In the Stars?

14th October 2019


… Men at some time are masters of their fates.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars

But in ourselves…

Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare, Act 1 Scene 2.

It is probably reasonable to assume that I am now unlikely to be selected to play test cricket for England. Quite apart from not having picked up a bat in anger for over 30 years, my age is now well beyond that of the oldest player to play test cricket – Wilfred Rhodes of Yorkshire and England – who was 52 years and 165 days on the final day of the England-West Indies test match in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1930.

I have consulted the “Births and Deaths: Test Cricketers” section of the 2019 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack and other sources to examine whether it has been the Fates that somehow decreed that I would not be a test cricketer. Was there something in my name or place of birth or date of birth that somehow conspired against such an outcome? Was there something in the stars?

I think we can rule out place of birth. Given the contribution of God’s OwnCounty to test cricket over nearly 150 years, one can justifiably state that being born and brought up in its principal city of Leeds will not have presented an insurmountable handicap to receiving a good cricketing education. Whilst, if truth be told, Leeds has probably under-performed in terms of generating Yorkshire’s international cricketers – compared with, say, the mining communities of South Yorkshire or the major West Riding nurseries such as Bradford and Huddersfield – the city’s roll-call over the years does include the likes of the Honourable FS Jackson, Hedley Verity and Geoff Cope.

What about the surname? Do the gods conspire to prevent a Rigg from playing test cricket? Clearly not. Keith Rigg (1906-1995) played in 8 tests for Australia in the 1930s, scoring 401 runs at an average of 33 and with a top score of 127 against South Africa in 1931. My tentative researches suggest that his great grandparents were William and Louisa Rigg (nee Clark), who married in Newington, Surrey, in 1837 and subsequently emigrated to Australia, where they settled in Victoria. (I have not found any direct family link to my North Yorkshire ancestors).

If not the surname, perhaps the given names: John Alexander? Again, there are examples to indicate that these have also not been a barrier: Jameson and Maclean (4 tests for England and Australia, respectively, in the 1970s) and Rennie (4 for Zimbabwe in the 1990s). I think we can also reasonably add John Alexander Kennedy Cochran (1 for South Africa in 1930), though probably not Alexander John Bell (48 wickets in 16 tests for South Africa between 1929 and 1935).

John Jameson was an aggressive, hard-hitting batsman, who scored over 18,000 runs for Warwickshire between 1960 and 1976. I saw him play against CambridgeUniversity at Fenner’s in 1975, when I was on twelfth man duty for the students’ side. For some reason, the first day’s play started a couple of minutes before the scheduled time, when Jameson went out to bat with Dennis Amiss. The first ball was a gentle swinging full-toss from Dave Russell – a good bloke, as I recall – which Jameson sliced straight into the hands of cover point. I remember that, as he walked back to the pavilion, the expression of his face seemed (justifiably in the circumstances) to comprise a combination of fury and sheepishness, his mood probably not helped by the fact that the clock had not yet registered 11.30. (Later in the afternoon, I took the field for a few minutes when Peter Roebuck went off to answer a call of nature: my first – and only – appearance on a First Class cricket arena. Amiss hit one shot past me for a couple of runs on his way to scoring 123).

That leaves the timing of birth. Has my presence in Scorpio’s part of the astrological charts – specifically, November 16th – been a factor in explaining my lack of test match prowess?

Wisden lists the dates of birth of the nearly 3000 cricketers who have reached test match level (from 1876 to January 2019). Other things equal, one would expect just over 8 to have been born on any given day of the year. The score for November 16th is below this average: 6. Of these, the best known (to me) are Waqar Younis (born 1971), who took 373 wickets for Pakistan in 87 test matches between 1989 and 2002 and the Huddersfield-born Chris Balderstone (1940-2000).

In An Ordinary Spectator, I noted the wonderful description in Alec Stewart’s autobiography of the formidable reverse-swing fast bowling of Waqar and his Pakistani colleague, Wasim Akram: “They were whizzbang bowlers… making the old ball go round corners at speed… the ultimate test for any batsman”. This was certainly the case when I saw Waqar at Headingley in 1992: England collapsed from 270 for 1 to 320 all out and the last six batsmen registered exactly two runs off the bat (though England still managed to win on the fourth day).

Chris Balderstone is mentioned in Still An Ordinary Spectator in my account of a visit to Carlisle to watch a football match in October 2016. He had been “one of those talented all-round sportsmen who, before the overlap of the seasons, played two sports at a professional level: cricket in the summer and football in the winter”. As a cricketer, Balderstonehad considerable success with Leicestershire and played twice for England against the West Indian tourists of 1976. The Chris Balderstone Bar at Carlisle United’s BruntonPark ground commemorates the footballer who, having played 117 times for HuddersfieldTown, then appeared on 376 occasions for Carlisle United in the ten seasons to 1975.

It is Waqar Younis’s long test career that contributes predominantly to the total of 120 test match appearances by the 6 cricketers born on November 16th. The average expected figure for any given day of the year (given that there were 2341 tests played to January 2019) is 141, so again our total is on the low side, though not excessively so.

The overall conclusion of this astrological musing must be that the answer to my non-test match appearance is not in the stars. Cassius was correct: the fault is in ourselves. In my case, this might be summarised as a vulnerability to being trapped leg-before-wicket to a fast straight delivery and/or the tendency to bowl too many long hops with my gentle off-spin.

A final observation, which might be of relevance to mothers-to-be hoping to give birth to a future test-playing cricketer. It seems that the likelihood of such an outcome is substantially above average if the delivery takes place on the 14th day of October.

Which – as it happens – is today’s date.

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