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There are plenty of mysteries in cricket, traversing mystery deliveries, mystery spinners and mysterious fabrications we believe as gospel. With such a field set for detection, Arunabha Sengupta draws together an eleven based on fictional detectives.

Cricket is full of mysteries

Not only are there mystery deliveries that Shane Warne perpetually promised to come up with before every Ashes series. Not only were there mystery spinners like Jack Iverson and Ajantha Mendis who briefly bamboozled oppositions with unconventional action and methods. Not only are there vagaries of sweat, surface and shine that lend a mysterious air to the art and science of reverse swing.

There are several other shrouds of undecipherable facts and questions that dominate the game’s history. Cricket and its story could be the fertile grounds for many a hardboiled detective to pit his wits and try his hand at solving age old puzzlers.

Here are some of the puzzling questions:

How does a sport that was been contested for money since its very first days, with bookmakers and gamblers staking their lots and influencing games from the 17th century onwards, go on to create the pristine fable of ‘Gentleman’s Game’?

An age when professionals treated tours as potential money making ventures while amateurs wheedled even more money than them through ‘expenses’. An age when matches were disputed and scrapped because of disagreements about gate money. An age when match-fixing and throwing allegations were rampant. An age when bans were handed out to the best of cricketers because of money related disputes with the board. An age when cricket was often dour enough to make spectators barrack and resort to slow claps. An age when questionable actions gave rise to numerous ‘throwing’ allegations and bans. Why is this era, between 1890 and 1914, remembered as the Golden Age of Cricket in terms of the quality of adventurous play and the esoteric ‘spirit’ of the game?

Such questions filter down to the modern times as well. A lot of them have been asked in these pages under the mythbusters tag.

And there are other more tangible mysteries as well, which do not quite tread on the celebration of fables and myth indulged in by cricket fans and fanatics.

– Was Gubby Allen really the illegitimate son of Plum Warner?

– Did George Hirst and Wilfred Rhodes really exchange the words, ‘We’ll get them in singles’ at The Oval in 1902, given that the term ‘singles’ was not yet in vogue?

– Was there really something queer about the toss in the 1979-80 Eden Test between India and Pakistan?

– Was Bob Woolmer murdered?

– What about Hansie Cronje?

Our task in this article is to not deal with these mysteries. It is to indulge in the excellent pastime of creating a team with specifications and within constraints.

We will be creating team of detectives. Of men who could have grappled with these numerous mysteries of cricket.

We will be drafting a well-balanced team of established cricketers who share their last names with noted fictional sleuths.

Constraints

We have limited ourselves to detectives who have appeared with distinction in print, in novels and short stories. We decided not to consider the numerous television shows and movies featuring police squads, forensic teams, private detectives and so on.

Hence, we cannot include Dean Jones or Andrew Jones or Ernie Jones in spite of the stolid presence of Barnaby Jones, played by Buddy Ebsen in the show that ran on the CBS Network from 1973 to 1980. Nor can we recruit the services of Eoin Morgan, because Derek Morgan appeared only on screen in Criminal Minds.

The inclusion of detectives on screen would have perhaps made our task easier, but the triumph at the end of it would hardly match that of bringing down a master criminal.

We have also not allowed real life to interfere.

Shane Bond was a policeman but that does not get him included in the team. He came close, but unfortunately the secret agent on Her Majesty’s Service, 007 James Bond, is not exactly a detective but a spy.

Hence, Joginder Sharma, the other real-life policeman who bowled the final over of the triumphant Twenty20 World Cup in 2007, does not get a look in either. Nor does, for all his substantial weight, Dwayne Leverock. Also Chandu Sarwate, the Indian all-rounder who worked as a finger print expert, misses out, as does Ghulam Guard, the first left-arm seamer to open bowling for India; or Charl Langeveldt, who pulled off one of the most sensational hat-tricks in the history of cricket.

The crack team

1. Percy Holmes

How can a team of detectives get on the field without being spearheaded by the master of the genre?

Sherlock Holmes leads the field of fictional sleuths in terms of popularity and, arguably, ingeniousness of plots and quality of writing. Appearing in 4 novels and 56 short stores, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective became almost a synonym for ‘detective’, ‘deduction’ or even plain ‘intelligence’.

The man who benefits from sharing his last name is Percy Holmes. A prodigiously successful Yorkshire opening batsman, he had the misfortune of sharing his era with Jack Hobbs and fellow Yorkshire opener Herbert Sutcliffe. When one of these men were unavailable, there was Andy Sandham to stride out for England, the man who scored the first triple-century in Test cricket. Thus, Holmes played just 7 Tests for England. But he scored over 30,000 runs in First-Class cricket and became immortal after his 555-run association for the first wicket with Sutcliffe in 1932.

2. Bill Brown

The short and stumpy Roman Catholic priest Father Brown is one of the oddest detectives in fiction, and also one of the most likeable. GK Chesterton’s creation enjoys endearing popularity more than a hundred years after his first appearance in print form.

Thus, opening alongside Holmes is Bill Brown, the prolific Australian opening batsman who played 22 Tests in the 1930s and 1940s and scored 1,592 runs at an average of nearly 47. Although his best days were before the Second World War, Brown captained Australia in her first ever Test against New Zealand in 1946 and was also a part of Don Bradman’s Invincibles of 1948.

3. Graeme Hole

Detective Harry Hole’s first case deals with Australia and is titled The Bat in the English translation of the Norwegian original Flaggermusmannen. However, it has nothing to do with cricket. But, Jo Nesbø’s loose cannon of a police officer is one of the leading lights in the increasingly crowded domain of Scandinavian crime fiction.

Graeme Hole played 18 Tests for Australia in the 1950s and did not really live up to his immense promise. But he was a stylish and quality batsman who also had the ability to bowl decent off-spin. In fact, the team needs a bit of additional spinning resources.

4. John Beck

Maj Sjöwall and Par Wahlöö could be called the ideal partners in crime. This Swedish couple penned the superb series of ten detective novels featuring Stockholm police detective Martin Beck. However, Wahlöö died in 1975 and after this tragic end to their 13-year relationship, Sjöwall refused to write any more Beck novels.

John Beck was a thrilling left-handed batsman who played for New Zealand in the 1950s. Considered a superb talent, he broke a lot of hearts when he was run out on 99 at Cape Town after stroking his way to what could have been a most attractive hundred. His career was short but in his final Test he played a crucial hand of 38, adding 104 with John R Reid, in the course of New Zealand’s first ever victory in Test cricket. His penchant for strokeplay, in an era when sedate batting was seen as the more astute investment, limited his career to 8 Tests.

5. Les Ames

Cherry Ames was quite a revolutionary. In 27 mystery novels, 18 penned by Helen Wells and the other 9 by Julie Campbell Tatham, this young nurse of the Second World War era solves crimes which have foxed the authorities for long. Down the years, a Parker Brothers board game was set up based on her character and plots.

Les Ames was the greatest batsman among wicketkeepers before the advent of Adam Gilchrist, Andy Flower and the rest of them. A trendsetting performer, he played for England as wicketkeeper as well as, on occasions, a genuine batsman. Indeed, with a Test average of over 40 and 100 First-Class hundreds, he was good enough to play as a genuine batsman. That is what he does for this side.

6. Rolph Grant

Josephine Tey is perhaps the greatest of the mystery writers of the proverbial golden age of detective fiction. What set her apart was the pristine beauty of language, an incisive look into human nature and sometimes the absolute novelty of the plot. The Daughter of Time is, according to many a critic including yours truly, the greatest detective story ever written. Since it deals with an age old historical myth which Inspector Alan Grant painstakingly disproves through relentless research, it very much embodies the spirit of the cricket historian and statistician. Inspector Grant plays various roles in the Tey novels, from minor appearances to being the protagonist.

The younger of the Grant brothers to captain the early West Indian sides, Rolph Grant was a useful lower order batsman, a more than decent off-break bowler, and a superb fielder who excelled at short-leg. And when the West Indian side was short of an opener in the summer of 1939, he stepped up to fill the role alongside Joe Stollmeyer. Grant is not only an asset to the side, but also extremely valuable because of being a spinner.

Grant is also the best man available to be the skipper of the side.

7. Jack Mason

The first novel featuring the criminal defence lawyer and crime solver Perry Mason was penned by Erle Stanley Gardner in 1933. The 80th book featuring him was published in 1969. After Gardner’s death in 1970, two more were posthumously published in 1972 and 1973. Such was the popularity generated by the legal sleuth.

Jack Mason was one of the finest amateur all-rounders of his times, who hit the ball firmly, cleanly and correctly and bowled fast, moving the ball with skill. He was also a brilliant slip fielder. He did not really strike it big in the only series he played for England, in Australia with Drewey Stoddart’s side in 1897-98. However, for Kent he was a champion performer with over 17,000 runs with 34 hundreds and nearly 850 wickets in First-Class cricket.

8. Ron Archer

Southern California PI Lew Archer started out as a near-replica of Phillip Marlowe before mellowing enough to show the sensitive side of his character. Perhaps author Ross Macdonald realised that he was good enough to carve a niche for himself rather than walk along the footsteps of Raymond Chandler. With 18 novels and a few short stories on Archer, Macdonald was hailed as a serious author who had transcended the limitations of being a crime fiction writer.

Ron Archer was a fantastic all-rounder in a decade that saw Australia blessed with Keith Miller, Ray Lindwall, Alan Davidson and Richie Benaud. If he had not been hampered by a knee injury that ended his Test career at 23, he could have gone on to eclipse many of those luminaries. Even in that short span, he played 19 Tests, scoring over 700 runs with a hundred and capturing 48 wickets at 27.45. He bowled fast and could swing the ball both ways, but was seldom given the new ball because of the presence of Miller and Lindwall in the same side.

9. Hanson Carter

Nick Carter was one of the enduring successes of the genre. Appearing in print as early as 1886 as a 13-week serial in New York Weekly, Carter soon became popular enough to boast his own Nick Carter Weekly. Later, his stories were reprinted as books. After a brief break, his stories continued, now more in the traditional hard-boiled American detective tradition, in the Nick Carter Detective Magazine. There were Nick Carter novels still being printed in the 1950s as well as a radio show Nick Carter, Master Detective. Eight known and several unknown authors contributed to the stories.

Sammy ‘Hanson’ Carter is the man to don the big gloves in this side. A fantastic wicketkeeper, the first to crouch behind the stumps as opposed to bending from the waist, Carter was a fine batsman as well and the first man to play the ball fine, almost over the keeper’s head, towards the fine-leg. He played 28 Tests for Australia, but when he arranged a tour of North America in 1932, a decade after his retirement, Don Bradman acknowledged that he was still at his very best. He also earned bread as an undertaker … a relevant point to consider when building a team linked to detectives.

10. Tony Gray

It was an Unsuitable Job for a Woman but Cordelia Gray, the young sleuth who inherits the PI agency after the suicide of her boss, carried it through commendably. So successful was she that author PD James brought her back for a sequel The Skull Beneath the Skin. James also introduced her to the other detective that she created, Adam Dalgelish, and the dinner the two sleuths have together is referred to in books featuring Cordelia as well as Dalgelish.

Anthony Gray was one of the unluckiest cricketers the world has ever seen. He played just 5 Tests, capturing 22 wickets with his terrorising pace at 17.13. However, being from the West Indies in the 1980s, he lost out to a gamut of names that ran Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose, Ian Bishop, and the last few years of Michael Holding and Malcolm Marshall. He could have walked in to any other side of that era and ended his career as an All Time Great.

In this side, he forms the fast-bowling spearhead of a near-lethal pace attack.

11. Len Pascoe

Reginald Hill often departed from the stereotype, sometimes in macabre ways, when writing his crime novels. His sleuths, Detective Superintendent Andy Dalziel and Detective Sergeant, later Detective Inspector, Peter Pascoe, have their tales sometimes set in the future, even on the moon, often told in non-sequential manner. Sometimes they even fail to nab the villain altogether. However, they are a delightful duo.

Len Pascoe was frighteningly quick and could have played more Tests than his 14 had he stuck to the establishment rather than switched to the Kerry Packer show early in his career. But his 64 wickets came at an impressive 26 each and in 11 of those Tests he formed a fearsome collaboration with Dennis Lillee.

Thus, we have a team of two fantastic openers, two quality all-rounders, a magnificent pace attack and several other useful contributors.

In case of a very turning track, we have to alter the team somewhat. In that case, we have to leave Bill Brown out alongside Ron Archer. As replacement we can use Ron’s brother Ken Archer as opening batsman, while Freddie Brown can come in to bowl his leg-breaks and add spice to the lower order with some spunky batting. Perhaps Freddie Brown can also captain the team if he is in the side.

No Player Fictional Detective
1 Percy Holmes Sherlock Holmes
2 Bill Brown Father Brown
3 Graeme Hole Harry Hole
4 John Beck Martin Beck
5 Les Ames Cherry Ames
6 Rolph Grant (c) Alan Grant
7 Jack Mason Perry Mason
8 Ron Archer Lew Archer
9 Hanson Carter (wk) Nick Carter
10 Tony Gray Cordelia Gray
11 Len Pascoe Peter Pascoe

Reserves: Ken Archer, Freddie Brown, Michael Mason, Evan Gray.