Why do a cat, a footballer, a Nobel laureate and a prime minister find themselves in the ESPNcricinfo database? Here are six player profiles you wouldn’t have expected we had.
Peter the cat
The only non-human to get an obituary in Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, Peter also has a profile page on ESPNcricinfo. From 1952 until his death in 1964, he was a regular at Lord’s. According to his obit, Peter “preferred a close-up view of the proceedings” and “frequently appeared on the television screen”.
As it’s #LoveYourPetDay we thought we’d share this photo of Peter the Cat, who lived at Lord’s from 1952 to 1964.
— Lord’s Cricket Ground (@HomeOfCricket) February 20, 2019
After he died, Lord’s found a replacement in Sinbad. Since then, there have been other feline cricket lovers, including Somerset’s Brian, who has more than 2500 followers on Twitter, but Peter’s stature is unrivalled. In 2006, when Aurum Press published an anthology of unexpected obituaries from Wisden, they named it after Peter.
If you are into quizzing, you probably know of the only first-class cricketer to win a Nobel Prize. Beckett, who played two games for Dublin University, in 1925 and 1926, won the prestigious award for literature in 1969. A left-hand batsman and a left-arm medium-pacer, he opened both batting and bowling in his second first-class game. He sent down 15 wicketless overs before being dismissed for 4 and 1 as his side lost to Northamptonshire by an innings and 241 runs. Soon after, he moved to Paris – first temporarily and then for good – and had a more distinguished career as a novelist, playwright, poet and theatre director.
Before becoming the only male footballer till date to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final, Hurst played one first-class match for Essex, against Lancashire in 1962. Hurst managed 0 not out and 0 in that game but did relatively better for the Essex 2nd XI, scoring 797 runs at 20.43, including four half-centuries. “Four years before the 1966 World Cup I was still playing more cricket than football,” Hurst told the Daily Mail in 2014. “I thought my future probably lay with cricket. Had I played more games for Essex in the first team than I did – I played one but never really had more of a chance – I may have ended up choosing cricket.”
Arthur Conan Doyle
The creator of Sherlock Holmes not only played ten first-class games for the Marylebone Cricket Club, he also dismissed WG Grace once and wrote a poem about it. Titled “A Reminiscence of Cricket”, the poem began:
Once in my heyday of cricket,
One day I shall ever recall!
I captured that glorious wicket,
The greatest, the grandest of all.
Later, Conan Doyle’s own dismissal in a non-first-class game, in which he knocked down his wicket and broke his bat while attempting to tackle a delivery that was lobbed up 30 feet in the air and eventually landed on the stumps, inspired him to write The Story of Spedegue’s Dropper. The protagonist of the short story is a lob bowler who helps England beat Australia in the decider of a five-match Test series.
During a first-class game against Kent in 1903, a William Bradley delivery hit Conan Doyle on the thigh. The impact splintered a matchbox in his pocket and set the matches ablaze. “Couldn’t get you out, had to set you on fire!” quipped Grace, who was Conan Doyle’s team-mate in that game.
Born in 1878, Stephen Harold Gascoigne, better known as Yabba, was a rabbit-seller from Sydney who became famous for his witty sledges, often delivered from a grass hill in front of the scoreboard at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Such was his popularity that Jack Hobbs, after his last game at the venue, went to the hill and shook hands with him. The hill was replaced with seating in the early 1990s, and the area was formally named Yabba’s Hill. Then, in 2007, the new Victor Trumper Stand came up in place of both Yabba’s Hill and the Doug Walters Stand. But Yabba was back at his favourite spot the following year, this time cast in bronze and caught in the act of making one his mordant remarks. He has been ever-present since. In fact, he was the only one in the stands when Australia played New Zealand in an otherwise empty stadium last month.
A first-class cricketer who went on to become Pakistan’s prime minister? Before Imran Khan there was Sharif. In his autobiography Pakistan: A Personal History, Khan said that when he first met Sharif in the 1970s, he “seemed more interested in cricket than politics. I think his real dream would have been to be captain of the Pakistani cricket team.”
Sharif was out for a duck in his solitary first-class appearance, a BCCP Patron’s Trophy semi-final in 1973-74. But if he ever dreamed of captaining Pakistan, it came true, somewhat, ahead of the 1987 World Cup. Sharif, then chief minister of Punjab, captained the Punjab Chief Minister’s XI in a warm-up game against a West Indies side in Lahore. Khan recalls in his book that Sharif walked out for the toss with Viv Richards and then opened the innings – with Mudassar Nazar – in a floppy hat against a fierce pace attack. He was bowled second ball. Two days later, Sharif opened for Lahore Gymkhana against England in another warm-up game. This time he was bowled for 1 by Phil DeFreitas.
Also read: South Africa’s five best World Cup wins