Len-Pascoe

Born February 13, 1950, Leonard Stephen Pascoe, popularly known as Len Pascoe, is a former Australian fast bowler, who could have played more Tests had his career not marred by ill-timed injuries and World Series Cricket (WSC). He completed the lethal pace triumvirate along with Dennis Lillee and his school buddy Jeff Thomson. A fit Pascoe was a menace; he ran in fast and clocked 90 miles at will, and could be meaner than the other two. On his birthday, Suvajit Mustafi picks out 23 interesting facts about the tearaway Aussie pacer born of Macedonian parents.

1. Birth name and origin: Pascoe was born in the Bridgetown, Western Australia of Macedonian parents. The country was still called Yugoslavia then and his name at birth was Leonard Stephen Durtanovich. It was a different Australia during his growing up years with racism still prevalent. He got teased for his big nose and ears but he dubs them as “just kids being kids”. Len was an ambitious young boy and got his surname change to Pascoe in order to be more successful.

2. Pascoe: Changing the surname was his father’s decision. He was 15 then and Pascoe is his grandfather’s name.

3. Even Ian and Greg Chappell poked fun at his ancestry: Cricket, Race and the 2007, World Cup by Boria Majumder and Jon Gemmell, mentions racism in Australian cricket. In the chapter that speaks of Jason Gillespie being the first cricketer of aboriginal roots to play for the country, there is another interesting mention of former Australian pacer Geoff Lawson’s autobiography Henry. The writers mention, “Geoff Lawson spoke, in his autobiography Henry, of how the fast-bowler Len Pascoe (Durtanovich), the son of Yugoslavian, immigrants was subject to baiting about his origin, especially from the Chappell brothers.”

4. Jeff Thomson’s school buddy: Thomson and Pascoe went to the same school — Punchbowl Boys High; they were also in same class, and sat next to each other. From talking to girls to surfing to terrorising batsmen, they were partners in crime. Later, they played together for Bankstown Club, and later Australia.

5. Thomson-Pascoe ward at Bankstown Hospital: Thomson and Pascoe opened bowling for Bankstown, and throughout their careers enjoyed the sight of having the batsmen on the floor. The Bankstown Hospital had a ward named after them as weekends would mean casualties with broken limbs or ribs, courtesy both of them.

6. Secret of their strength and Bill O’Reilly’s advice: Pascoe did not go to a gym but boasted of his muscles as a youngster. His father was a brick carter, and Pascoe went brick-carting from a young age. Thomson’s father was a plasterer and he too carried the big heavy sheets. Bill O’Reilly, then Director of Lion Tile Brick Company, told young Pascoe, “Keep working on that back son. You are going to need it one day.”

7. Why did he become a fast-bowler? Though Pascoe aspired to lead a normal and wealthy life, he could not imagine himself working 9 to 5. In an interview with Indian Express, he said, “I was too free-spirited. I said, I wanted a house. I wanted a weekender. I wanted to get married. How was I going to get there? And the only way I could get it was by being a fast bowler. And the person stopping me was the guy 22 yards away. But I didn’t hate him. But the more I got rid of them, the closer I got to everything I wanted out of life.”

8. First-Class cricket: Thomson, who began his career with New South Wales (NSW) moved to Queensland and made it to the national side. That went on to be an inspiration for Pascoe who worked harder and found a place in the NSW side. He made an immediate impact, claiming 4 for 82 in his first outing, against the touring Queensland side at SCG.

9. Test debut: Two-and-half-years of toil at First-Class level, and Pascoe was playing for Australia. His big moment came at Lord’s in Ashes 1977 and he got a chance to partner his mate Thomson with the new ball. Thomson, having made his debut, in late 1972 was an experienced campaigner by now. He picked up match figures of 5 for 149 as the Test ended in a draw.

10. World Series Cricket: Pascoe’s rise in international cricket was marred by the advent of Kerry Packer’s WSC. He was one of many cricketers who signed up, and his international career came to an abrupt halt. He returned to play for Australia after a hiatus of almost two-and-a-half years.

11. The iconic line: Pascoe once famously said, “a tiger never changes its spot”. That line was in reply to wicketkeeper Rod Marsh’s comment, “I thought you were going to bowl more bouncers.”

12. ‘Sledging’ that was fun: Sledging and fast-bowling go hand-in-hand. In a WSC tour to West Indies marred by several riots, Ian Chappell for a moment thought Pascoe was triggering another one. Albert Padmore was frustrating Pascoe by padding up most deliveries. To everyone’s anxiety, Pascoe walked to the batsman and said, “Albert Padmore, when you were born they named you right. Pad-More.” Chappelli burst into laughter.

13. Memorable comeback: England played 3 Tests in Australia in 1979-80 and were thrashed 0-3 (this was one of those rare Australia vs England series that was not an Ashes contest). Pascoe finished with 10 wickets at 24.10

14. Centenary Test at Lord’s: Pascoe was always large-hearted and on the morning of the Centenary Test at Lord’s, the selectors conveyed him that he would partner Lillee with the new ball. Feeling upset for his more experienced mate Thomson, he told him, “Mate, it is not right. You and Dennis should be opening the bowling in a Centenary Test. I am going to pull a hamstring, so put your boots on.” Thommo, a character in its truest sense responded, “If you pull one I’ll pull one too”.

Pascoe partnered Lillee and blew away the English batting with 5 for 59 in the first innings. The Test ended in a draw but it was Pascoe who got his name in the Lord’s honours’ board.

15. Love for bouncers, and the first time: Pascoe has injured many batsmen with his lethal bouncers. A report from ESPNCricinfo quoted him the first time he seriously injured a batsman, South Australian George Griffith. Pascoe hit him on the head and later apologised.

He recalled, “He said, ‘Look, Len, it was not your fault. It was my fault because it was a poor shot.’ But what scared me is what he said next. Only a matter of half an inch either way from where he got hit, he wouldn’t be here today. I knew he was pretty serious. But you’re young. There were no helmets around. But it always haunted me. When I saw him I said I got to apologise because I didn’t see him in hospital. And he said, ‘No, no, you have nothing to apologise for. I know where you’re coming from.’ And anyway, after that I kind of went surfing and fishing and cricket to me wasn’t my thing.”

16. Kim Hughes: The fact that the very likeable Australian captain Kim Hughes was not liked by the famous Australian trio of Greg Chappell, Marsh and Lillee is very well-known. They felt Hughes was not good enough and poked fun at him. However, Pascoe admired Hughes, and once called him the Fred Astaire of batting. It surprised many when Pascoe sent down a beamer at Hughes. Pascoe later clarified that incident in an interview with our editor Abhishek Mukherjee.

“Let’s get this straight: it was never a beamer. I had a dual knee operation only three months earlier, and I collapsed while bowling after hit me for hit two fours. I tried too hard and went hip-high wide down leg side.

I enjoy Kim’s company and sympathised with his difficulties in captaincy. He is fun to be with. Australians are a competitive lot. Did Brett Lee not deck Shane Warne recently? It’s in the DNA. Fortunately we never hold grudges and friendship is always bigger than what ever happened on the field,” he said.

17. Bouncers and Sandeep Patil incident: Pascoe felled many batsmen in his career with his vicious bouncers but the Patil incident in the1980-81 season changed him as a person.

He spoke about this incident to Indian Express, post the death of Phil Hughes, “I retired soon after Sandeep Patil was struck by that bouncer at the SCG. Not because I couldn’t play anymore. After Patil, they all built up. And, I did not bowl another bouncer to Sandeep Patil. He came into the dressing-room and said, ‘Lenny, I am so sorry for putting my head in the way of your ball.’ And I go ‘Whatt?’ And he’s got this big bandage on his head. The thing is that it did shake me up quite a lot. It was an accumulation of all these other blows.”

He added, “I spoke to Ian Chappell after the Patil incident and said I want to retire. I was 32 years of age. And I said, the game’s not worth dying over. I was worried about what I was becoming. It wasn’t me. Probably the bravado of the fast bowler was stripped. I just quietly packed my bag, and after a NSW-Victoria match. There was no newspaper, nothing. We are used to see batsmen get hit but they always get up. Bit like a movie. And then you see what’s happen to Phil. Sandeep was hit not far from where Phil Hughes was batting. And I was bowling from the same end when I hit him. So I had a lot of mixed feelings and I feared for Sean Abbott. “

Pascoe only played three more Tests. It was a different story that Patil smacked a memorable 174 at Adelaide in the following Test.

Pascoe admits that one batsman’s head he always targeted but never could hit was Viv Richards. Here’s a video of their duel.

18. Records that promised more: Pascoe retired from First-Class cricket in 1984. His international career stats look fabulous. In 14 Tests, he picked 64 wickets at 26.06 and from 29 ODIs he had 53 wickets at 20.11. He ended with a First-Class bowling average of 25.60 and in List A it was further impressive at 20.52. In the 27 innings he bowled in Test cricket, he picked only one five-for (at Lord’s in the Centenary Test), but he picked up 4 wickets four times and 3 wickets eight times. He picked up 3 or more wickets in almost 50 per cent of the innings he bowled in, and that was how good he was.

19. An entertainer even after his playing days: He now lives in a plush beachside house in Sydney’s Oyster Bay and successfully runs Len Pascoe Sports Entertainment. He is now a popular dinner speaker.

20. Renowned coach and illustrious pupils: Pascoe had coached New South Wales. Some of the men he trained were Glenn McGrath, Stuart Clark and Steve Smith.

21. Pascoe’s advice to McGrath on ‘How to be famous’: Pascoe revealed that when McGrath first came to him, he bowled slow and would pant after an over. but he worked on the young bowler who later went on to be one of the greatest ever in history of Test cricket.

One day a Pascoe-coached side was playing against Bankstown that had Steve Waugh and many state and national level player. His simple advice to McGrath was “You could take four wickets this afternoon and nobody’s going to know you. But you helmet one of the Waugh boys, there’s going to be 2SM Radio, and everyone will be talking about you.”

McGrath soon hit Mark Waugh on the helmet.

22. Proudest moment of his cricketing career: Though a ferocious fast-bowler, Pascoe was a visionary and had a heart too. He may have enjoyed many on field successes but when in the interview to CricketCountry, he revealed the most important aspect of his career. He said, “If asked what do I regard as the most important thing that come from my career, I would say the development of the cricket helmet.” He further elaborated, “Ian Davis took me along to guy in Ashfield who made artificial limbs and helmets. I looked up and saw a horse-riding helmet. Ian tried it on and requested changes. It is incredible to think an opening batsmen and a fast bowler would come up with has become an icon in the game, and how many serious injuries has it saved. Yes, I think Ian and are very proud of that.”

23. Masterminded day-night matches? TV drama Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War credited John Cornell as the mastermind behind day-night games but Pascoe did not like that and protested. He claimed that it was he who had suggested the idea to the Chappell brother during the initial phases of World Series Cricket. He then said, “I distinctly remember saying to the Chappells in a hotel bar that we play soccer under lights and we play baseball under lights, so why not play cricket under lights?”

Balls were soon painted white, lights were switched on and cricket was revolutionised.

(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India’s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sports marketer, strategist, entrepreneur, philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it’s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully [Twitter] and rivu7 [Facebook].)