Friday, August 13, 2010

Friday the thirteenth and all that

Cricket is littered with superstitions – from the late umpire David Shepherd’s refusal to keep both feet on the ground when the score reached a multiple of 111 to the Australian fear of the number 87. In honour of this inauspicious date, here are some superstitious cricketers and how they feared in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings.

Jack Russell was England’s first-choice wicket-keeper for the best part of a decade and was a nuggety left-handed batsman who frequently dug England out of deep holes when they had lost a number of early wickets. However, he also made his name from his refusal to wear anything other than his tatty Gloucestershire hat on his head and his penchant for baked beans and English tea when on tour. Having made 94 on his Test debut against Sri Lanka, he peaked at 39th place and 433 points soon after helping Mike Atherton save the 1995 Johannesburg Test.

South Africa’s Neil McKenzie had a habit of taping his bat to the ceiling before each innings and insisted that every toilet seat in the dressing room was down when he went out to bat. It certainly didn’t do him too much harm, as he returned from a four year wilderness period to reach 24th in the batting charts. However, his form soon declined and he now plays as a Kolpak for Hampshire.

Mark Ramprakash became a national name with his victory in ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ but he had a strange cricketing superstition too. He would always chew the same piece of gum throughout an innings, and stick it to the top of his bat if he was not out overnight. His longest Test innings – 154 against the West Indies at Bridgetown lasted 9 hours which must have left him with a pretty tired jaw. However, these peaks were few and far between in his Test career and he endured many spells in and out of the side. Like McKenzie, he also peaked at number 24 in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for Test batsmen.

Players from the subcontinent have also experimented with various superstitions. Kris Srikkanth – perhaps the forerunner to the exciting openers we see today - used to look at the sun, put his left pad on first and always walked to the right of his partner while going to bat. He managed to reach the top twenty Test batsmen in 1988 and performed even better in the shorter form of the game – reaching number 12 and sneaking through the 700 point barrier.

A man with tremendous respect for his father Lala, Jimmy Amarnath always carried a red handkerchief in his pocket, just like his father did. Possibly best remembered for his man-of-the match performance in the ICC World Cup 1983 when his Indian side upset the all-conquering West Indies, he also achieved great things in Test cricket. His superb series against the same West Indies side earlier in 1983 carried him to 8th in the world with 720 points. He never achieved such heights in ODI cricket, but was a good enough all-rounder to break into the top thirty with both bat and ball.

Red handkerchiefs also occupy a permanent place in the pockets of two other modern players. Steve Waugh played 168 Tests for Australia and blossomed from a useful all-rounder to one of the greatest batsmen the world has ever seen. Only four men have had more than his 94 Tests at number 1 and he peaked at 895 points. He was no slouch in ODI cricket either, as his memorable century against South Africa in ICC World Cup 1999 and he reached the top ten in that form too, not to mention number 11 with the ball.

Virender Sehwag is another who carries a red handkerchief with him. After a century on his Test debut, his next couple of years were relatively quiet, but then he burst onto the world scene with a number of eye-catching high scores, passing 300 on two occasions and scoring at a rate no opener in Test history has approached. This culminated in his reaching the number one spot in early 2010 after an innings of 165 against South Africa at Kolkata. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, he has never been the top rated ODI batsman, peaking at number 2 way back in 2003.

However, superstitions are not merely the preserve of modern-day cricketers. England’s first professional captain, Len Hutton always use to carry a five shilling coin given to him by a friend of his grandfather with the advice never to part with it. It certainly helped him on his way to becoming one of the greatest batsmen of all time and his highest Rating of 945 which he achieved in 1954 is second only to Don Bradman’s 961 in the all-time list.

His team-mate in the England team for 62 matches Denis Compton also had a peculiar habit of his own. He always used to carry a silver four-leaf clover with him. Another of England’s greatest batsmen and the man who played the stroke which regained the Ashes in 1953 after a 19-year absence, he peaked at 917 points and was the number 1 rated batsman in the world for 13 matches in 1948 and 1949.

There are plenty of others too. Yuvraj Singh believes that the bandana that he now wears has worked wonders for his game. Mark Waugh always used to raise his collar as he walked onto the field, and Sanath Jayasuriya goes through his elaborate ritual of touching all his cricket equipment before taking guard.

Alan Knott had the habit of touching the bails before taking strike. Apparently, in the Oval test in 1971, Indian wicket-keeper Farokh Engineer kept guard over the bails not allowing Knott to touch them and subsequently he was dismissed cheaply.

No doubt there are plenty more, but it is interesting to note that for Australians, the score of 87 is actually the least likely score in the 80s for them to be dismissed. Make of that what you will!