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Supreme Bowling – featuring Sean Ehlers

Old balls rule

Several of CricketWeb’s feature writers have contributed to Patrick Ferriday and Dave Wilson’s latest book, Supreme Bowling, a companion volume to Masterly Batting, which presents 100 great Test bowling performances.

In this extract CW’s Sean Ehlers (aka Archie Mac) is featured, writing on Wes Hall and Ian Johnson. This redresses the balance after mistakenly featuring Sean Riley twice!

In 2012, Patrick Ferriday’s first book When the Lights Went Out, covering the 1912 triangular tournament, was voted CricketWeb’s Book of the Year. Patrick’s next book, Masterly Batting – 100 Great Test Innings, was co-edited by CW’s Dave Wilson and featured several CW staff writers. A new volume, Supreme Bowling – 100 Great Test Performances, is now available. As with Masterly Batting, performances were assessed on a number of major categories on both a subjective and an objective basis, including strength of batting attack and quality of victims, conditions (and how they affected bowling and batting), match and series impact and a new measure, performance value (or worth), as well as such intangibles as captaincy, trying circumstances including illness or injury, other major contributions in the match and fulsome praise in contemporary reports.

All eras of Test cricket are represented, from the 19th century to 2015 and as might be expected many great names are featured, some on more than one occasion.Most high-profile names who might be expected to feature featured, such as Sydney Barnes and Curtley Ambrose, while others who would never get near a discussion of the greatest bowling legends enjoy an entry (take a bow, Dean Headley and Jerome Taylor) – that’s what can happen when individual performances rather than bowlers are considered. The book is composed of 500-word essays on the performances ranked from 100 down to 51, 1000 words on those ranked 49 to 25 and finally 3000 words on the top 25. The cream of current cricket writing is represented, including Stephen Chalke, David Frith, David Tossell, Ken Piesse, Rob Smyth and Wisden India’s Dileep Premachandran.

CricketWeb is delighted that contributions have also been made by no fewer than five of our feature writers old and new – Martin Chandler, Sean Ehlers, Sean Riley, Rodney Ulyate and Dave Wilson. As a taster for the book’s release we are proud to present several extracts from each of our authors, continuing with Sean Ehlers.

Ian Johnson – 22.2-10-44-7
West Indies v Australia, Georgetown 26-29 April 1955

by Sean Ehlers

We arrived for the third Test one up in the five-Test series. Perhaps a nice position, but in fact I was stressed. I needed a win, especially as, earlier in 1955, I had become the first Australian leader to lose to England at home in over 20 years. Added to this I had Sid Barnes, ex team-mate now in the media, describing me, due to my recent Test performances, as ‘Australia’s non-playing captain’. Barnes, like most of the Sydney media believed Keith Miller should have succeeded to the captaincy after the retirement of Lindsay Hassett.

Miller was my deputy on this tour, although this did not stop him undermining me. This would come to a head in the next Test match after he, in front of my team, criticised my captaincy in the sheds after play “you couldn’t captain a team of school boys”. I challenged him to step outside to settle the matter – Miller declined, no doubt aware of my boxing reputation and the sniping, at least in front of the team, stopped. I wanted a good performance not just for the team. I wanted to silence the critics.

The pitch for the third Test looked likely to take spin, so it was no surprise whenWest Indies chose to bat. We started well and bowled them out for 182. At one stage, in reply,we were 135-1 before disappointingly collapsing to all out 257. This left the Windies 35 minutes to survive until stumps on day two which they managed. Late in the afternoon I really turned a couple and looked forward to bowling on this pitch the next day.

My assessment was right, the wicket was ideal for my off spin. I brought myself on early and by drifting the ball into the breeze, then gaining some pronounced turn I felt confident. Pleasingly, I also dropped onto a length which frustrated the batsmen. It was perhaps this aggravation which led Jeff Stollmeyer to drive a full-toss straight back to me and with my ‘mate’ Miller having claimed an early wicket the Windies were 25-2. That quickly became 25-3 after I tempted the new batsman, Everton Weekes, with a slower flighted ball and he was caught behind. One ‘W’ down; two to go. Clyde Walcott and Frank Worrell steadied and at lunch they were 92-3. I bowled throughout the session: 13-6-25-2.

The two Ws threatened to reclaim the initiative with a partnership of 125 before both fell within 12 runs of each other and both out hit-wicket. With the ‘Ws’ gone I brought myself back on to test the new batsman on this real ‘Bunsen Burner’ – I was surprised when Cyril Depeiaza charged and was stumped however I was shocked when Denis Atkinson did the same thing and presented Gil Langley with another victim; 204-7 quickly became 204-9 when I claimed Norman Marshall to a catch and then bowled the youngster Garry Sobers. After Sonny Ramadhin became Langley’s third stumping, I finished with my best figures of 7-44 and we cruised to an eight-wicket win. Take that ‘Bagga’ and ‘Nugget’.

Wes Hall – 31.2-8-69-7
West Indies v England, Kingston 17-23 February 19

by Sean Ehlers

Twelve-year-old Albert Lindsey was excited, today he would watch his hero, Wes Hall, bowl against England. Albert took his seat in the grandstand, so crowded that hundreds perched on the roof. A plea from the announcer to vacate, for safety concerns, was ignored. From his seat Albert could see the gleaming pitch polished like cadet boots about to be inspected by a drill sergeant. He watched as his hero marked out 20 paces, looking every bit the menacing fast bowler. In the days of the back-foot no-ball law, the magnificently proportioned Hall, after ‘dragging’, appeared almost on top of the batsman before release.

England captain Peter May won the toss; Geoff Pullar faced Hall, with Colin Cowdrey the non-striker. Seemingly bowling wides or bouncers, Hall eventually settled and claimed the first wicket, an edge from Pullar. This brought Ken Barrington to the crease and the game all but ground to a halt as England crawled to lunch (45-1). After lunch, Hall and partner-in-speed Chester Watson, continued to pepper the batsman. Watson struck Barrington then dismissed him with another lifter. Hall bowled consecutive bouncers at new batsman May who awkwardly blocked one before tamely fending the next to a close catcher (68-3).

Hall was now consistently aiming at a patch just over halfway down the pitch. This he did with impunity as the batsmen were unable, or unprepared, to hook. CRACK! The stand Albert was sitting in collapsed with people falling through the roof onto the patrons below. Albert jumped from the stand and then another crack as Albert broke his leg. Just after this drama, about an hour post-lunch, Hall was rested until after the tea break.

Refreshed, Hall returned and almost immediately had Ted Dexter brilliantly caught at the wicket (113-4). Next, a searing yorker bowled Mike Smith. With five wickets down, and despite blistered feet, Hall saw his chance to expose the tail. He unleashed three consecutive bouncers at Cowdrey before another cannoned into the hand of Ray Illingworth. The batsmen felt they were in a war zone, only with no helmets. Frustratingly for Hall, Cowdrey’s classical technique and Illingworth’s doggedness saw them reach the final over.

Despite his feet, Big Wes gave that last over everything and off his fourth ball claimed Illingworth. At stumps England were 165-6, with Cowdrey a subdued, although important, 75*. Hall, 5-35, headed to hospital to treat his blistered feet. While there he visited Albert, who excitedly asked his hero to “claim the last four wickets”. Hall, despite a new ball, failed to achieve Albert’s request. He was a member of the ‘fast bowler’s club’ which meant no bouncers to fellow members. This enabled Truman and Statham to lunge forward with security and help Cowdrey to his century. Hall claimed two wickets to record his best Test figures of 7-69. His effort was in vain, the match ended in an oxymoron – an exciting draw.

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