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Of cricket and concussions

  • Published at 12:01 am September 9th, 2019
batmans batting cricket
Danger at play REUTERS

It’s all fun and games until someone gets hit in the head

The fourth Ashes Test Match started on September 4 to continue the absorbing tussle for the Ashes Urn. After the all-round heroics of Ben Stokes, it is difficult to forecast what might happen -- but Steve Smith, currently number one batsman in the cricketing world -- will be back in the Australian side.

In the second test match, he had been felled by a Jofra Archer bouncer, retired hurt but returned to play 40 minutes later and suffered “delayed concussion” a day later and missed the 3rd test match. There is strict protocol regarding concussion in other sports, so many people, including this writer, were surprised that nothing exists for cricket. 

In primary school in the UK, in the 1950s and at the age of 12, my head collided with the upright of the football goalpost while defending a goal. I carried on playing but collapsed the next morning. I developed a double vision and had numerous investigations at the famous Moorfields Eye Hospital in London and some neurological investigations. 

Despite a number of eye operations, the double vision is still with me over 60 years later, and so I would strongly agree that anyone who gets knocked down, like Steve Smith, should be withdrawn from playing for at least one week while being assessed. 

As a result of my accident, I had to switch from being a left-hand bat to a right-hand one. The person who helped me switch over, at the Alf Gover’s Indoor Cricket School, East Hill, Wandsworth in London, was none other than the famous test cricketer, Ken Barrington.

Fast forward to the 1970s and some cricket memories: From 1972 to 1983, I was based in New Delhi for Oxfam and, as a stodgy right-hand bat, I had the good fortune of being able to enjoy many seasons of club cricket with the British High Commission Cricket Club (BHCCC). 

Matches against good Delhi-based club sides were regularly arranged and wonderful weekend trips away from Delhi to Dehradun and Ajmer were very popular. 

We also played against one of the schools on the gravel “flats” at Nainital and against the Military School at Chail in Himachal Pradesh at the highest cricket ground in the world about 7,400 feet above sea level. 

One time “cloud stopped play.”

One-off matches were arranged with visiting teams like the Guardian XI from London or the Hyderabad Blues from Hyderabad, the latter being led by the former Indian test player, ML Jaisimha, and for whom the Nawab of Pataudi and Abbas Ali Baig sometimes played. 

Abbas Ali Baig often played as a member of the BHCCC over the years I was in Delhi, opening the batting with panache and smoothly pocketing slip catches too.

One season, 1975-76, the Guardian newspaper sent out a cricket team with two or three MCC Young Professionals. The BHCCC played them at the test match ground in Delhi and we won by 10 wickets scoring 154. 

Our skipper then, John Rickard, who had, in earlier years played for the Hampshire Second XI, got 109 not out, and I, admiring the batting from the other end and the sixes he hit, 26 not out. 

It was the first cricket match attended by our elder son, then eight months old.

In Delhi, there were two matches always played with great compassion. One was against Roshanara Club, a beautiful club in Old Delhi established in 1922. The other was (and probably still is) the Chanakyapuri Ashes played against the Australian High Commission and usually played at the Roshanara Club ground as well. 

The British High Commission Cricket Team also starred in well-known films, Gandhi and a true wartime story, The Sea Wolves the filming of which was also done at the Roshanara Club.

The all-star cast was most friendly and visited the cricketers’ families who were enjoying their picnic lunches at the edge of the ground. The stars were: Gregory Peck, Roger Moore, David Niven, Trevor Howard, Barbara Kellerman, and Patrick Macnee.

A most memorable day indeed. 

Julian Francis has been associated with relief and development activities of Bangladesh since the War of Liberation. In 2012, the Government of Bangladesh awarded him the ‘Friends of Liberation War Honour’ in recognition of his work among the refugees in India in 1971 and in 2018 honoured him with full Bangladesh citizenship.