10 cricketers who braved debilitating injuries and played courageously

The beauty of sport, any sport, is that it can show Human nature at its very finest, or its very worst. Here are some instances of the former.

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The beauty of sport, any sport, is that it can show Human nature at its very finest, or its very worst. Here are some instances of the former. Shiamak Unwalla looks at 10 instances when cricketers showed tremendous courage by braving horrific injuries to resume playing a match for their team.


1.  Bert Sutcliffe: South Africa vs New Zealand at Johannesburg, 1953-54

It was one of the most emotional cricket matches of all time. Never before or since has a scorecard revealed less. South Africa won the match by 132 runs, but that fateful Test at Johannesburg has since become synonymous with courage shown on a cricket field.

South Africa scored 271 before the tearaway Neil Adcock and David Ironside bowled hostile spells on a minefield of a pitch. On the second day, news came of a tragic train accident back in New Zealand, which claimed the life of young Kiwi cricketer Bob Blair’s fiancée. Meanwhile, Adcock and Ironside continued to make the ball talk, hitting the batsmen as often as not. One of those sharp bouncers hit the newly-arrived Bert Sutcliffe on the side of his head. Sutcliffe was down for the count and had to be rushed to the hospital.

Image courtesy: teara.gov.nz

Subsequent X-rays showed no fracture, but Sutcliffe’s earlobe was split and he had a huge swelling behind his ear. Sutcliffe later revealed that the injury had an effect on him for life, and that he never truly recovered from it. He was advised complete rest and sent back to the ground. However, seeing his fellow New Zealand batsmen fall like ninepins, Sutcliffe decided to resume his innings. He walked out to bat with a bandaged head, and proceeded to play one of the most outrageous innings one could imagine. He was later joined by an emotional Blair in a heart-warming show of courage as the two made mincemeat out of the great and miserly Hugh Tayfield, taking him for 25 runs in an over — a record that stood for nearly 50 years. Sutcliffe scored an extraordinary 80. In the end, South Africa won the match easily, but Sutcliffe’s courage has gone down as a part of cricketing folklore.


2.  Colin Cowdrey: England vs West Indies at Lord’s, 1963


The Lord’s Test of 1963 between England and West Indies was one of the most thrilling Test matches of all time. Right till the final over of the game, every possible result was on the cards. That it ended in a draw was almost poetic; neither team deserved to lose.

West Indies amassed 301 in the first innings with Rohan Kanhai and Joe Solomon scoring fifties, as ‘Fiery’ Fred Trueman took six for 100. In response, Ken Barrington, Ted Dexter, and Fred Titmus took England to within four runs of West Indies’ total as Charlie Griffith snared five for 91. West Indies were bowled out for 229 in the third innings, with Basil Butcher scoring an excellent 133 and Trueman taking another fifer. On Day Four, with the match in the balance and England 31 for  three, Wes Hall bowled a typically thunderous delivery that struck Colin Cowdrey on his arm. There was a sickening sound that everyone present knew meant doom. Cowdrey’s arm was broken, and he would be unable to continue.

Barrington and Brian Close then played out of their skins, scoring terrific half-centuries to take England nearer and nearer. A late fightback from the West Indies pacers saw England suddenly lose a bout of wickets. It finally came down to a scenario in which England needed eight to win off the final over with two wickets in hand. With six to win off three balls, Derek Shackleton was run out. Out walked Cowdrey, arm in plaster. With six needed off two balls and one wicket in hand, David Allen chose to block as the match ended in a memorable draw.


3.  Rick McCosker: Australia vs England at MCG, 1976-77


Australian opener Rick McCosker faced the fury of Bob Willis on the very first morning of the Centenary Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). A Willis bouncer struck him on his face; McCosker’s jaw was broken. The ball then proceeded to hit the stumps, but he would have had to retire hurt regardless.

Australia were bowled out for 138, but Dennis Lillee and Max Walker responded in even fiercer fashion, routing England for 95. Kerry O’Keefe joined Ian Davis to open batting for Australia in the second innings. At 353 for eght, Australia were in command when Lillee was the eighth man out. However, they were not quite home free yet. As a result, McCosker — jaw wired—proceeded to bat for 68 balls and score 25 runs to give Rod Marsh some company. Australia finally declared at 419 for nine, setting England 463 runs to win.

In response, Derek Randall played one of the finest innings of his career, scoring a monumental 174. Contributions from Dennis Amiss, Tony Greig, and Alan Knott ensured that England remained within striking distance of a massive victory, but Lillee tore through the tail to help Australia pull off a 45-run win. The victory might not have been impossible without McCosker’s gutsy vigil.


4.  Malcolm Marshall: England vs West Indies at Headingley, 1984

Malcolm Marshall was considered to be the greatest of all West Indian pacers — a feat not to be taken lightly. So when he broke his thumb in two places on the very first morning of the Headingley Test of 1984, England would have felt they had a massive advantage. England scored 270 in their first innings, with Allan Lamb scoring a round 100 and Michael Holding taking four for 70.

On Day Three, West Indies were led by Larry Gomes and Michael Holding’s 80-run stand as the duo ensured West Indies took the lead. When Joel Garner was ninth man out with Gomes on an unbeaten 96, everyone assumed the innings would draw to a close. Much to their surprise, out walked Marshall cheerfully as if he had not a care in the world. He hung around to ensure Gomes got to his century. Marshall batted one-handed, looking rather clumsy and awkward. The English fielders had a laugh and the pacer smiled with them. Their smiles would disappear very quickly.

Marshall was the last man out, but to the shock of the England team he not only took field, but opened bowling with Garner. What followed was an astounding display of valour, as Marshall took seven for 53 to blow England away for 159 as West Indies cantered home by eight wickets.


5.  Anil Kumble: West Indies vs India at Antigua, 2002

Few cricketers have embodied grit and determination like Anil Kumble has. While batting against West Indies at Antigua, Kumble was hit on the mouth by a Mervyn Dillon lifter. He spat out blood and continued to bat, barely showing the immense pain he must have been in. After his innings he found out that the jaw was fractured, and that he would play no more part in the series.

The flight home was the following day, so naturally Kumble did exactly what any sane individual would do, and relaxed — by bowling 14 overs with a bandaged face (which had to be reset almost every over) and taking the wicket of Brian Lara.


6.  Gary Kirsten: Pakistan vs South Africa at Lahore, 2003-04

Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs opened batting for South Africa after Smith won the toss at Lahore. The duo put on 52 in good time before Smith’s dismissal. Gary Kirsten walked in at No. 3 and was his usual solid self. Gibbs and Jacques Kallis got starts and got out, but South Africa were soon jolted with the loss of Kirsten.

Shoaib Akhtar, bowling around the wicket, dug one in short to the well-set Kirsten. The left-hander looked to pull, but was beaten for pace as the ball smashed his face. Kirsten staggered to his knees as the Pakistan team huddled around him. He had to retire hurt for 53, while x-rays soon revealed that he had a broken nose.


Pakistan responded to South Africa’s first-innings 320 with a score of 401 as Taufeeq Umar scored a century and debutant Asim Kamal made 99.

South Africa lost regular wickets in the second innings, and at 149 for four, Kirsten walked out to bat, his face barely recognisable with all the bruises. He showed remarkable grit, and scored a hard-fought 46 before being the seventh man out. Pakistan eventually cruised home by eight wickets, but Kirsten’s heroic batting in the second innings remained one of the talking points of the match.


7.  Graeme Smith: Australia vs South Africa at Sydney, 2009

It was a hard-fought series. South Africa had pulled off a miraculous 414-run chase in the first Test, and Dale Steyn — with both bat and ball — ensured South Africa won the series in the second match. The final Test at Sydney was just as intense.

Australia put up 394 in the first innings. Graeme Smith started off in excellent fashion in reply, hammering 30 at a run-a-ball to start the innings. However, Mitchell Johnson sent down a thunderbolt that rapped Smith on his left hand, breaking it. With the skipper out of commission, the Proteas were bundled out for 327.

Australia amassed 257 in the second essay, leaving South Africa with a huge 376 to win. It had already been bettered once in the series, but this was a different surface entirely, and their talismanic fourth-innings champion had a broken hand. The South African batsmen fought hard for the draw, but Steyn was the ninth man out with around nine overs left in the game.

Just when Australia thought they had won the match, the Proteas’ skipper walked out at No. 11 sans bandage or plaster. With injections in his elbow and painkillers galore, Smith hung on for dear life. At the other end Makhaya Ntini was resolute. Australia let go of a few chances, but with 10 balls remaining in the game, Johnson snuck one past Smith to end a heroic 17-ball vigil.


8.  Ian Bell: England vs Bangladesh at Bristol, 2010 (ODI)

This is the only instance in this list of a player braving injury in an One-Day International (ODI). Bangladesh beating a full member side in an ODI might not be that much of a shock any more, but in 2010 it was still considered an upset. So when England were nine down for 227 chasing 237, with Jonathan Trott on 90, Ian Bell braved the broken foot he had suffered while fielding and came in at No. 11. England needed 10 off the final over, and he did not face a single ball; after taking two twos off the first two balls, Trott edged one behind for 94, and England lost by five runs despite Bell’s bravery.


9.  Michael Clarke: South Africa vs Australia at Cape Town, 2014-15

It was another closely-fought contest between Australia and South Africa, this time in South Africa. The visitors won the first Test but the hosts came back strongly in the next match to square the series. With everything to play for in the final game, Michael Clarke went on to play arguably the finest knock of his career.

Batting first, Australia posted a mammoth 494 thanks to tremendous centuries from David Warner and Clarke. The latter endured a torrid spell of pace and bounce from Morne Morkel, and took repeated blows on the body. Clarke remained unconquered on 161, but it was far from an easy century.

South Africa wilted in the chase, and were bundled out for 287. David Warner scored another century as Australia put on 303 to leave South Africa with an impossible 511 to win. Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis, and Vernon Philander consumed 551 runs between them but it was not enough to keep Australia at bay. It was later revealed that Clarke had suffered from — and played on despite of — a broken shoulder, most likely while taking a blow from one of Morkel’s short balls.


10.  Wahab Riaz: Sri Lanka vs Pakistan at Colombo, 2015

If there is any doubt as to who Pakistan’s spearhead is, they need only look at Wahab Riaz’s body language. Ever since bowling a memorably ferocious spell to Shane Watson during the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 quarter-final, Wahab has been a different bowler. As such, his role was crucial for Pakistan in the Test series against Sri Lanka.

Sadly, while batting in the first innings of the second Test at Colombo he was struck on the glove by a delivery from Dushmantha Chameera, and suffered a hairline fracture. This did not stop him from bowling nine overs, though at the end of it the pain was too severe and he had to be taken off the field. He came in to bat at No. 11 in the second innings, with Pakistan barely having managed a slender lead.

He continued to battle through the pain, and was not content to just see the bowling off. He knew that Pakistan had a modest score to defend, especially since he would not be able to contribute with the ball. So he tried to play his shots — more or less with one hand — but was dismissed off the 11th ball he faced. Wahab refused to give in though; he asked for a review, but it ruled in favour of the bowling side, thus ending Wahab’s tenacious but brief stay at the crease.


(Shiamak Unwalla is a proud Whovian and all-round geek who also dabbles in cricket writing as a reporter with CricketCountry. His Twitter handle is @ShiamakUnwalla)


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