightning-quick deliveries.
Garry Sobers – Six sixes in an over, enough said. His explosive quality of batting in no way lacked consistency, as he scored 8,032 runs averaging in the high 50s. Additionally, he could bowl in three different styles, equally brilliantly, and could field anywhere close or in the outfield. The closest one got to an entire team in a player!
Salim Durani – In his prime Durani would often oblige the crowd by slamming sixes on demand. He could change the course of a match in a few overs with aggressive hitting or crafty left arm spin. However, he seemed to have a problem in concentrating for long periods. In other words, he was born for T20 cricket, only about seventy years ahead of time.
Colin Milburn - Milburn was a massive man with huge shots, with the ability to hit the ball out of the ground at will. Before losing his eye and saying adieu to cricket, he hit the ball with a mighty wallop between long leg and long on, hooking, pulling and driving. However, an average of 46 in Tests showed that he was not all slam-bang.
Clive Lloyd – Anyone who saw the “Supercat” bat in the 1975 World Cup final will testify to his immense ability as a hitter. Using the heaviest bat in world cricket, he brought his six feet, five inch frame fully into his strokes, perhaps including the bulk of his imposing moustache and thick-lensed glasses. Few men have hit a cricket ball as hard. And on top of that he was one of the best fielders ever seen on cricket fields.
Mike Procter – A man capable of hitting a century and taking a hat-trick in the same match, and then repeating the feat, Procter’s career was cruelly cut short by the isolation of South Africa. But, in the county circuit, he provided plenty of glimpses of what the world stage missed – often unleashing his full barrage of strokes, including six sixes across two overs by Denis Breakwell.
Viv Richards – The King. He had an average of 47 and a strike rate of 90 in One-Day Internationals in the ancient era of 70s and 80s. Clearing the boundary with élan, he could hit far – often into neighbouring streets and rivers. And he could hit to any corner that took his fancy. One of the many anecdotes about the man is of a commentator changing his delivery at the last moment after initially thinking the great man had mistimed a stroke, “There is a man getting under it … but he has to be forty feet tall.” A handy off-spinner as well, he could also win World Cup final with his electric movements in the field coupled with unfailing direct hits.
Ian Botham – When Richards and Botham batted together for Somerset it would be fireworks from both ends, and there would be the extra work of retrieving the ball from the River Tone. Peter Roebuck would often have to come in at No 4 to separate them in the batting order, to keep the stars from burning out trying to outshine each other. Apart from being a pace bowler of rare skill, Botham could be as devastating with the bat as the very best, and in the summer of 1981, the Australians did realise that painfully. FourteenTest centuries along with 383 wickets – it does not get much better.
Imran Khan – The most polished batsman among the great all-rounders of his era – and with the best bowling record but for Richard Hadlee, Imran could hit huge sixes when required. One still remembers the murderous assault on Bishan Singh Bedi at Karachi in 1978. However, he was definitely more than a mere hitter – a thinking batsman, an astute judge of the game, a canny captain and, more often than not, unplayable when he ran in to bowl.
Collis King – Here was a man who could outshine – if only for a brief while – Viv Richards batting at the other end. He could give the ball a massive hoick, and scored at more than a run a ball through his short ODI career. Also a decent enough medium-pacer, he bagged 128 wickets in First-class cricket to go with his close to 7,000 runs.
Kapil Dev – Eddie Hemmings would be the best man to describe how hard Kapil Dev could hit a ball, how straight and how consistently. Four sixes off as many deliveries to save the follow-on – that speaks volumes about his approach to the game. Only Virender Sehwag and Adam Gilchrist has made more than 5000 runs at a better strike rate than his 80 something in Test cricket. In ODIs, only Gilchrist, Sehwag and Shahid Afridi have made more runs at a rate faster than his 95.07 per hundred balls. And to think he played in a previous era. And lest we forget, he held the world record for maximum Test wickets for a while and was one of the best all round fielders produced by India.
Lance Cairns – Primarily in the team as a medium-pacer of quality, Lance Cairns seldom managed to bat long – but the few times he connected put him right up with the best in terms of the resulting mileage on the ball. Quite a lot of his big hitting ability rubbed off on son Chris, a much better batsman. Son scored a lot more than father’s 987 ODI runs, but fell way short of the staggering strike rate of 104.88
(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)