John Traicos, who celebrates his 65th birthday today, may have had his career interrupted for two decades, two years and 222 days. However, he had a remarkable journey etched with unique distinctions. Arunabha Sengupta hails the off-spinner who represented two African countries.
It puts things in a slightly surreal perspective when we realise that a man who turns 65 today had once dismissed Sachin Tendulkar in a Test match. We know Tendulkar has had a long journey across the 22 yards, but has it been that long?
To be fair, when the wily old off-spinner latched on to a tumbling return catch to dismiss the 19 year old maestro for a third-ball duck at Harare, he was no longer a spring chicken. Yiannis Anthanosios “John” Traicos was just shy of 46 by then.
Not just the age of the man with a remarkable Test career, the two nations associated with him are also firmly rooted in antiquity – Egypt and Greece.
Traicos remains the only man born in Egypt to have played Test cricket. Whether the name of the town had an onomatopoeic effect on the zip and turn of his deliveries is debatable, but he saw the light of the day in Zagazig – situated in the eastern part of the Nile delta.
Along with the leg-spinning South African all-rounder of the 1930s, Xenophon Balaskas, he is the only Greek to have played the game at the highest level.
In fact, when he was taking up cricket at the Natal University, he received some guidance from Balaskas. “He was a tremendous bowling coach. He was particularly supportive of me because we were both of Greek heritage,” Traicos recounts.
The name John was self-christened. “I was … known as Naso – derived from Athanasios – a name that led to a lot of teasing particularly because of Gamal Abdul Nasser, the Egyptian president. I decided that this nickname and others such Tike and Trike were inappropriate. So from the time I went to university, I started using the name John.”
After making his first class debut for Rhodesia, his progress as an off-spinner was fast, and soon he was included in the South African side which destroyed Australia in 1969-70. The team is one of the best ever seen on cricket grounds, including names such as Barry Richards, Graeme Pollock, Eddie Barlow, Ali Bacher, Peter Pollock, Lee Irvine and Mike Procter.
Traicos had an ordinary series, taking seven wickets in three Tests at an average of 50 plus. “I bowled reasonably tightly during the three Tests I played in 1970, although on a couple of occasions I was briefly hammered. Getting Keith Stackpole lbw in the second innings in Durban was enjoyable,” he recalls.
22 years 222 days
South Africa’s boycott from the international stage would have probably ended his career, but opportunity did knock a second time in 1980 when Rhodesia became Zimbabwe.
He continued to play cricket for the newly-recognised country and participated in three World Cups in 1983, 1987 and 1992, leading the side on the second occasion.
In 1992, when Zimbabwe was granted Test status, 45 year old Traicos was the best off-spinner of the country by some miles and also a specialist gully fielder with the quickest of reflexes.
Hence, on October 18, 1992, after a world record gap of the numerically intriguing 22 years and 222 days, at the ripe old age of 45 years and 304 days, John Traicos returned to Test cricket in the country’s inaugural Test match against India. He was the oldest Test cricketer since Miran Bux had turned out for Pakistan in 1955, and the 12th oldest of all time.
Along with Kepler Wessels, he also remains the only player of the modern era to have represented two countries in Test cricket.
The return could not have been more dramatic as he took field with 10 debutant teammates.
On the third afternoon, after Zimbabwe had piled up 456, Traicos, with his four-step run-up, deceived Tendulkar in flight to induce a return catch. Grant Flower then held on to a difficult chance at slip to remove Mohammad Azharuddin for nine.
Sanjay Manjrekar fought back with a dogged hundred, while the wily old tweaker picked up all the three wickets to fall on the fourth day. As the match petered to a draw, his figures read 50-16-86-5. Not too bad for a 45-year old.
Traicos played three more Tests before his responsibilities as a company director became too great in a country where cricket was more of an amateur sport.
In 1997, Traicos and his family fled the unstable political scenario of Zimbabwe to settle in Australia where he has lived ever since.
Hailing from Greece – a country disgraced by doping scandals in the recent past – Traicos is perhaps one of the brighter sporting lights that continue to shine in a land of ancient Olympic champions.
(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but purifies the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two into a cleansing cocktail. The author of three novels, he currently resides in the incredibly beautiful, but sadly cricket-ignorant, country of Switzerland. You can know more about him from his author site, his cricket blogs and by following him on Twitter)