Specials – Cricket’s Christmas XI

  The silly season is upon us, and in keeping with the festive spirit, let us look at a team of eleven first-class cricketers with names having a Christmas connection. Here’s presenting our all-time Christmas XI.

1) Jacques Rudolph

  He may not be red-nosed, but South African southpaw Jacques Rudolph is an apt choice to form one half of our opening pair. Having promised much after scoring an unbeaten 222 on Test debut at Chittagong in 2003, he eventually went on to have a middling international career that saw its last in 2012. He is currently captain of Glamorgan on the English county circuit.

2) Noel McGregor

  Otago veteran Spencer Noel McGregor was part of the first New Zealand team to win a Test match, against the West Indies at Auckland in 1955-56. Six years later, he scored a crucial 68 in New Zealand’s first away win, in Cape Town. With a name that translates to quite a few Christmas-related connotations, he has earned his place in the side. 

3) Ian Bell (captain)

  It has been a year since Ian Bell went out of favour with the England think-tank, but nothing can take away his contributions in the past decade. Be it the match-winning ton at Durban in 2009-10 or his exemplary batting in the 2013 Ashes, this Bell has often taken a toll on the opposition. His experience as Warwickshire’s captain makes him the right candidate to lead the Christmas XI.

christmas-cricket                   ‘Tis the season to be jolly (source – southgatecc.com) 

4) Mark Nicholas

  The Santa of our team is Mark Nicholas, who is renowned today for being a popular television commentator. He was the captain of Hampshire from 1985 to 1995 and one of their middle-order mainstays during that period. Though he never played for England, he had the satisfaction of scoring more than 18,000 runs in first-class cricket.

5) Marcus North

  Until his retirement in 2014, Marcus North provided a valuable all-round option to many a first-class side – he played for Western Australia as well as five English counties. He had a dream start to his short Test career, scoring a match-winning 117  at Johannesburg in 2008-09, and also ensured that his name was put up on the neutral honours board at Lord’s a year later.

6) Tony Frost (wicketkeeper)

  The wicketkeeping duties for the Christmas XI lie with bespectacled Tony Frost, who played for Warwickshire from 1997 to 2009. He was a dependable batsman as well; his career-best of 242* coming against Essex at Chelmsford in 2008, a season in which he successfully returned from a retirement announced two year back.

7) Billy Midwinter 

  The winter solstice (midwinter) falls a few days before Christmas. Born in England, all-rounder Billy Midwinter migrated to Australia, for whom he played in the inaugural Test and had the distinction of bagging Test cricket’s first fifer. He went on to play for England as well. He was famously kidnapped by WG Grace, who wanted him to play for Gloucestershire rather than the Australians, in 1878.

8) John Snow

  Leading the bowling attack is England’s John Snow, who was one of the finest fast bowlers in the world at his peak. He was at his best during the 1970-71 Ashes in Australia, where he finished with 31 wickets – 15 more than anyone else – at 22.83, including a searing, career-best 7/40 at Sydney. Caught-behind dismissals reading ‘c Frost, b Snow’ would surely make for fascinating viewing.


        England’s Ian Bell – the captain of the all-time Christmas XI (source – foxsports.com.au)

9) Ian Bishop

  The clergy gets its due in the form of Ian Bishop, the tall Trinidadian who would have ended with a lot more than 161 Test wickets if not for constant back troubles. He impressed early, taking 6/87 against India in only his second Test. His best display came at Perth in the decider of the 1992-93 Frank Worrell Trophy, where he took 6/40 in the second innings to bowl the West Indies to an innings win.

10) Paul Wiseman

  The Christmas XI can certainly afford a wise man, if not three. The lead spin bowler of our team is offie Paul Wiseman, who starred on Test debut by taking seven wickets to help New Zealand win at Colombo in 1998. He however played second fiddle to Daniel Vettori throughout his career, and was not picked after 2004-05.

11) Jo Angel

  Rounding off the eleven is Jo Angel, a 6’6″ tall fast bowler who collected 419 wickets – currently the fourth-highest tally in the history of the Sheffield Shield – for Western Australia from 1991-92 to 2003-04. He could not translate his first-class consistency at the highest level though, and played only seven times in all for Australia.

Honorary mention: It would be a disservice to conclude this post without a reference to David Christmas, a medium pacer who played 14 List A matches for Lincolnshire from 1991 to 2004. He is, rather unsurprisingly, nicknamed ‘Father’. 

  Season’s greetings to one and all.


Record Book – The first World Cup match between two Associate nations

  Associate nations have invariably brought their own distinctive flair to World Cup tournaments. From the plucky Sri Lankan batsmen facing up to Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson in 1975, to Ireland’s never-say-die spirit that almost earned them a quarterfinal berth in 2015, the non-Test teams have provided some of the most absorbing moments in the history of the showpiece event.

  However, it was not until the 1996 edition that two Associate teams faced each other. The increase in the number of teams to 12, from nine in 1992, paved the way for the availability of three slots for Associates for the first time. Until then, the most number of non-Test teams in a World Cup edition was two – in 1975 (East Africa and Sri Lanka) and 1979 (Canada and Sri Lanka).

  The teams to qualify from the 1994 ICC Trophy held in Kenya were all first timers – the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kenya and the Netherlands finished as the top three to book their places in the 1996 World Cup, co-hosted by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Kenya were drawn in Group A, whereas the Netherlands and the UAE were clubbed in Group B.

  The match between the Netherlands and the UAE at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore on March 1, 1996 thus marked the first instance of an ODI fixture not to involve a Test-playing side. Not surprisingly, both teams had lost each of their previous games, making this a tussle to avoid the wooden spoon in the group.

  Though the UAE had won the ICC Trophy two years back, on the way defeating the Netherlands by six wickets in the semi-final, it were the Dutch who had performed relatively better in the lead-up to this match. Led by Steven Lubbers, they impressed against England at Peshawar, losing by only 49 runs, and had managed to bat out their 50 overs on all three occasions.

  The UAE team must have felt at home, since six of their eleven were born in Pakistan, four of them in Lahore. Their captain Sultan Zarawani, who had made news earlier in the tournament by facing South African speedster Allan Donald wearing a sun hat, won the toss and elected to field, just as he had done in the semifinal of the 1994 ICC Trophy.


      Sultan Zarawani captained the UAE to their maiden ODI victory, against the Netherlands in the 1996 World Cup (source – gettyimages)

  The 47-year-old opener Nolan Clarke, the oldest ODI player of all time and scorer of an unbeaten 121 in the crucial third-place playoff match against Bermuda in the ICC Trophy, was out without scoring with only three runs on the scoreboard. The Barbados native fell to medium pacer Shahzad Altaf, who at 38 was the oldest member of the Emirati squad.

  Peter Cantrell (47) and Flavian Aponso (45) dug in for a dour second-wicket stand worth 74 runs before the latter was caught and bowled by off-spinner Shaukat Dukanwala, who was born in Bombay and played first-class cricket for Baroda. A relatively brisker stand of 71 followed for the third wicket, with Tim de Leede joining Cantrell.

  At 148/2, the Netherlands seemed to have laid a decent base for a flourishing end. But it was not to be as regular wickets stifled their chances . Left-arm spinner Azhar Saeed’s twin strikes within the space of six runs kept the Dutch in control; he first caught de Leede off his own bowling and then dispatched the obdurate Cantrell, having the former Queensland player caught behind.

  Lubbers was sent back by his opposite number Zarawani soon after, and despite an attacking sixth-wicket stand of 32 between Klaas-Jan van Noortwijk and Roland Lefebvre, it was inevitable that the Netherlands would reach nothing more than a middling total. Dukanwala made short work of the lower order, grabbing the last four wickets as the score slid from 200/5 to 210/9.

  The Netherlands eventually finished at 216/9 from their 50 overs, with Dukanwala having the satisfaction of returning figures of 5/29 in ten overs. This was the first five-wicket haul in an ODI by a bowler from an Associate team, and the second-best bowling figures in the 1996 World Cup after Paul Strang’s 5/21 for Zimbabwe against Kenya.

  The Lahore-born opening pair of Azhar Saeed and Saleem Raza gave the UAE a rampaging start, scoring 94 runs off the first 15 overs. Their partnership progressed to 117 before Saeed was run out for a watchful 32. By contrast, Raza was going hammer and tongs at the other end, severely diminishing Dutch hopes of defending the modest total.


      Dutch opener Peter Cantrell during his innings of 47, with UAE wicketkeeper Imtiaz Abbasi looking on (source – AP photo/thenational.ae)

  Two quick wickets, those of Mazhar Hussain and Raza, for three runs made the score 138/3, but these were minor blips in the chase. Raza struck a belligerent 84 from just 68 balls, studded with eight fours and six sixes – which was then the joint second-highest number of sixes by a batsman in a World Cup innings – before being dismissed by Lubbers.

  New man Mohammad Ishaq, yet another player born in Lahore, continued from where Raza left, hitting an unbeaten 51 from 55 balls. He shared in an unbroken fourth-wicket partnership worth 82 with Vijay Mehra, and the duo steered the UAE to a convincing seven-wicket win with 34 balls to spare. This was the UAE’s maiden ODI victory.

  With this win in their last match, the UAE ensured that they finished fifth out of the six teams in the group. The Netherlands went on to lose their final game of the tournament by a wide margin, to South Africa by 160 runs. They had to wait till the 2003 World Cup to notch their first ODI success, when they defeated Namibia by 64 runs at Bloemfontein.

  The Man of the Match award was shared between Dukanwala and Raza. Incidentally, Raza was also the man of the match in the aforementioned ICC Trophy semifinal between the two teams in 1994. His 84 remained the highest ODI score by a UAE batsman until 2013-14, while Dukanwala’s haul is still the only ODI fifer by a UAE bowler.

  There have since been nine other World Cup matches wherein both the teams involved were Associate members: Bangladesh v Scotland in 1999, Canada v Kenya and Namibia v Netherlands in 2003, Canada v Kenya and Netherlands v Scotland in 2007, Canada v Kenya and Ireland v Netherlands in 2011, Ireland v UAE and Afghanistan v Scotland in 2015.

  However, it is unlikely that the next World Cup, to be held in England in 2019, would see such a fixture. Thanks to the deplorable decision of limiting the number of teams to ten, chances of two Associate teams qualifying are remote, which says a lot about how detrimental this move is set to be for scores of cricketers from emerging nations who have aspired to play on the big stage.

Match Scorecard

Record Book – The first ODI on Kenyan soil

  Following their impressive display in the 1996 World Cup in the subcontinent, during which they famously toppled the fancied West Indians at Pune, Kenya were awarded ODI status by the ICC. This was a welcome boost to their surge towards becoming the leading Associate nation in the world.

  A little over six months after the World Cup, history was created at the Gymkhana Club Ground in Nairobi as it hosted the first official One-Day International match on Kenyan soil, with newly-crowned World Cup champions Sri Lanka playing the home team on September 28, 1996.

  This was the opening game of the four-nation Kenya Cricket Association Centenary Tournament, which also featured Pakistan and South Africa and was played in white clothing. The tournament was held to mark hundred years since the game was first played in Kenya, at Mombasa in 1896. Maurice Odumbe captained the hosts, while his Sri Lankan counterpart was Arjuna Ranatunga.

  Kenya had met Sri Lanka at Kandy in the World Cup earlier in the year, a match remembered for Sri Lanka’s new world record total of 398/5. Kenya replied valiantly to this mammoth total, ending at 254/7 with Steve Tikolo scoring an entertaining 96. Nine of the eleven Kenyans who played this game also took the field in the opening contest of the KCA Centenary Tournament.

  Sri Lanka elected to field first in front of an enthusiastic crowd, and almost immediately had the Kenyans on the mat. Chaminda Vaas castled Dipak Chudasama for a duck in the first over itself to set the tone. Debutant Sajeewa de Silva, like Vaas a left-arm pace bowler, then dealt a major twin blow, getting rid of Kennedy Otieno and Tikolo to leave Kenya lurching at 14/3.

Hitesh Modi

      Left-hander Hitesh Modi (seen fielding against India in 2000) was the top scorer for Kenya in their first home ODI, with an unbeaten 78 (source – espncricinfo.com)

  It did not get any better for the hosts, as Odumbe was caught behind off the part-time medium pace of his opposite number Ranatunga to make it 31/4. At the other end, Sandeep Gupta, who was making his ODI debut, showed positivity in compiling 41 off 66 balls before being bowled by Muttiah Muralitharan, the first of the off-spin wizard’s four victims.

  Talented southpaw Hitesh Modi, who came in at the fall of the fourth wicket, began to rebuild the innings, but could not help the collapse brought about by Muralitharan. Thomas Odoyo, Martin Suji and Edward ‘Tito’ Odumbe – Maurice’s elder brother – all fell to ‘Murali’ without reaching double figures as Kenya went from 65/4 to a lamentable 93/8.

  At this point, it seemed inevitable that Modi would eventually run out of partners. However, he found late support from the reliable Aasif Karim for the ninth wicket. Together they nearly doubled the score, putting on a crucial 89 runs. It was the dismissal of Karim, run out for 24, that brought an end to the partnership.

  Modi stayed till the end, unbeaten on a fluent 78 from 105 balls with nine fours and a six. This would remain his career-best ODI score. Kenya had managed to last their 50 overs, finishing at 188/9 – a far cry from the position they were in at the fall of the eighth wicket. Muralitharan, who was later named man of the match, returned impressive figures of 10-4-18-4.

  Though the total was modest, Modi’s efforts had at least provided the Kenyan bowlers with something reasonable to defend. Edward Odumbe, with his medium pace, gave his side the ideal start, nailing the dangerous Sanath Jayasuriya – man of the tournament at the 1996 World Cup – LBW with only five runs on the board.

  An over later, Odumbe removed Asanka Gurusinha, who was trapped on the pads as well, without troubling the scorers. Faint hopes of a Kenyan comeback arose among the local supporters as Sri Lanka were now reduced to 7/2. However, there was nothing for them to cheer about after this bright start, what with Aravinda de Silva joining Romesh Kaluwitharana in the middle.


    Muttiah Muralitharan was named man of the match for his haul of 4/18 in the first ODI played in Kenya (source – fastcricket.com)

  Kaluwitharana, undeterred by the loss of his marauding opening partner, made short work of the inconsistent Kenyan bowling. The seasoned de Silva gave him able support, and together they raised 121 runs for the third wicket until ‘Mad Max’ was dismissed courtesy a catch by Edward Odumbe off Maurice Odumbe for an assertive 55 from 47 balls.

  Ranatunga helped Kaluwitharana to put the finishing touches, as the fourth wicket fetched an unbroken 62 runs. Sri Lanka galloped to a comprehensive seven-wicket victory, reaching 190/3 in just 30.4 overs. Kaluwitharana scored his maiden ODI hundred –  a typically stroke-filled 100* in 89 balls, with 17 fours and a six.

  In their following match of the tournament against Pakistan, which was the first ODI played at the Aga Khan Sports Club, Kenya, defending 148, had their opponents at 61/5 before eventually going down by four wickets. Their last match against South Africa was a hiding – they were beaten by 202 runs thanks to ‘White Lightning’ Allan Donald’s 6/23.

  The last league match between Pakistan and Sri Lanka was notable for Shahid Afridi’s stunning century off 37 balls, a record that stood for over 17 years. It was South Africa who won the trophy, beating Pakistan by seven wickets at the Gymkhana in front of a crowd of 10,000, with Gary Kirsten (118*) ensuring a smooth chase of 204. Donald (14 wickets) was named man of the tournament.

  Six and a half years later, Sri Lanka were back at the Gymkhana to take on Kenya in a group match of the 2003 World Cup. Muralitharan took four wickets again, but this time he was bettered by Collins Obuya, whose 5/24 spun his team to a famous 53-run victory. This win was a major factor in enabling Kenya to reach the semifinals – the first and only time an Associate nation has done so.

Match Scorecard