Book Review: The Greatest Year: The 1971 Tours of the West Indies and England

As 2020 wends its tortuous path, it sets a bar so low that we can only hope and imagine that 2021 will be a great year by comparison. But 2021 will also be the fiftieth anniversary of what author Anindya Dutta has described in the title of his new book as “The Greatest Year”.

1971 was the year that India arrived as an international cricket force. Consecutive overseas tours to the West Indies and England resulted in back-to-back Test series wins. Apart from victories in New Zealand in 1969, this was the first time they had punched above their weight to defeat stronger opposition on their own turf.

Dutta’s book is a short, sharp account of the two tours, a blend of behind-the-scenes tales with concise match accounts that could almost be imagined as Pathe newsreel scripts without the pictures.

Kenia Jayantilal, whose solitary Test appearance came in the opening match of that West Indian tour, has provided Dutta with some valuable insights to that series as will as some of the photos that appear in the book. Jayantilal’s opening batting partner on that one and only occasion was Syed Abid Ali, who was also interviewed for “The Greatest Year”.

Jayantilal’s replacement in the remaining Tests of the West Indian tour was a 21 year-old newcomer named Sunil Gavaskar who accumulated an astonishing 774 runs in his four matches in the Caribbean. But as Dutta tells us, Gavaskar was fortunate to be playing at all, a diversion of the team’s trans-Atlantic flight to New York enabling urgent treatment on an infected finger.

India’s unexpected triumph over England at The Oval came through the spinning fingers of Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, a reluctant choice of chair of selectors Vijay Merchant who considered him too “unorthodox”. But it was one of Merchant’s more contentious picks, using his casting vote to appoint Ajit Wadekar as captain instead of Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, that proved an inspired choice.

The rigours of the English tour circuit of 1971 are highlighted with the case of the Indian team completing a three-day match against Kent, and making the three-hour trip to Leicestershire that evening to start the next game in the morning. Try telling today’s highly-paid professionals to do that.

“The Greatest Year: The 1971 Tours of the West Indies and England” is a worthwhile diversion from the not-so-greatest year that is 2020.

“The Greatest Year: The 1971 Tours of the West Indies and England” is published by Westland Books and available in India on Kindle through Amazon. It will be available worldwide shortly.

Book Review: Wizards: The story of Indian spin bowling

The sub-title of “Wizards”, the fourth book of cricket history from Anindya Dutta, is “The story of Indian spin bowling”, but it could so easily be described as “the history of Indian cricket through spin”.  

Dutta presents a fascinating and thoroughly researched journey through more than one hundred years of Indian cricket teams whose journey from failure to success has been underscored by the efforts those slow bowlers, many of those still living having been interviewed by the author, who exercised their wizardry on the pitch. 

Dutta’s mostly chronological study begins with the remarkable story of Palwankar Baloo, the left arm bowler who broke through the caste barriers to play in England with the All India team of 1911. Rustomji Jamshedji was, at the age of forty, the first spin bowlers to play Test cricket, and Dutta gives space to Baloo, Jamshedji, and some seventy spinners, most of whom wore the Indian cap at Test, one-day or more recently Twenty20 level. 

Vinoo Mankad’s unfortunate entry into cricket’s lexicon is but a passing item in the chapter on his remarkable career. There is the account of Subash “Fergie” Gupte, capable of bowling two types of googlies and described by Sir Garfield Sobers as a better leg-spinner than Shane Warne. Gupte’s playing career came undone after a hotel incident involving room-mate Kripal Singh in which he was not involved. 

The greatest slow bowlers of the past two decades, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh are featured in the second half of “Wizards” but much of the middle section is taken by the four spin bowlers who dominated for much of the 1960s and 70s: the “Spin Quartet” of Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Srinivas Venkataraghavan and Bishen Singh Bedi.  

Test matches in which some or all of the quartet played are described more than once in the book, but through the perspective of each bowler’s performance. Dutta invokes the theory more recently known as Blue Ocean Strategy to describe how the great captain “Tiger” Pataudi brought out the best in his Spin Quartet. 

Fine spin bowlers whose time in the Indian team never came because of the shadow of the great Quartet – Rajinder Goel, Paddy Shivalkar, Rajinder Singh Hans – and Dilip Doshi, whose opportunity was delayed by their presence – all take their place in Wizards. So too Maninder Singh and Laxman Sivaramakrishan, both unable to deliver all their talents had to offer. Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag find their way into the pages as “Breakthrough Bowlers”. 

Among the many examples of maladministration detailed in the book, players dropped, careers delayed, captains chopped and changed for reasons of politics or personal jealousies. There is perhaps scope for a history of Indian cricket as defined by how bad decisions by selectors and administrators have held the team back. 

As Kapil Dev says in his foreword, “Today is a different world”, and the role of the match-winning fast bowlers such as Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma is a world whose beginnings trace back to him. But as Dutta concludes this comprehensive and enjoyable history with the wrist-spin duo of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal, he ponders whether they are the Wizards to take Indian cricket into the future. 

“Wizards: The Story of Indian Spin Bowling” is published by Westland Sport and available worldwide through Amazon. This review is based upon the Kindle edition. ISBN 9789388754514

The covers are off! The Net Sessions Episode 8

The podcast continues after fourteen years. Episode 8 (series 2, episode 1) of The Net Sessions is out.

A big thank you to cricket journalists Elizabeth Ammon, Melinda Farrell and Anand Vasu for taking the time for a Zoom chat reviewing and discussing various topics from the 2020 edition of Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack, in particular the Notes By The Editor, Five Cricketers of the Year, Leading International Cricketer In The World and Leading T20 Player In The World.

The 57 minute podcast can be streamed from Soundcloud, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn and Apple Podcasts.

The transcript of my editorial from the opening of the podcast:

“Welcome to Episode Eight of The Net Sessions, and to those of you who have waited fourteen years since the end of Episode Seven, thank you for your patience.

The theme in this season of The Net Sessions will be Cricket Book Club and I’m starting with the 2020 Wisden. But first: each edition of Wisden has its Notes From The Editor. I’m going to start this podcast with mine.

A lot has happened in the world of cricket, as in life itself, in those fourteen years since my last podcast. Without dwelling too much on that space, I’d just like to outline what I think are the three biggest developments in cricket since 2006, in no particular order:

One is the absolute explosion of Twenty20 as the most popular genre of the sport. The creation of the IPL was a game-changer which showed that the best cricketers could not just earn a full-time living from the sport, but earn the big money – up there with some of the world’s most successful athletes – to set themselves and their families up for life. Make no mistake, T20 and the IPL have been good for the game.

Second is the decision by the ICC in the past two years to roll-out recognition of international status for mens and womens T20 teams representing all of its one hundred-plus member nations. This is still in the early days of its development but taken seriously should enable cricket’s maturity into a truly global sport – and perhaps if it really has the will, into an Olympic game.

And the other, is the growth and growth of the women’s game. From a time when it was treated as a novelty, derided or completely ignored, to the stage where it is a normal, natural part of our sport. Where the talents of women are rewarded not just as players, but as umpires, officials, administrators, media. Where girls have the same opportunity as the boys. Full equality? That’s still a work in progress, but it will happen, and should not be far away.

And so we arrive at April 2020 and… there’s no one playing cricket. Sport, and much of public life, has ground to a halt as we face the biggest public health crisis that a lot of us have ever seen, and certainly at a global level. We will come out of this. Girls and boys around the world will be placing bat on ball, screaming Howzat and taking those classic catches again. At the Big Business end of the game, there could be major structural differences, but at the moment this is something we just don’t know.

On this show, however, we’re going to focus on last year, 2019.

In each edition of The Net Sessions I will look at one or two books with a panel discussing the book and its underlying themes. I’m going to start with cricket’s longest running annual publication – Wisden Cricketer’s Almanack. Neither world wars nor global pandemics have stopped it from rolling off the presses. This month saw the release of its 157th annual edition.”

Pat Cummins, was one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year for 2019. The occasion seen in this Instagram was discussed in the podcast.

The 157th Wisden Cricketers Almanack is published in hardcover and paperback by Bloomsbury, as is The Shorter Wisden 2020 which contains most of the feature articles from the Almanack, and is available in epub, kindle and audiobook editions.

Womens Test team of the 2010s

While many end-of-the-decade cricket reviews have named multi-genre womens teams of the 2010s, I have decided to drill down and select eleven women based upon the best Test performances of the decade.

Why? To recognise an endangered, yet highly valued part of our sport. Highly valued that is, by those who play and follow Test cricket for women, not from those governing bodies who pretend it doesn’t happen.

During the decade of the 2010s (and I explain why the period 1/1/2010 to 31/12/2019 is a valid decade here) there were eight women’s Test matches played worldwide. 

Eight. In the whole world. In ten years. Count ’em.

England played in seven of the eight, Australia in six. India two, South Africa one. All the other countries where women play cricket, zero. And there has been no women’s Test not played between Australia and England since November 2014.

If no one cared about Test cricket for women we could probably put up the “Extinct” sign, but people do. The players from Australia and England, who want more Test matches, the players from New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan and elsewhere who just want to play, full stop.

It’s one thing to argue that Test cricket for women is a gender equity issue, but there’s a reason why apathy and/or resistance is found in the general direction of the ICC and their media overlords – and that is that they have no respect for Test cricket for men. 

There is so little interest in expanding men’s Test cricket, look at the demise of the Intercontinental Cup as an offshoot of that attitude. Why would they show an interest in extending the genre so that women can compete as often as the men? But this and other issues on the future of Test cricket will be my topic of future discussion in other articles.

With that long overture done, here is my eleven. Because of the small statistical sample, some players have been chosen on the basis of one performance only. I have included at least one representative from each competing nation during the decade. Some players have been selected for reasons outside their best known expertise, and I have disregarded T20 and ODI form completely.

Womens Test Team of the 2010s:

1 Heather Knight ENG
2 Thirush Kamini IND
3 Charlotte Edwards ENG capt
4 Mignon du Preez SAF
5 Ellyse Perry AUS
6 Sarah Taylor ENG wk
7 Harmanpreet Kaur IND
8 Jenny Gunn ENG
9 Rene Farrell AUS
10 Megan Schutt AUS
11 Jhulan Goswami IND

Kamini was named on the basis of one innings, 192 against South Africa at Mysore in 2014. Du Preez was chosen for her 102 for South Africa in that same match, Harmanpreet Kaur has been selected as the only slow bowler in the side, having taken nine wickets (5/44 and 4/41) in that same Mysore Test. Mithali Raj’s best Test performances, including her double century, came in the 2000s.

Ellyse Perry was far and away the most successful female Test cricketer of the 2010s, scoring 573 runs at 114.6 and taking 26 wickets at 16.73 in her six Test appearances.

Tweets by @rickeyrecricket for 28 Dec 19

What’s in a decade?

Before I plunge into a series of annual reviews, let me address that most burning of questions: Have we reached the end of the decade?


Some people will insist that we haven’t. My answer: We have reached the end of a decade.


A decade is any consecutive period of time lasting ten years. A decade is what you make it. A person is in the decade they would call their “thirties” from their 30th birthday until the day before their 40th. for example.


When people insist that the decade runs from the start of 2011 to the end of 2020, what they are actually referring to is the 202nd decade Anno Domini – a fixed sequence of decades counted from what was historically believed to be the birth of Jesus Christ. No one calls it the 202nd Decade of course, and few people even think about it. (And let’s not start on the differences between the Gregorian and Julian calendars.) It’s just another sequence that makes up a decade.


The decade most commonly known as “The 2010s” began on 1 January 2010 and ends on 31 December 2019, and when I refer to “Team of the Decade” and so forth in coming posts, that is the decade I will be referring to. 

A hundred

The Hundred is a camel designed by a Horse Committee. A Horse Committee specially convened despite all the perfectly fine thoroughbreds grazing the paddock. 

A contrivance, built on the run by an organisation that got it right sixteen years ago, with what we now call the T20 Blast, but decided they wanted more. And a contrivance that had to be different for the necessity of it being different if it was going to exist. 

A development process that looks from the outside like it was written for a Project Management How Not-To Manual. A program in which participation by female cricketers seems to have been an afterthought which still hasn’t been fully fleshed out. 

There are many reasons why I believe The Hundred should never have happened. But it is happening. The teams are created, the coaching staff hired, many of the players drafted. The sponsors – all brand names of one “snack food” manufacturer – have been announced, as have the team kits which look deliberately like said snack food wrappers.  

The rules of The Hundred may or may not be so simple that “mums and kids” (shorthand, presumably, for “Grocery Shopper With Child”) can understand them. I am sceptical that they will be. Every aspect of The Hundred can almost be visualised by the scribble on the whiteboard upon which they surely were invented. 

I am sceptical about The Hundred’s entire Reason For Being. But now it’s time to move forward. The ECB has staked so heavily on The Hundred that it is entering the Too Big To Fail category. But even if this brave new Cricket-As-Game-Show is a success, and by whichever metric is convenient on the day it surely will be, will the rest of English cricket flourish along with it? 

What of the eighteen-team major county system? What of equal playing opportunity for women at county level and above? What of the T20 Blast? What of England’s competitiveness in fifty and twenty-over World Cups? What of the kids? 

I look forward in the coming years to new and exciting creations from the ECB’s Horse Committee. 

Steve Smith wins the 2019 Midwinter-Midwinter

Australia’s Steve Smith is the winner of the Midwinter-Midwinter for 2019.

Smith accumulated the most points during the 2019 Ashes for the Best-on-Ground awarded on each day of each of the five Tests as announced on the @rickeyrecricket Twitter account.

Smith, playing his first Test series since his twelve-month suspension for a Cricket Australia Code of Conduct breach, scored 774 runs in four Tests at an average of 110.57, with a top score of 211 among his three centuries. In only one of his seven innings did he fail to reach 80.

The first player in Test history to be substituted because of concussion, Smith missed one-and-a-half Test matches yet was still rated Best On Ground on five separate days during the series.

With the best three players ranked each day on 3-2-1 basis, Smith amassed an exceptional 19 points for the series. This was Smith’s second victory in the Midwinter-Midwinter, having come first in the 2017-18 Ashes with a score of 17.

There was a three-way tie for runner-up between Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood and Jofra Archer, who each scored 11 points.

Full tally:
19 – Steve Smith;
11 – Jofra Archer, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins;
8 – Joe Root;
7 – Stuart Broad, Joe Denly, Ben Stokes;
6 – Rory Burns, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon;
5 – Matthew Wade;
3 – Mitchell Marsh;
2 – Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler, Tim Paine, Chris Woakes;
1 – Sam Curran, Travis Head, Jack Leach, James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc, David Warner;
0 – Moeen Ali, James Anderson, Cameron Bancroft, Marcus Harris, Usman Khawaja, Craig Overton, Jason Roy, Peter Siddle.

In total, Australians scored 67 points to England’s 54.

The full spreadsheet of the daily scores can be seen here.

The Midwinter-Midwinter is the @rickeyrecricket BoG (Best on Ground) award given for the most valuable player of each Ashes Test series.

There is no physical award as such, and the Midwinter-Midwinter is not endorsed by any cricket board, advertising agency or anti-doping authority. But most importantly, it’s not the Compton-Miller Medal.

Points are awarded for the best three players on each day of a Test match in the series, on a 3-2-1 basis. 

The Midwinter-Midwinter is named for Billy Midwinter (1851-1890), the only person to have played Test cricket for both Australia and England in Test matches against each other.

Further explanation of the Midwinter-Midwinter, its background, the scoring system and past winners can be seen here.

Don Bradman’s eleventy-first birthday, a thread

On the occasion of the 111th anniversary of Donald George Bradman’s birthday – August 27 2019 – I searched up a number of unusual non-cricketing items about The Don from contemporary newspapers, with thanks to the National Library of Australia’s glorious Trove database: