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Phil Walker

The Ten: Cricket Soldiers

Phil Walker by Phil Walker

Phil Walker lists the players who laughed in the face of disability and proclaimed: “Tis nothing but a scratch, sir!”

10) Manou’s ticker
It is a mark of the Aussie cricketer’s immense ticker that one of their number could play a decade at the top despite having a hole in his. Graham Manou, the keeper who played an Ashes Test in 2009 when Brad Haddin went down injured, first found out he had a hole in his heart after experiencing chest pains as an 11-year-old, but battled against his condition to forge an excellent career in State cricket. The erstwhile South Australia skipper also organised a 960-mile ‘Tour de Heart’ bike race in 2007 and 2008 to raise money for cardiac research.

9) Goughie’s wheezing
Goughie’s spirit would have seen off ebola, let alone asthma, and it’s that attitude that sustained him through a career in which his asthmatic problems have been soundly thrashed. The condition was first diagnosed when he was a 19-year-old on Yorkshire’s staff, but with the help of morning and evening doses of ventolin, The Dazzler was able to get through his career with only sporadic breathing attacks on the pitch.

8) Wasim’s diabetes
In 1997 Wasim Akram’s dad decided enough was enough. In the middle of Pakistan’s Test series against the West Indies, Akram senior dragged his boy to the quacks to get him checked out. The bowler, then 31, had lost a lot of weight and was constantly thirsty and knackered. When diabetes was eventually diagnosed, Wasim was devastated. But he had always been a fighter, and radical changes in his diet and training techniques – plus three injections of insulin every day – enabled the great man to keep playing for another six years.

7) Rowe’s sinuses
Jamaica’s rogue stylist from the sideburns era made a double hundred and a single on his Test debut, but that was as good as it ever got for Lawrence Rowe. A season with Derbyshire in 1974 was blighted by headaches and hayfever, and the problems persisted that winter in India, when he was sent home from the West Indies tour after further problems with his eyesight. Two years later the problems kicked off again in England, before he was finally diagnosed as suffering from a severe grass allergy. More remedial work on his eyes further affected his sight, and after struggling through a decade of infrequent brilliance, he finished up in 1983, by then a frustrated figure unwisely leading a West Indies rebel tour to South Africa.

6) Chandrasekhar’s polio
A brilliant leggie from India’s era of floppy hats and fearful tweakers, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar took 242 Test wickets in 58 Tests with his magic box of vicious toppers and googlies, all delivered at almost medium-pace from an arm withered by a brutal polio attack as a child. Chandra believes that his damaged arm actually helped him impart extra spin on the ball, though a ‘modest’ batting average of 4.07 suggests the benefits to his cricket may have stopped there.

Specs! Boycs walks out for England

Specs! Boycs walks out for England

5) Boycott’s eyesight
Growing up in Yorkshire the young Geoffrey was obsessed with making it as a cricketer, but it was a traumatic slog to Headingley. His first setback occurred when he ruptured his spleen as a lad, spending the next few years in and out of hospital. But his world really came crashing down when he was told as a 14-year-old that he required glasses. He thought his chance had gone, and so did many people involved in Yorkshire cricket. But Boycott wasn’t having it. Aided by a pair of the NHS’s finest glasses, the bespectacled Boycs set about adapting his game, and found he was able to still score runs. Later in his career he switched to contact lenses and was written off again after a barren season. But he adapted again, his eyes serving him well enough to make his 151st and final first-class hundred in 1986, aged 46.

4) Sir Garry’s extra digits
Sobers must have known he was destined for greatness. How else to explain his decision as a child to personally remove the two extra fingers he was born with – one on each hand – with catgut and a sharp knife? Cutting off a couple of your own pinkies probably puts the courage needed to face fast bowling into perspective, and it also prevented Sobers having to deal with unctuous umpires banging on about “him with all the fingers” after he’d done prodigious things with the ball.

3) Greig’s epilepsy
Tony Greig was first diagnosed with epilepsy after collapsing during a tennis match when he was 14, but for much of his professional career he hid his condition from his peers, even passing off a full-on seizure during his Eastern Province debut in 1971 as ‘heat stroke’. But his illness was revealed when he suffered another fit at Heathrow Airport after returning from an Ashes tour in 1975, and the press soon began sniping about whether Greig’s ‘problem’ was affecting his decision-making capabilities as a captain. Four years later Greig left England for good, and he went on to campaign for greater awareness of the condition.

2) Sir Len’s withered arm
Pudsey’s craggy master was one of the best around when World War II hit. But in a devastating moment during commando training Hutton injured his left arm so badly that he was forced into hospital for eight months, eventually emerging – following three bone grafts – to a future in cricket with one arm two inches shorter than the other. But Hutton was a tough cookie, and after building up the strength in his arm in 1943 with games in the Bradford League, he was eventually able to return. Some say he wasn’t quite the same player, and it’s true that the injury removed the hook and pull from his armoury, but Sir Len was still easily good enough to remain around the top of the world game for the next decade.

1) Fred’s lost toes
Titmus [pictured above], the wisecracking geezer from Kentish Town with magic in his fingers, was a no-nonsense sort of cricketer and one of the English game’s greats following a career that began in 1949, and finished 33 years later when the off-spinner popped in to his second home for a cuppa one morning and, after viewing a dry pitch from the Lord’s dressing room, was persuaded by Mike Brearley to don the whites one last time. Needless to say the great man took three wickets in the second innings, Middlesex eventually took the title, and it brought the curtain down on a 2,830-wicket career. But it was almost a very different ending. On tour with England in 1967/68, Titmus was out swimming in the sea in Barbados when he suffered 
a horrific injury, getting his feet caught in the propeller of a boat and losing four toes in an accident that seriously threatened his career. 
It would have finished a lesser
 man, but Titmus was back for Middlesex the following summer, twirling again for the cause from a remodelled approach to the wicket, every hobbled delivery adding to the legend of the guvnor of NW8. 
It was a legend made immortal in the Half Man Half Biscuit classic, F**kin’ ‘Ell, It’s Fred Titmus!, a 
song about Dracula, kleptomania and buying bottles of Lenor at 10p off, all tied around the great man himself; ‘slightly deficient in the toe department’ but magnificently well stocked everywhere else.

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