Almanac Cricket: Back to the ‘Bishens’

With the First Test of the 2021/2022 Ashes Series commencing today the Footy Almanac reprises from its archives this excellent cricket story by Dips O’Donnell first published on this day in 2010. It’s a cracking read.



It was the summer of 1977/78 that my brother Matthew decided he would change his bowling preference from right arm medium of the Gary Gilmour variety to ‘Bishens’. He made this momentous decision after reading an article by Bishen Bedi in The Herald called ‘How to Bowl Spin.’


My brother devoured the article which I recall came complete with sketches on how to hold the ball, how to move your non-bowling arm, and how to release the ball from the fingers. Matthew cut these pictures out, laid them out on the bench in the bedroom that three of the six of us shared, and studied them in detail.


The Indian cricket team was coming to Australia that summer and Bishen Bedi was at the top of his game. He was the ‘Sheik of Tweek’ at the time, the master left arm orthodox slow bowler who mystified, beguiled and ultimately befuddled his opponents.  It was of no consequence to Matthew that Bishen Bedi was a left arm orthodox whilst Matthew was a right hander, he still wanted his bowling to be known as ‘Bishens’.


He spent quite a bit of time trying to perfect his Bishens in the nets (the nets were the back verandah which we used on wet days or to practice new deliveries. We had to get the table tennis table out of the way first), but as all cricketers know practice sessions in the nets are no substitute for the pressure cooker atmosphere of time out in the middle.


Our pitch was regarded by us as being in the backyard, but it actually ran down the side of the house, running east-west. The field for a right handed batsmen was usually set up as follows:


Keeper, short silly first slip (which was a fifty year old gum tree that grew about two feet from the bat), then there was the side fence that stretched from short gully all the way to mid-off (over this fence was six and out), deep mid-on (which was a row of pine trees from which one could be caught and given out so long as the catch was one handed), short mid wicket (which was the side of the house – it was also out one hand off the house), short forward square leg (in front of a bedroom window), square leg, and maybe a leg slip.


To make things a bit trickier the bowlers’ run up finished underneath the clothes line. As we all grew older and taller (height is a relative thing), we had to wind the clothes line up higher and higher. It was a sure sign that it was time to retire from our backyard cricket when even with the clothes line at full height, one’s bowling arm still got caught up in the wires upon which mum diligently hung the clothes. (The other sure sign was when girls became more attractive than a cricket match). In fact one of my older brothers had to modify his bowling style from a fairly classical Dennis Lillee action to a Mitchell Johnson sling in order to avoid possibly severing his arm on the wires. His Mitchell Johnson action was nowhere near as successful.


Given that the off side of the pitch was patrolled by fencing and trees we all became very strong on the on-side. This didn’t help Matthew in his quest to conquer his brothers with his Bishens because the batsman, in playing the almost compulsory leg side shot, was hitting with the spin. It was relatively risk free. The other problems that Matthew faced were that his Bishens weren’t turning much, he was pitching too short, the bounce of the tennis ball was high and slow, and we showed him absolutely no mercy. The result was that many of his deliveries were ruthlessly dispatched over square leg into the neighbour’s front yard about 50 metres away. Plentiful fours and sixes were there for the taking.


Rather cruelly we would utter words of encouragement to Matthew like “that one turned a bit” or “your arm action was good then” in the midst of playing another brutal sweep or hook shot that sent the ball flying into oblivion. In hindsight we were complete bastards.


I was taken back to 1977/78 whilst watching the Aussies doing battle in the second test in Adelaide. It occurred to me that we, the Australians, are Matthew trying to bowl his Bishens. We are working hard and following the process, but alas the process is inadequate. Where English bowlers got bounce and spin, ours could only muster a plodding, un-menacing line and length. The Poms are acting like bastards, putting us mercilessly to the sword, metaphorically dispatching the Aussies over the neighbours fence or into the pine trees at long-on.  Their nastiness was in evidence when they claimed Michael Clarke’s wicket on the last ball of day four.


The Aussies start the fifth day 137 behind; 4 for 238. It may as well be 10137 behind. Hussey and North occupy the crease. Hussey the scrapper, the fighter; he stands at the crease untidily like a used hanky. Bits and pieces seem to stick out of his clothing, his face creases up into a squint as the bowler approaches. He’s up for it. And North. Once again Marcus North goes out to bat on his last chance. From my calculations it’s his sixth last chance. Unlike Hussey he looks resplendent; ironed shirt, unflustered facial expression, combed hair. He should bat wearing a cravat.


What will their mindset be? Will victory simply be in having England bat again? Will victory be in staying out there long enough for Mother Nature to come to the rescue and wash the Poms out?  These are the only victories we can contemplate because already the Poms have the real victory; a physical and psychological slaughter. We can but persist. If things get really tight maybe the Aussies could use Strauss’ tactic from Cardiff in 2009 and have countless on-field physio breaks to hold up play and waste time. Then again, two wrongs don’t make a right.


The Aussies start diligently. Swan is causing problems; every delivery is greeted somewhat unnecessarily by an “ooohh” or “ahhh” from the surrounding fielders. My mate Woody sends an email saying that the English grunting and groaning is giving him the sh..s.


Prior drops a sharp chance off Hussey. Is luck going to go the Aussies’ way? Strauss takes a punt, he takes the new ball meaning Swan is momentarily out of the attack. It pays off as Hussey’s wicket falls. It’s interesting that teams that play with confidence and intent and direction seem to get lucky. Perhaps these are the secret ingredients that make up luck.


Hussey plays a reckless pull shot from the bowling of Finn that catches the bat high and lobs to mid-on. In goes so high it might bring rain. No such luck. 5 for 261. The Aussie ship lists dangerously. Strauss goes in for the kill and brings Swan back on. Who says spin bowlers are ineffective with a new cherry?


With Haddin at the crease the dim light of hope glimmers. Haddin has a face that belongs in a history of Gallipoli; slumped against the trench bags, cigarette hanging loosely from his mouth, slouch hat balanced irreverently on his head, muddy grin poking out from three days growth. We need him to fight hard today. But it’s beyond him. He retreats to the dressing rooms with 12 runs against his name. A classic Anderson seamer catches the edge and Prior gobbles it up. 6 for 286.


From there the wickets fall faster than Ernie can count to ten on Sesame Street. Mother Nature will not make her grand entry quickly enough. 7 for 286, 8 for 286, 9 for 295. In amongst all that Anderson is on a hat trick (he misses it) and Harris’ golden duck secures him a king pair for the game. That’s probably OK in poker but no good in cricket. North fails in his 6th last chance. He might get a 7th last chance in his home town in Perth. But that will probably be his last chance.


It was left to Dougie Bollinger and Peter Siddle to go down with the ship. Dougie was batting with all the skill and finesse of Jimmy Higgs but was hanging in there. Siddle eventually got a good one from Swan and it was all over.  All out for 304. The margin is an inning and 71 runs. It’s a rout.


For the first time in twenty four years the Australians have lost to England by an innings plus. That takes us back to 1986. Simple Minds were playing “Alive and Kicking” in 1986. Perhaps there’s a message there – or not.


The Poms go one up. They were simply too good.


It’s back to the nets for our boys to practice their Bishens.



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About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.


  1. John Butler says

    Lovely stuff Dips

    BTW, have you read Steve Cannane’s “First Tests”? (on the subject of backyard cricket).

    One point of confusion. The Bish was left arm orthodox, meaning he spun away from the right hander. Were you all lefties?

  2. John Butler says

    PS: Simple Minds are still playing Alive and Kicking.

    Nothing dies in rock n roll any more.

  3. JB – haven’t read the book – I’ll look out for it. Is it an old one?

    We were all right handers (except my oldest brother). Matthew was right handed but insisted that his bowling be called “Bishens”. Therefore he was a right handed orthodox bowler trying to emulate a leftie – spells trouble doesn’t it?

  4. John Butler says

    Cannane’s book is relatively recent- it’s on my summer reading list.

    I took it that Matthew had changed arms as well as styles. Silly me.

    Did you ever tape half the ball for extra difficulty?

  5. Great stuff, Dips.

    Incidentally, that series (77-78 five Tests Aus v India) was a fascinating one, going Australia’s way 3-2 on the back of Bob Simpson’s captaincy after the Australian team was decimated by World Series Cricket.

    Some very close finishes from memory.

    And I remember India being 2 down for none at the start of the Melbourne test, before they recovered to win.

  6. JB – often taped the tennis ball up. It was the taped tennis ball that found out my weakness to the swinging delivery outside off stump. Often caught in about 2nd slip.

  7. Great stuff, Dips.
    Certainly brought back memories of that Indian summer. From memory, Bob Simpson was
    dragged out of retirement by the establishment at the age of 41 to lead his decimated
    country (how old is Warnie?), and he performed well with the bat as well as bowling
    some right-arm “Bishens”.
    My admiration for Simpson grew upon watching him as the subject of “This Is Your Life”
    toward the end of that summer. About to lead the second-string Aussies on a tour of the
    Carribean, he was presented with a helmet at the end of the show. He made a point of
    handing it back to his daughters, with words to the effect: “I never wore one in the
    past and am not about to start now”.

  8. Good one Smokie. Great point about Bobby Simpson and the Warnie analogy. Is McGrath too old? And what about Gilly and Hodgy and Hayden? Do we sound a tad desperate?

  9. Dips,
    More than just a tad I’m afraid.

  10. Without wanting to over-eulogise Warne, I read a recent interview
    in which he stated that he does not touch a cricket ball outside
    of the 6 weeks of the IPL. Considering his age, and the inherent
    difficulties in bowling accurate leg-spin, I found this to be quite
    He remains the best captain the Test team never had.

  11. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Great piece Dips,

    some of my happiest childhood memories are from playing backyard cricket.

    We had a kid who thought he could bowl like Thommo because his name was Jeff. He had the action right. Only problem was he kept bowling them over the fence on the full. Happy days :)

  12. Peter Flynn says

    Excellent Dips.

    JB, Bedi had a mean arm ball.

    I could be late for this book launch due to flight delays into melbourne.


  13. David Harms says

    If backyard cricket is the first test, then the first tour match would be beach cricket while on family holiday. Balding tennis ball a must. Pitch about 15m so everyone feels like DK. Timing the incoming waves so the balding tennis ball hits a 1 to 2 mm film of water just short of a leng. A slight kick off a ripple finds an edge. The classic slips dive clutching ball in the palm of the right hand and crashing into an incoming wave. Always loved being on tour.

  14. # 11 – Phil – how many kids in the 70s do you reckon changed their bowling action to the Jeff Thompson side-on sling shot? Everyone just wanted to bowl fast.

  15. Dips

    Nice piece. Guile is a word which exists to describe capable finger spinners. Great use of beguiled in your piece.

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