The age of fat cricketers is over … sadly

March 13, 2009


Shane Warne didn’t conceal his contempt for coaches during his playing days. Coaches, Warne reckoned, were needed only to transport players to the ground.

In retirement, the great leg-spinner has not modified his views and is scathing, in particular, of the modern obsession with physical fitness.

“If you could just turn up the night before and play, then I’d probably still be playing,” he told The Observer. “But there’s too much other rubbish they carry on with these days, jump tests, fitness things…”

Samit Patel will never reach the heights achieved by Warne. He might one day approach the Australian in girth, though, because this month the England management decided he had put on too much weight and dropped him from the England limited overs squad.

The financial rewards in international cricket have never been higher and Patel could still go on to enjoy a successful and lucrative international career. But nowadays, especially in the limited overs game, cricketers are expected to be athletes.

The great Victorian W.G. Grace, the Englishman who reshaped the game with bat and ball, was a champion runner in his youth.

He played test cricket into his fifties, by which stage he was a giant of a man with an imposing beard. Placed permanently at point, he remained a fine catcher but never moved otherwise.

“The ground is too far away,” Grace explained.

Warwick Armstrong, who captained Australia to eight successive Ashes victories in the early 1920s, was an even bigger man than Grace and probably the heaviest man to play test cricket at 22 stone (140 kgs). Like Grace, his size proved no impediment to his batting and he scored a magnificent 158 in the first test of the 1920-1 series with 17 boundaries.

For obvious reasons, the more generously proportioned cricketers prefer to stand at slip. England’s Colin Cowdrey, who made batting look simple during a 20-year test career after World War Two, would stand motionless for hours on end. But when the ball went anywhere in his direction, he belied his bulk with his fluid, instinctive movement.

Mark Taylor, a fine opening bat and an even better captain, was nicknamed “Tubby” for obvious reasons. He still played a full part in an excellent Australian fielding side by catching anything that moved at slip.

The emphasis on one-day cricket and the steep rise in fielding standards has made life harder for the larger men.

Pakistan’s Inzamam-ul-Haq, a batsman as graceful and assured as Cowdrey, was a notoriously poor runner between wickets and did not exert himself in the field. Pakistan practice sessions can be chaotic at best but even by their standards Izmamam’s token attempts to perform pressups were a comic highlight.

Colin Milburn was a big man and an uncomplicated cricketer, whose career ended tragically when he lost his left eye in a car crash. During nine tests in the late 1960s, Milburn gave a glimpse of what could have been when he hooked and drove the West Indies and Australian fast bowlers with thrilling and audacious stroke play. He was only 48 when he died of a heart attack in 1990.

For those who cherish variety in cricket, there are still two successful international cricketers who are far from whippet slim.

New Zealand’s Jesse Ryder bats something like a left-handed Milburn and has a similar appetite for post-match celebrations, which has led to disciplinary action from the national governing body.

And Dwayne Leverock of Bermuda became something of a cult figure in the early rounds of the 2007 World Cup. Leverock, an imposing left-arm spinner, dismissed England’s Kevin Pietersen in a warm-up game. His celebrations briefly shook the Caribbean island of St Vincent.

PHOTO: Bermuda’s Dwayne Leverock (R) celebrates taking the wicket of England’s Paul Collingwood during their World Cup cricket warm-up match at Arnos Vale in Kingstown March 5, 2007. REUTERS/Darren Staples


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It was Colin Milburn who inspired the author Michael Simkins to write the brilliant book ‘Fatty Batter: How cricket saved my life (then ruined it)’ click here for review ol/arts_and_entertainment/books/non-fict ion/article1672188.ece

In no other sport, with the exception of golf or perhaps any sport in which the larger trousered participant holds an advantage (say sumo wrestling, or darts perhaps), is the podgy opponent more dangerous than cricket. This is the beauty of the game, which I hope can continue as a trend, for the ultra-fit and keen students of cricket will never be a match for the ungainly types, Warne perhaps being the finest example.

Posted by Tom | Report as abusive

Me and John were in St Vincent for Leverock’s heroics and boy did the place shake…
Apart from Sumo, I think darts is the only sport left where it is desirable to be fat.(If you have an obvious centre of gravity, your arm is steadier)
Even in rugby, you get front rowers now with six packs. Where’s the fun gone?

Posted by Mark | Report as abusive

Has anyone forgotten Arjuna Ranatunga???

Posted by Trey | Report as abusive

Ah yes Arjuna. His name even sounds fat. Ranatunga. Haha!
And he masterminded Sri Lanka’s 1996 world cup win, with support from the equally tubby Aravinda de Silva. Bring back the podge I say.

Posted by Graham | Report as abusive

My favourite, ahem, “larger” cricketer was Jack Simmons of Lancashire. He was a legendary eater yet played professionally into his 40s.

Posted by Kevin Fylan | Report as abusive

Does anyone remember Dulip Mendis, another tubby but great Sri Lankan Bastman….

Posted by Nilman Ekanayake | Report as abusive

I remember Gatting and a few others in the england team of the time not being exactly what you’d call skinny. It’s a different world now. Even darts players don’t seem to be as portly as they were. Or golfers. Or snooker players.

Posted by jamesy | Report as abusive

Don’t speak too soon.
Although the Kiwis were bowled out for 279 against India, Jesse Ryder scored 102 to get them out of serious trouble.
Fat is back.

Posted by Tom | Report as abusive

Ryder’s at it again, this time 137 not out in NZ’s first innings against India in the second test.
I watched the first hour of play, in which three Kiwi batsmen fell, and Ryder’s podge gave him a kind of assurance. As he’s bigger he was therefore shielding all three stumps, and he looked more difficult to get out. Let’s see the opposition fare on day two, but my money’s on Ryder ‘tucking’ into the Indian attack.

Posted by Tom | Report as abusive

jess has got more than mccullum did when he was that far through the year

Posted by MutantChick | Report as abusive