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The age of fat cricketers is over … sadly
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