Cricket: Athers and the Indian sign: A brief history of batsmen under the curse

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The Independent Online

There was a brief period in the early part of Alec Bedser's Test career and the last part of Don Bradman's when the Surrey seamer had the living legend in trouble. It began in Adelaide on England's tour in 1946-47 when Bedser bowled Bradman for 0 with what he later described as "the best ball ever bowled to me". In England in the early summer of 1948 Bedser fell into conversation with Bill O'Reilly, the former Australian Test player. O'Reilly suggested some amendments to Bedser's field which involved the inclusion of a backward short leg. Len Hutton duly fielded there and the trap worked then and twice more. Unfortunately, Bradman then cut out the shot.


Since Greg Chappell made 7,110 Test runs at 53.86, an average only Bradman can better among Australians, words like hex and rabbit are difficult to apply. But the great middle-order batsman was never at home against "Deadly" throughout his career and fell to him 13 times in 42 innings. He was lbw to Derek Underwood's wonderful change of pace on three occasions and was caught and bowled, misjudging the dip, twice more. Underwood tended not to know the reasons for Chappell's particular fallibility but it never fully disappeared. Even on the left-arm spinner's last Australian tour in 1979-80 when Australia dominated he got him twice, stumped and then caught behind.


In the summer of 1981 Terry Alderman cut a swathe through the English batting. It was not enough to win the Ashes but he would return for those and some more of Graham Gooch. In that series he accounted for Gooch only twice, lbw at Headingley, bowled at Old Trafford. Eight years later Alderman was once more pre- eminent on English pitches and in nine innings against Gooch he dismissed him four times, thrice lbw when the England batsman seemed glued to his crease mesmerised by a perfect inswinger. Alderman was not as potent when England toured Australia in 1990-91. But at Melbourne he got Gooch once more. Leg before, for old time's sake.


It is possible that Shane Warne licks his lips at any and all England batsmen and has done so since he gained a wicket with his first ball at one of them in 1993. It is also possible that his record against Alec Stewart has tended to be overlooked because he is useful against everybody. Still, the England captain's apparent uncertainty against spin, noticeably at the start of an innings, has been magnified by the blond magician. He has fallen victim to him nine times in 28 innings. No Englishman wants Warne to recover fully from injury until February and, despite protestations to the contrary, Stewart has more reasons than most for keeping the great leg spinner in rehabilitation mode for a few Tests.


Never in Ashes history has there been such domination by one bowler over a single batsman and, splendid player though Atherton is, it will take all McGrath's powers of propriety to avoid offering the former England captain lettuce when they meet in future. The present Test in Perth is the 10th in which McGrath has played against Atherton and only in the first of those, at Brisbane in November 1994, has he failed to dismiss him. Since then he has bagged Atherton's wicket 12 times, seven times caught at the wicket, on three occasions twice in a match. Eight of those dismissals have been to the new ball. Only once has Atherton made more than 50.