THE RAINDANCERS - CRICKET
This is a cricket team, which I have named the "Raindancers", made up of my favourite players. I would, of course, manage the team and select myself from time to time to come on at first change with my left arm fast medium pace, before returning after lunch with some orthodox spin and, at Sydney, Port-of-Spain and Chandigarh, even some left-arm chinamen. Anyway, here is the team, with explanations of who they are, who I noticed them playing for and why I like them:
Kepler Wessels (Queensland, Eastern Province, Australia & South Africa)
Tremendously gritty opening batsman in South Africa, Australia and then South Africa again. He scored 173 against the West Indies in the first Test Match I ever attended, which helped end the Windies' 27-test unbeaten streak. I admired the way he got into test cricket, travelling to a strange land where he would not be welcomed by all, the way he fought in test cricket, scoring that 173 after starting the series with three ducks, his dignity when insulted by the ACB with a base-rate contract offer, and his triumphs as the first regular post-isolation South African captain, particularly against Australia at the SCG in both the 1992 World Cup and the 1993-4 Test series. In this side, Wessels would be ideal in making sure that training sessions actually happened.
Dirk Wellham (vice-captain) (New South Wales, Tasmania, Queensland & Australia)
I had the pleasure of meeting Dirk when we were both with Easts club in Brisbane in 1991-2. At that stage, he was the only cricketer in Queensland who had captained a Sheffield Shield winning side. Wellham is a very thoughtful cricketer whose job as vice-captain would be to politely suggest to Gower that seeing as we're all out here enjoying the sunshine and all that, that it might actually be an idea to try and WIN the game. Gower’s job would then be to tell Wellham to calm down. Played a wonderful 88 v Victoria in Newcastle in the first Shield match I ever attended (in 1982-3).
David Gower (captain) (Leicestershire, Hampshire & England)
The Raindancers side was never going to be devoid of class with the great Gower coming in at number three. He destroyed Australia in the 1985 Ashes series without raising a sweat and showed the amount of discipline necessary for Raindancers cricket by riding a Tiger Moth over Carrara with John Morris on the 1990-1 tour of Australia. His role in the side would be to captain it with as much attacking flair and imagination as possible, and to provide humorous after-match press-conference speeches. Gower would instruct his team to enjoy the sunshine, enjoy the cricket, and mind the fort while he finds the nearest aerodrome.
V.V.S. Laxman (Hyderabad & India)
I first took notice of Laxman when he peeled off a century in Sydney in early 2000. I couldn’t understand why more people weren’t talking about him as one of the classiest things in world cricket. It turns out that I was just a little ahead of my time. No-one has dominated the arrogant Australian bowlers more than this guy. Just as impressive are his captaincy credentials which hopefully will be more widely demonstrated when the unimaginative Ganguly retires. Also, it can’t hurt to have a man with a medical background in a touring party.
Jonty Rhodes (Natal & South Africa)
The best fieldsman in my lifetime (my lifetime does not include Colin Bland). His run-out of Inzamam-ul-haq at the Gabba during the 1992 World Cup is part of the Rhodes folklore that now exists. Also prominent in my mind is his 76* in Fanie's Test at the SCG in 1994, which, incidentally, drew the praise of Sir Donald! Probably the most realistic Christian in the South African team. And his job in the Raindancers side? To remind everyone that this cricket thing is actually quite fun!
Greg Matthews (New South Wales & Australia)
An Australian off-spinner who managed to average over 40 in test cricket with the bat. Arguably the first punk rocker to play Test Cricket. As a seven-year-old, I loved Mo's dancing around the field; his perpetual state of excitement; his flamboyant bowling action; his flamboyant everything! The Matthews in this side would be the younger Matthews, before the administrators finally got to him with their disciplinary tactics and he tried to convince us all about how seriously he took everything to do with cricket. The younger Greg Matthews made you remember why you played this silly game.
Jack Russell (Gloucestershire & England)
Every cricket team should have an artist. The Raindancers would only play at the most exotic, picturesque venues, and Jack would have plenty of opportunity to paint them all, as well as decorating the home dressing rooms with some of his more avant-garde creations. His work behind the stumps is equally impressive, never more so than his stumping of Dean Jones standing up to the fast-medium pace of Gladstone Small at the SCG in 1990-1. Why the England selectors persisted with Alec Stewart when this genius with the gloves was available, I will never know.
Fanie de Villiers (Northern Transvaal & South Africa)
My first sight of Fanie on TV was at the start of the 1993-4 World Series. His name is de Villiers, which I suspect is an Afrikaner version of 'Viles', and he definitely had the distinctive Viles nose. He also had heart, loads and loads of it. I was in Sydney the day he won the test for South Africa in 1994 and I didn't go to the ground. I will never forgive myself for that. Since that time, I have been impressed not only by the size of his charity work, but the style of it. Anyone who can watch an entire day of cricket from the top of a floodlight has my eternal respect. Fanie is quite possibly my all-time favourite cricketer.
Colin Miller (South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria & Australia)
The first Australian Test player since Greg Matthews who was not a personality-free jock! He is a journeyman who does what he likes and likes what he does. Funky also bucked the notion that test cricket is a specialists-only domain. He is currently adding left-arm orthodox spin to his repertoire of right-arm fast-medium pace and right-arm off-spin (leave it to the experts, Funky). In a two-year period, he became Australia's number 1 off-spinner, performed brilliantly in Pakistan, smashed two sixes off Curtly Ambrose in Antigua and helped win a test in Zimbabwe, all with the assistance of two different bowling styles, three different hair colours and a set of crooked teeth comparable to my own. Funky? Too right!
Abdul Qadir (HBL, Lahore, Punjab & Pakistan)
My first cricketing hero. The first test I ever watched on TV was Australia v Pakistan in Perth in November 1983. I was fascinated by paceman Azeem Hafeez with the four missing fingers on his right hand, but when Qadir started bowling, I immediately called my dad into the room to explain the hypnotic sight unravelling before me. He told me that it was called wrist spin bowling. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen. I went outside that night and copied Qadir's action, right down to the stuttering run-up and the violently swinging arms. I didn't consciously turn the wrist, that happened naturally, and my father insists that the ball turned about a foot, which is not bad for a six-year-old beginner. I never saw Qadir at his best. I know that that is my loss.
Henry Olonga (Matabeleland & Zimbabwe)
Henry took part in the bravest act by a sportsperson I have ever seen. At the suggestion of Andy Flower, the two of them wore black armbands during the 2003 World Cup to mourn the “death of democracy” in Zimbabwe under the regime of Robert Mugabe. It was Flower’s idea but Olonga had more to lose. But it is not just Henry’s sense of social justice that sees him in the Raindancers side. I love his flamboyant bowling action, I love his dreadlocked hairstyle and I love his voice. I haven’t enjoyed his material so far but I’m sure I could whip something up for him. It wouldn’t be a Raindancers side without music, would it!
The following six players would make up the touring squad:
Trevor Barsby (Queensland)
The only player in my squad not to represent his country. Played the best innings I ever watched live in a Shield match in 1990-1 against Victoria. He was out after five hours for 176, which included some of the most sweetly, timed shots I have ever seen played. I am sorry that I missed both of his Shield Final hundreds. It seems so obvious now that if Queensland were to ever win a Shield, Barsby had to fire. He did, twice! - the second time with the flu! He was also someone with a great sense of humour and a good manner with kids, essential when fielding on the Gabba boundary, even in the days of the dog track.
Derek Randall (Nottinghamshire & England)
This guy is a nutter. I was only three months old when he played his sterling 174 in the Centenary Test complete with headbuts and backward rolls but I was lucky enough to see plenty of footage of both that innings and other highlights of his career. His fielding appeared to be quite extraordinary, able to throw the stumps down from anywhere, take catches both exhilirating and cheeky and just generally amuse himself with gymnastics the rest of the time. He always played well in Australia and it would have been good to see him in 1986-87. Alas, he wasn’t picked and England retained the Ashes anyway. Still, he would have fun to watch.
Adam Gilchrist (New South Wales, Western Australia & Australia)
If I could bat like this guy, he'd be writing a self-indulgent web page about ME! It wasn't easy being a Gilchrist fan in Brisbane after he replaced sledger number one Ian Healy in the Australian one-day side. But Healy can't bat like Gilchrist; hardly anyone can bat like Gilchrist. It took him a little while to work out how to bat on low bouncing wickets, such as found in England and New Zealand, but once he had sorted that out, he put himself right up in the top category of batsmen in history! Will not be considered as history’s greatest keeper but he is good enough and has his moments of brilliance. Gilchrist also seems to possess the sense of humour and sportsmanship required in the Raindancers squad.
Wasim Akram (Lahore, PACO, PNSC, PIA, Lancashire & Pakistan)
I love the way that Pakistani selectors will take chances on young talent even if they’ve only played a couple of games. Wasim first came to Australia in 1985 batting at 11 and bowling bloody quick. Four and a bit years later, he was batting at 6 or 7 and bowling absolutely magnificently. What he couldn’t do with a cricket ball couldn’t be done. For this side, though, what impressed me most about him was his temperament when captaining his side. Captaining Pakistan can’t be the world’s easiest job, but Wasim, whose wife is a psychologist, always seemed to be in control and relatively calm. With all the fruitcakes in this side, he may just come in handy. So might his wife!
Graham Dilley (Kent, Worcestershire, Natal & England)
England fast bowler Graham Dilley is the possessor of my all-time favourite pace bowling action. His balanced angled approach to the crease, arms swinging gently by his sides preceded the turn of the body into a perfectly side-on delivery stride, featuring an enormous skid on his right toe which served to take him right through the bowling crease as his arms swung straight through the line of the ball. You will never know how much fun that skid is until you've tried it. My first trip to the Gabba in 1986 saw Dilley tear through the Australians to take 5 for 68. Watching him bowl from side-on high up in the Sir Leslie Wilson Stand was a treat that too few appreciated.
Pat Symcox (Natal & South Africa)
Lleyton Hewitt is the perfect example of someone who broke into top-level sport young and took the whole lot for granted. Pat Symcox is the perfect example someone who broke into top level sport late and enjoyed every day of it. He made Test level late in his not trouble-free career and immediately became the most gregarious player in world cricket. He won the man-of-the-match award in a one-day match in Sydney on my 21st birthday in which he won over a crowd that had been throwing bottles at him, before revealing to Tony Greig in the TV interview that it was the worst crowd behaviour he'd seen anywhere in the world. Symcox is a cricket lover. Watching him play makes you love cricket. The whole world cheered when he scored his first Test century in 1998. We'll miss you, Pat. Why not come on a Raindancers tour for a while?
Just for interest's sake, here are some others who were considered for the squad:
Openers: Sid Barnes, Conrad Hunte, Mark Richardson, Richie Robinson, Krishnamachari Srikkanth.
Batsmen: Asif Mujtaba, Colin Bland, Brian Booth, Stephen Fleming, Asanka Gurusinha, Lindsay Hassett, Qasim Omar, Frank Worrell.
All Rounders: Richie Benaud, Aubrey Faulkner, Andrew Flintoff.
Wicket Keepers: Gerry Alexander, Godfrey Evans, Andy Flower.
Spin Bowlers: Paul Adams, Murray Bennett, Charlie Blythe, Johnny Briggs, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Phil Edmonds, ‘Chuck’ Fleetwood-Smith, Bob Holland, Arthur Mailey, Phil Tufnell, Alf Valentine, Daniel Vettori.
Fast Bowlers: Jonathan Agnew, Azeem Hafeez, Damien Fleming, Wes Hall, Matthew Hoggard, Rumesh Ratnayake, John Snow.
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