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The Ten: Games within a game

Ed Kemp by Ed Kemp 5 minute read

Ed Kemp picks out the ten episodes of games within a game – occasions when it wasn’t just cricket.

First published in 2016

10. Silly Brearley

Frustrated at Yorkshire’s unwillingness to engage in a run-chase, Middlesex skipper Mike Brearley once indulged in a “game within a game” with left-arm spinner Phil Edmonds. Removing the short-leg fielder, they instead placed his helmet at short mid-wicket in the hope of persuading Jim Love or Richard Lumb to play against the spin for the five-run bonus and offer a catch off the leading edge. “Childish?” Brearley asked in The Art of Captaincy, “Probably, but if it were not for the child in us we would never play games at all.” His bit of fun led to the ruling that unworn helmets can only be placed immediately behind the keeper.

9. The six-delivery dash

With yet another rain break having annulled any hopes of a result in the County Championship match between Yorkshire and Sussex at Headingley in 2007, the only game in town for the home side was increasing their over-rate to avoid a points deduction. Wisden reports that “the game descended into farce” as Yorkshire rushed through 5.2 overs in eight minutes, with overseas player Younis Khan getting through a quickfire four overs – one of them completed in a record 35 seconds. Which, rather surprisingly, makes Younis Khan the fastest bowler in the history of cricket.

8. The hit parade

As fellow young guns then icons in the Somerset team of the Seventies and Eighties, Viv Richards and Ian Botham struck up a friendship that could occasionally spill over into on-field rivalry. Simon Wilde, Botham’s biographer, reports that “their captains understood that it was best if they were kept apart so that Botham did not start trying to out-hit Richards”. Peter Roebuck’s tendency to play long innings was said to be a result of this theory.

7. Guinness goals

So confident was then-England coach David Lloyd that vintage tailender Alan Mullally was incapable of serious runmaking that, during the Oval Test against Pakistan in 1996, he promised the left-armer 30 pints of Guinness if he made it to 30 against the mighty wiles of Wasim and Waqar. Mullally got to within one hit of his ‘black stuff ’ bounty and signalled to Bumble to start readying the iron-rich goods, only to be done by a slowie from Waqar on 24. It was his best Test score but still left a bitter taste in the mouth. Which, of course, is what had been motivating him in the first place.

6. Two of a kind

With heavy rain precluding play during their 2006 Championship clash at the Rose Bowl, Hampshire skipper Shane Warne and his Kent counterpart Rob Key passed the time by playing poker. “We started playing when the rain started and played into the night,” Key tells us. What began as a sideshow became the main event, with players from both sides joining the table whenever the teams played each other. “We’d end up with eight, nine, 10 of us. We’d just play poker at every opportunity,” says Key, who – much to Warne’s frustration – was no gambler when it came to setting up a run-chase. “Warnie always thought I was far too reserved in my declarations, and I was probably the same in poker. He would be a lot more aggressive and bluff a bit more, but I was very safe. That used to wind him up.”

5. Freddie’s readies

There was always more to the game than there appeared with Reverend Lord Frederick Beauclerk: aristocrat, punter and renowned piece-of-work. MCC’s second president raked in an almighty fortune betting on and playing in single-wicket games and challenge matches – and rarely by altogether overhand means. Once drawing himself in a lottery for top run-scorer in a match, he duly refused to run his partner’s runs – instead shuttling between middle and scorers to check whose total was higher and ensure he secured the jackpot for himself.

4. Flick off

Wristy Essex pair Tom Westley and Dan Lawrence use county matches as a battleground for deciding who’s most adept at hitting the ball through the leg-side. Whenever impetuous 19-year-old Lawrence arrives at the crease to join his No.3, the former invariably suggests a “flick off ” before both proceed to pepper the mid-wicket boundary. Judging by their 2016 run records, the game hasn’t done either any harm.

3. Numbers game

That tailender Bill Johnston topped Australia’s batting averages on their 1953 Ashes tour owed a little to a sense of fun in his own skipper and his opponents. Johnston, who never made a first-class fifty, was on a tour aggregate of 70 runs for only once out when his captain Lindsay Hassett realised the possibility of a bizarre stat, thereafter sending his bowler out to bat with a note asking the opposing team to play along and avoid dismissing him. In the last game of the tour against TN Pearce’s XI at Scarborough, Alec Bedser bowled deliberately wide of the stumps so as to preserve Johnston’s record: 17 innings, 102 runs, one dismissal. Average: 102.

2. Failing in Philadelphia

Famously haughty former England captain Archie MacLaren was never known to suffer from a lack of self-confidence. On tour in Philadelphia in 1902, arch Arch’ was told that a six by Aussie hitter George Bonnor had once broken a tile on a faraway roof, with the spot marked by a single blue tile amongst the red. Modest MacLaren bet that he could break the one next to it. Telling the story to Denzil Batchelor years later he admitted his attempt had failed, his aim was awry and that he had “missed by several tiles”.

1. Pawn in their game

While England batted in a Test at Johannesburg during their tour of South Africa in 1965, dashing left-hander Bob Barber and young 12th man Mike Brearley were in the middle of a game of changing-room chess. Their battle on the board was interrupted, however, when Barber was required to go out and bat. While compiling a half-century, Barber summoned Brearley to the field, ostensibly for a fresh pair of gloves. In fact, Brearley recounts, “his purpose was to inform me that his next move was Queen’s pawn to QB4”.

First published in 2016

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