Almanac Cricket: Number 11 and how to be a good one

Gallons of ink have been wasted by cricket experts and Ian Chappell on the attributes of the ideal number three batsman. Think about comparing India’s number three “the Wall” Rahul Dravid to Australia’s number three Ricky Ponting. These two players have different techniques. They score using different shots. Ponting looks to dominate early while Dravid is a patient accumulator. The armchair critics love to compare and contrast such players


The articles discussing the ideal number three batsman deal exclusively with the finer points of technique and the all important matters of concentration and temperament.


The opening batting positions are also a favourite way of wasting ink and filling newspapers columns. They may ask who is the greater Indian opening batsman: Gavaskar or Sehwag?


The number eleven position, in international cricket, attracts very little interest from the press apart from a morbid interest in how many ducks they have scored. However, the number eleven, in MercantileCricket, is a totally different animal. He is often the most important player in the team. He may be a mediocre cricketer but he does most of the work off the field.


At most cricket clubs there are a dedicated few, who are prepared to devote much of there time to club affairs. They serve on internal and external committees. They raise money. They coach the juniors. They roll the pitches and pack the kits and, they are often hopeless cricketers.


The legendary Hambldon cricket club of the 1700s had a player, John Richards, who rarely played and when he did he rarely scored but he did most of the off field work and kept the club running. In park cricket, mediocrity is no bar to participation. At a dinner of the Mercantile Cricket Association (MCA) Paul Sheahan was the guest speaker. Sheahan retired from cricket at a young age to concentrate on his teaching. He became the Headmaster of Geelong and Melbourne Grammar schools but I think he missed the point of cricket completely. In his speech he remarked that cricket is a terrible sport to play if you are no good at it. You may make a first ball duck, never get a bowl, and spend ages fielding, hoping you will not drop another catch.


Sheahan has fallen for the idea that it is only personal success that makes park cricket enjoyable for a park cricketer.


The next speaker was Marty Vana, from the Barnrwatha North Cricketer Club. Marty was not going to let Sheahan comments to “get through to the keeper” Marty’s career average would be closer the five than ten but he has enjoyed his time in cricket. He loves the comradery of his team, the pleasant atmosphere of the MCA and the picturesque grounds we play on. Marty has had a whale of a time and has been a delight to play against and umpire while having no pretentious to being a good cricketer.


He is usually on the committee and would be, at most clubs, the ideal number 11 but the Barnawartha North cricket club usually decide their batting order by lot, or time of arrival, or who missed out last week.  Winning is not the object.  A pleasant day is more important.


But what should you do if you are promoted to the no.11 position. How should you behave?  Today I want to give you a few basic principles to ensure a stellar career at the no. 11 spot.


The first principle is that you should never be facetious about the positions.  Striding from the pavilion, out onto the ground, and declaring “Ah, they have left it up to old Phil again” is unwise. After a remark like this, you will miss your first ball, a slow full toss, delivered by a 13 year old and be bowled middle stump. Your teammates will have several things to say along the lines of  “good thing we don’t leave it up to old Phil every week”.


The second principle is you must have your own bat and, if only for the sake of appearances, take it out with you.  Why do you, our noble no. 11, need your own bat? Its rather obvious if you spend a minute to think about it.  If you use a club bat and make a score you have just eliminated a common excuse for the futures of no. 1 to 10.  “All our bats are crappy, no one could make a run with these bats.”  None of the other players will ever lend you their bat for a similar reason.


The third principle is never lend your bat to someone else.  If you do, he will probably make quick 100 with several of the biggest hits seen for years.  He will come off the ground and extol the virtues of the exquisite piece of willow, perfectly balanced, a sweet spot to die for etc etc.  You will feel a complete klutz for not being able to use such a bat to advantage.  If however, he makes a duck, instead it will be, of course, your fault.


What should you do when the 9th wicket has fallen?  Now and only now start padding up.  Always leave this to the last minute to emphasise your surprise that these pie throwers, on this belter of a wicket have dismissed your teammates. If you are in a bad mood, irritate everyone by taking a long time getting out to the pitch, spend ages taking block and then ask for another pair of gloves to be sent out. This last action could also be done after the over is completed (if you last that long).


Ignore things like the umpires announcing a “gentleman” at the fall of the next wicket we will have an early tea or the captain telling your opening bowlers to start limbering up, or in a follow up situation your opening batsman padding up.  Get out there and remember Sir Donald Bradman’s advice: “Watch the ball and enjoy the game”.


I have a couple of titbits from the first class game for you on the no. 11 position.  The greatest number 11 was Wilfred Rhodes who took over 4000 wickets and made about 40,000 first class runs. On debut in test cricket he batted at 11 but eventually improved his batting so much he became a successful test opener.


He has the, never to be repeated distinctions, of holding the record partnership for both the first and last wicket in test cricket simultaneously.  They stood for ages but both have now been surpassed.


Thornley, the NSW captain and Stuart McGill once put on 120 for NSW for the last wicket, the number 11, made only one and I asked Thornley once how did McGill make his single? Thornley couldn’t remember.


The greatest last wicket stand was in 1928 by the NSW team against Victoria at the MCG.  Hal Hooker came in to join his captain Kippax with NSW at 9/113 chasing Victorias 376.  They put on 307 with Hooker getting 62.  The partnership, which went over Christmas Day, knocked the stuffing out of Victoria who folded up in their 2nd innings and lost the match.


I think all of us no.11’s dream of being in such a partnership but it rarely happens.  Remember life’s not perfect and then stumps are called.


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